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As many of you anticipated in the comments section of yesterday’s Can I Get A Ruling?, there is natural corollary question to the belief (that currently 84% of you share) that we are currently in a Golden Age of Books due to the erosion of previous constraints and limitations on the book publishing marketplace. And when anyone can publish a book quite easily, the nagging question is this one: how in the heck am I going to know where to find a good one?
Sure, there are reviews out there, but so many have proliferated in recent years that it opens up a second question: how in the heck am I going to know where to find a good review site?
As the spigot of publishing opens up wide, we’re going to have to find a way to drink out of that fire hose. As more and more people self-publish and the overall quality of the book population inevitably dilutes due to a vastly lowered bar, what is going to take for the good books to stand out?
And if you were an agent faced with a narrowing slate of blockbusters published by mainstream publishers and a vast sea of self-published books, what would you make of all of this?
Another interesting topic…
Haven’t (yet) read ALL the comments so far, but they seem to be centering around “How will you as a reader find the good books, already published (and hence probably agented), which you’d like to read?” This, as opposed to what I think Nathan was really worrying at: “How do I as an agent find great new ‘under-published’ and hence probably ‘under-agented’ clients?”
In the matching up of agents and clients, most of the Web sites currently in place are to help AUTHORS find AGENTS. Publishers Marketplace, though, has a neat feature which allows authors to sign up to be “found” by someone looking for that sort of author. Apparently you (as an author) can enter genres and specialties, skills, name of agent (if one), and so on. Presumably there’s a way for you (as an agent) to enter various criteria and pop! out come a couple dozen authors who “fit” you.
There are probably other services like it. But that seems to be a way of the future — one in which great authors, not great agents, are the needles being sought in the haystack.
Or something like that. 🙂
The Dan Ward says
I’m probably alone in this, but I think the world suffers more when bad writers don’t write than when they do…
And yeah, I agree the self-publishing explosion means a lot more crap gets printed and bound than in years past. But this also opens the door to some fantastic gems which would otherwise have been overlooked.
How many wonderful manuscripts are stashed away in someone’s attic (or thrown away) because the author didn’t have the patience / skill / interest to go through the whole publishing gauntlet?
And sorting through it all? Social media, smart crowds, amazon-esque recommendation engines… and word of mouth.
Betty Atkins Dominguez says
I should add that I am a multi genre reader. I like biographies, history, fiction (Mainstream, Fantasy and some Sci-fi, Mystery. I even read YA novels that my gradkids are reading. can’t call me a genre snob)
I am not like a lot of readers. I am looking for good writing, great characters, decent plot line and a conclusion I can believe in.
OK, I have to be honest and say that I am a romance novel snob … I can never get all the way through one. Come on, they should be labeled romance fantasies, period.
While all novels can benefit from some romance, the other genres at least try to keep it real.
Deborah B says
I still find most of my books through the library, either by wandering around and picking them off of the new shelf (or a reshelving cart) or by getting the next book written by an author I already like. I also check on Amazon’s “people who bought this book also liked” and the incessent fliers for book clubs that show up in my mainlbox. (I read the blurbs, then order them from the library.)
As for cutting through the crap, well, people get what they want, for the most part. I don’t much like all the reality TV shows, but if people weren’t watching them, they wouldn’t be on. If people don’t buy crap, the publishers won’t publish it. Self-publishing, well, that’s a whole other kettle of (usually stinky) fish…
Adaora A. says
Yay team Shayne!
Marshana was the best. This is just the way it is. I was sad to see her go as well ( a little shocked in some ways), but I guess her chances were 1/25 like everyone elses. Did you watch the pannel of sorts they held on Mondsay where Marshana was being questioned on her not getting on well with the girls (something I found quite funny considering she was not exactly there to make friends.) Matt has a shaved head.
Furious D says
With me it’s a combo of the author’s reputation, if the plot sounds interesting to me, my mood at the time, and lastly the reviews.
I tend to pay more attention to reviews of non-fiction books, especially ones written by people knowledgeable about the book’s subject matter.
And then there’s the annual summer library clearance sale where everything is pretty much decided on instinct and box space. 🙂
I guess I’m possibly in the catagory of putting out a self-published book due to not having much luck finding an agent.
I’ve written a manuscript and have had various people of various ages read it. Some know who I am and some do not. For the some who do not, there was no skin off their back if they gave the manuscript a horrible review.
Overall, the sample chapters received mostly rave reviews. Some of these reviews came from children.
When you collect reviews like this and do marketing analysis on your novel, shouldn’t that be proof enough that your novel deserves an agent’s support? Shouldn’t it be proof enough that the book may be worth considering?
BTW Jes, thanks for the info about Publishers’ Market–agents finding authors. I think I’m going to give that a try.
The Bachelor, now that’s something I can talk about. I too am a Shayne fan. I don’t like Chelsea. She has issues. At first, I thought Shayne was really annoying, but I guess she’s grown on me. I do think he should have kept Meeps around. And I’m not sure how well Shayne will do with the British parents.
As for books, I usually go by word of mouth. I’m a teacher and everyone I work with knows I’m an avid reader, so someone is always recommending a book. You’d be surprised how many teachers don’t read at all. It’s funny how many teachers see you reading and feel guilty that they don’t. Next thing you know, they are reading too. Same goes for students. A lot of them have started reading more just because they see me reading. All I had to do is pull out my copy of Twilight, and BAM they’re readers.
Speak Coffee says
I hate to say it but PACKAGING is my first criteria. Title, cover, blurb. If it passes that test I read the first chapter (in store or online) and then if I can stand the author’s voice I buy and read.
It’s still hunt and peck for me!
But I’d like to say that “GOOD” is subjective. I love a good trashy novel — but I don’t know anyone who would seriously recommend one to me, more’s the pity!
Simon Haynes says
The Australian Fiction in Focus website does a good job of reviewing aussie books. They get two reviewers to look at each title, so you get a more balanced view.
Amazon isn’t reliable where reviews of self-pubbed books are concerned, because there’s inevitably a rash of 5-star reviews by people with only 1 review to their name. Funny that.
A sample chapter on a website or blog is the only way to go, and the first paragraph should be enough for many people to decide whether they want to read on or not.
But even a well-written first chapter can be let down by a bad plot, or cardboard characters, a Deus ex Machina ending, or NO ending at all. That’s worse than a poorly written novel you can blow off in the first page.
I used to read slush for an aussie SF magazine, btw. I know all about the inexorable pressure of the fire hose.
I’ve been writing short stories lately, and to stay in the right frame of mind, I’ve drifted away from books to magazines. Mostly sci-fi and fantasy type stuff. Speculative. And I’ve noticed something interesting. I keep dropping approx. $6 per magazine and then hating most of what I read. If there are seven stories, I might like two. One will be mediocre, and the rest I will hate. Its almost a formula.
Then I go back to all the free e-zine websites i have bookmarked, where writers get paid $25 if they’re lucky, and more frequently they get nothing… and I find really good stories.
In print, I find thinly disguised politics and social ‘progression’ banging me over the head in pretentious ‘artistic’ styling that is usually some form of first-person present tense (except that at some point they ALWAYS slip; and even if they didn’t, its distracting at best to read).
On the internet, I just seem to find good stories. They may not be quite as polished, but a lot of them are really good… and they’re free.
Ok, so books and magazines are different. I get that. Books are harder to write, cost more to print, etc. But I still feel like I shovel through a lot of !@#$ to get a couple good books. So how’s that gonna change?
The hardest change to accept might be the fact that everything will be freely available online. People will only have to pay if they want hard copy. That seems to be the brave new world we’re rushing into.
Well the thing is, if you’re fed up with what the big publishers are bringing out in your genre, what to do?
I read fantasy. Lots and lots of fantasy. Lately there has been a bit of a trend towards a) politcal fantasy. Yes, thank you GRRM, I don’t want political shennanigans in my fantasy. A personal taste thing but hey, I don’t like politics in my dreams ( I could end up with Gordon Brown ewwww).
OR b) Books where I can read the first ooh 150 pages and NOTHING HAPPENS! Although you do get a nice description of the mating habits of the local birds or something, and maybe a hint that something might happen, sometime, maybe in book three, frankly by then I’m asleep.
OK there are exceptions. Some really GREAT exceptions. But not enough to keep me in reading material. So I’ve started looking out books from smaller presses, and they are giving me what I want in my fantasy. Excitement, adventure and really wild things.
I’m not sure I’d go so far as to purchase a self published book, but I might if the premise looked knockout. For all I know, it could be a well written piece that didn’t make it out of the slush of the big publishers because it didn’t fit with their marketing or something.
I want the books I want, and if the big publishers won’t give me enough, I’ll go elsewhere
If people keep moving to self-publishing and the big houses are publishing fewer novels, it seems as though mainstream publishing will slowly dwindled and people in the industry will need to find other employment. If the trend continues this way, and we do see an increase in low quality books, it could prompt a move in the other direction and small houses could start cropping back up to increase the quality of the books being sold. Eh-I don’t know if that makes any sense. It’s early. 🙂
another good thing says
Can you trust the reviews? The problem with asking anyone’s advice is it’s just that- their OPINION, and opinions change. I have found the best books are the ones select
ed by the authors I like to read.
My newspaper, the Atlanta Journal Constitution runs a weekly feature where they ask an author what they’re reading, and in the summer this feature is quite a few pages long. I always run out and buy whatever Anne Lamott, Joyce Carol Oates and Alice Hoffman are reading.
I am in 3 online book clubs and 1 that meets locally and I listen to everyone’s opinions, except the ladies who think CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE SOUL books are the best thing EVER.
In the end I stand in the bookstore or browse the pages online and read the opening and a midsection piece, and even then sometimes I resell it before I finish it, because LIFE IS TOO SHORT TO READ BAD BOOKS.
Different ways. Word of mouth: If people I know (usually web based groups at this point) have similar tastes as I do, I’ll usually purchase their recommendations. Also agent blogs: As I read your and other blogs and you post about the books you have coming out, sometimes I find myself purchasing them. Frex: I really liked the sound of In the Break and of Year of the Hyenas. Puchased both. Loved In the Break. Haven’t been able to get into the other yet. I also found C.E. Murphy (one of my fav authors of the moment), Cherie Priest, and Donna Ball’s (dog mysteries) through Jennifer Jackson’s blog.
I pick up the occassional new author while browsing the grocery store shelves. And by looking at the other people purchased Amazon reccomendations.
That said I’d say about 50% of my reading is now online fanfic. I have eight authors whose fanfic I always read (as a result they’ve also introduced me to new tv shows). One of which is also published. And another of which I hope to see punlished in the next couple years. If/when she is ever published I’ll be one of the first lining up to buy it (no matter the genre) as I’ve learned that I can always trust her to deliver.
the agents and publishers out there are going to have a much more difficult job, sound like to me.
Drinking from the fire hose…I’ll never forget that particular metaphor for being overwhelmed.
Taylor K. says
There are a few main ways I decide on whether or not to read a book. Buzz plays a small factor, but isn’t a main thing. I take the cover into major consideration because I believe that a publisher who believes in the quality of a book gives it a good cover. Finally, there’s price. Most books I read either come from the bargain section at Barnes & Noble, or from the library. Why the library? Well, you can’t beat free.
Generally, I pick my books by reading the back cover and skimming it. If it holds my attention, I buy it. I read the reviews just to get an idea of what others think. I get suspicious if a book has too many over the top reviews right away. HP was an exception. Those weren’t over the top; those were through the roof. By over the top, I’m talking the gushing, “You’ve GOT to read this book! You won’t read a better book this year!” How many publishers say that? I look for what appeals to me. The reviewers don’t know me, they’re basing their reviews on their opinion of what they read, just like I’d base my recommendation of a book to a friend on my opinion of it when I read it. As far as “if I were an agent what would I make of all of this? I guess I’d realize the publishing world is changing again. There aren’t going to be as many blockbusters, unfortunately, for the agents, publishers and writers. But I don’t see self-published books when I go to Borders, either. At least not now. So I guess I’d just keep doing what I do. Look for writers who write what I love and represent them to the best of my ability. That way we all win: the agent, publisher, writer and, hopefully, readers. That’s how I look at it anyway.
I don’t know, Nathan. Finding the needle in the hay has and always will be hard. But stay away from the firehose. Have you seen the gunk pouring out of hydrants when they’re first opened? Sit and wait a spell for the better water to come gushing out.
If there are more substandard books out there, it goes to say that when a really good manuscript lands on an agent’s desk, the agent will recognize it right away. The problem is, there probably will be more competition with agents in getting their clients noticed by the publishers.
Since publishers are reorganizing and the economy is what it is, the competition will filter down into a smaller number of good manuscripts that are published. I fear this may lead promising authors to explore self-publishing just to get published.
This means agents are going to have to really believe in the great manuscript that lands on their desk to sell it to a publisher. And/Or find a way to make self-publishing widely acceptable so promising authors will sign with the agent. The agents can become agents of change if they can successfully transition good authors from the self-publishing world into the traditional publishing world.
Nancy Beck says
Two good book review blogs for fantasy books:
I especially like the Fantasy Debut one; turned me on to a couple of books I might not have picked up.
Now to find the time to read! 🙂
…Actually — still thinking about this — I wonder if a model for “the agent of the future” might be more along the lines of the impresario. Kind of like mediating directly between authors and the reading public. Eventually readers would tend to gravitate to agents who presented them with the most reliably satisfying experience. (And by reliably satisfying, I don’t mean necessarily the SAME experience, over and over.)
Think Bill Graham. Or (in Philadelphia/South Jersey, around the same time) Moe Septee. You might not know in advance WHO they’d be promoting, but you could count on it to be a great experience.
I think the internet has made it easier then ever to find good books. Seriously. All you got to do is think of an interesting subject and type it in to a search engine and you are whisked to thousands of possibilities from reviews to blog posts to game sites, etc. It is all there. And because of the internet, I have too many books that I want to read but can’t. So I wade through it all by weighing in reviewers I like as well as bloggers I like. This past year, I’ve bought and read 10 books recommended by bloggers. And I have recommended books I love to a whole new audience. The little book community I have found on the net is one of millions like us all over the world. Publishers who embrace this communit and market to it recognize that word of mouth has gone from handselling by booksellers to bloggers on the net.
I say ban all self-published books by want-to-be desperate writers who can’t even write.
That will weed them out fast ha!
It’s like American Idol. Everyone is a star now. You can be on TV and do not even need any training anymore. Like the guy in dreads. He is unike looking so he’s in I bet. Just watch for him, he’ll be there even though he only came in 4th. There are great singers everywhere, they just don’t try out.
dang it, sorry: Unique, not unike
What’s needed is a better search engine in sites like Amazon, so you can select by subject matter, and style – and then read a description, and select a dozen pages to read.
Even with classic novelists, I often choose by subject matter. But supposing I wanted to consider novels, even self pubbed, about, say…fishing on the Orinoco, I’d never find them, even if they exist. Even if they’re excellent.
Meanwhile, agents must look for blockbusters. And they’d get less crap if authors had some other way to have their work assessed ( as by actual readers using better search engines ). In fact, that might even change the way they find new clients.
So Nathan, did any of this help you at all?
I’m an MFA student, and I have a full-time job, so I can’t read crap. No time. I get recommendations from other people, namely faculty and other MFA students, people in my writing group. I am a member of goodreads.com. I look at other people’s gr.com reading lists and reviews. I also read the reader reviews on Amazon, and I check out the lists that people make, looking for interesting stuff. I almost always click on the “Look Inside” link if there is one, and read the first couple of pages to see if the language lives up to the reviews.
Pre-grad school, I used to walk up and down the fiction shelves in my local bookstore and pull books down, read a few pages until I found something that struck a chord. I found some good books this way. Powell’s in Portland has little staff recommendation labels on their shelves, kind of like a wine store. Those have proved useful as well.
So far, I’m still avoiding the self-published. I have seen the vast sea of total crap out there written by people who are just not ready for print and I can’t fathom a book that hasn’t had an editor being any good. It’s hard enough to find a book that has had an editor that’s any good. I like the idea of self-publishing, but I think it’s the new, inexpensive options are too new for there to be any way of sorting out good from bad. In a few more years, maybe… but not yet.
One thing that I might try if I were an agent, is going to a website like zoetrope, getting an account and in your “free time” reading a bunch of the stories. Zoetrope lets you read and review people’s short stories, novellas, and sometimes book chapters. they get assigned to you at first, but once you’ve done a certain number of reviews, it gets opened up so you can read anyone’s work. it’s hit or miss, but I was lucky enough to read and review a novella which subsequently was published by Glimmertrain. It was fabulous and I knew it right away. I bet that guy would love an agent….
Nathan, do you see this trend in publishing (the pub houses moving toward publishing fewer, blockbustery books) as being permanent? Or something rather temporary due to the economy?
I’m less concerned about wading through the crap than I am about not getting to read all the great books I still have on my wishlist. But then I’m not an agent.