Bad books – we’ve all read them. We’ve all complained about them – especially the bit about having spent good money on something that turned out to be crap. But how to avoid them? Sorry to say, but it’s almost impossible. Bad books are going to be out there no matter whether they’re self-published, or manage find their way through the gatekeepers of Big Publishing. The reason for that is that bad books are subjective. What I think is total and utter crap, someone else might think is the best thing since sliced bread.
From a writer’s perspective, reading bad books can be just as good as reading good books. Good books show me how TO write, whereas bad books show me how NOT to write. They’re like my train tracks for my writing – bad books on the left, good books on the right, and if I can at least stay right of the left (hopefully as close to the middle as possible) and keep moving to the right, I know I’m doing ok.
With the advent of e-books and cheaper and easier ways to self-publish, bad books may start to become more common. There is an upside to this though – the reader has more choice and more power than ever to decide what will be published. Theoretically, writers of bad books will suffer from bad sales and bad reviews and will either stop publishing all together, or strive to get better. Good writers won’t suffer too much, though it will still be hard to get novels out there and selling well. As readers, we can help good writers keep writing by doing the following simple things:
- Keep buying good books – You know when you laugh at something a kid does, and they do it again, just to get the attention? The same principle works for writers. Buying books encourages writers to keep writing.
- Review the books you like, as well as the ones you don’t – It’s important to do this tactfully though. Don’t just write “it was crap – hated it from start to finish”. It’s important to state your reasons. For example, “I found myself not caring about the characters” or “the plot was too far-fetched”. These types of comments allow the author to (hopefully) improve his/her next work, and an undecided reader to decide if they might like the book.
- Pass good books on, and/or recommend them to your friends – Share the love. Most writers write because they have stories they want to share. You’ll do your bit by sharing their stories with people you think will enjoy them as much as you did.
- Check out book review websites – There’s plenty on the net now so google “[book title] review” and I guarantee you’ll find heaps of reviews, both good and bad for whatever you’re thinking of buying (check the bad as well as the good for a balanced view)
- Take a chance on a new author every now and then – There are some great finds out there, you only just have to look. Don’t just stick to the authors Big Publishing tells you are good (because they’ve published them and spent bazillions on their marketing). Best way to find these gems? Google “indie book review blogs” and check out some review sites. (I’ll feature my favourite review blogs at a later date.) Also check out Smashwords, who specialise in ebook publishing – popular with new authors, these guys upload ebooks to amazon, B&N and other online bookstores.
The best thing I’ve found so far to cut down on buying bad books? Amazon’s “sampler” feature for e-books and “search inside” feature for print books (though not all books have the search inside feature). Sampler and Search Inside give you a look at what the actual book will look like, with an excerpt from the text. To use the Sampler option, you need a kindle, or you can download the free pc kindle app from Amazon. A lot of ebooks also have the option of buying the print version (most of the big names do this), though some indie authors offer one or the other. Just search for whatever book you’re after in the ebook section of Amazon, and click on the “Send sample now” button, and the sample will be downloaded to your pc. You can read it and decide if you want to buy the print book if it’s available (or you can buy the ebook straight from your kindle app).
Search Inside works in much the same way. It gives you an idea of what the print book will look like, including an excerpt of the text. You can read the excerpt on screen and decide if you like it or not.
The single best thing about Amazon though, I think, is the “Also Bought” feature, showing what other books people bought, who’ve previously bought the book you’re looking at. I like to click through these, reading excerpts as I go, and making a note of the ones that interest me for future reference (read: when I get my monthly book allowance and can actually buy something rather than book-stalk).
In the end, a book will get published by whatever means a writer deems necessary to get that work to the masses, regardless whether it’s good or bad. It’s up to us, as writers, to put out the very best we can to keep readers coming back for more.
And it’s up to us, as readers, to encourage the very best writers to keep producing more of the work we want to read.