Many, many electrons have been killed in arguments about the decline of the old publishing models and the death of the gatekeepers and the new ebook democracy where we all have the power to publish really shit books for free and blah blah blah. I know; I’ve said my piece more than once on the subject.
But something that tends to get lost in the shuffle as people argue about whether ebooks are better than physical books is the question of where you find the damn ebooks in the first place. Not where you buy them – we’re all pretty clear about that – but how you learn that an ebook you might like has been published and is now lost in the overflowing intershelves.
Yeah, I’m talking about book reviews. Ebook reviews. E-reviews. Fuck, I can never keep up with the lingo.
In this, as in other things, Google fails us, because when you search for ‘ebook reviews’ or similar what you get are hundreds of hits about hardware and reading devices. Ditto ‘ebook readers’, ‘ebook recommendations’ and ‘where the fuck can I find a good ebook’. We messed up when we named the platform after the thing you read on it; we should have called them something totally different, like boners. Except then you’d be Googling ‘boner reviews’ and ending up with something that doesn’t resemble a Kindle Fire. Well, not the current model.
So what I’m wondering tonight – and hoping for comments, as I often (and not all successfully) do in these mid-week posts – is where you/we go to find ebook recommendations and reviews.
The Kindle Store
Don’t get me wrong, ebookstores like the Kindle Store, iBooks, Smashwords and so on are great, because that’s where you get the sweet digital wordcrack. And the reviews that go against books, while variable in quality (to put it mildly), can be useful in helping you work out whether a given ebook that you’re looking at is worth the $2.99 of your hard-earned money.
But for finding the ebooks in the first place, store sites are pretty much useless. Genre subdivisions and user-generated tags are crude sorting tools that don’t provide much nuance and require you to read reviewers’ minds so that you pick the same words they used to categorise the work. The other core tool for pretty much every site is a star rating, which again is largely useless; it’s far easier to find a book with just a single review, but that got five stars, than it is to find one with a hundred reviews but only a 4.75 rating. That book may as well be invisible, lost behind a thousand crap books that were well received by the author’s mum.
Or Konrathing, as it is sometimes called. Talking loudly about your own new books, old books, upcoming books and books you dreamed about writing is a key activity for any ebook writer, and can easily eclipse actually writing books in the first place. (See the URL of this blog post for Exhibit Fucking A.) Like it or not, it has to be done, because it’s not like the marketing department will do it for you. The marketing department is a cat, and he’s busy licking his rear while become a Japanese internet sensation.
However, self-promotion is advertising and as such it’s not very useful if you want an unbiased idea of whether a book is worth reading. More often than not, if you even pay attention to the self-promotion, you end up overlooking the work to examine the writer and the way they present themselves and their work. And that can be great; look at how Chuck Wendig creates and pushes his creative voice/persona. But it too easily takes the spotlight away from the work and gets in the way of finding out whether the stuff they write is as good as they sound.
Word of virtual mouth
The prevailing wisdom is that this is how the word gets out in the modern age – people talk about the books they like online and in social media, other people see it and check it out. Probably true, but not exactly the kind of thing that you can bank on as a writer or navigate effectively as a reader; it’s little better than basing your TV viewing habits on how many Facebook sites are trying to get one million signatures to get it back on / back off the air.
At the same time, sure, I blog/tweet/update/iVerb about cool new ebooks being published by my friends and contacts, and about things I’ve read that I really like. This is what people do; we get enthusiastic about the stuff/people we like and tell other people/stuff about it. But I don’t know how useful that is if I don’t articulate why this news is worth disseminating.
I’m also skeptical about how useful sites like Goodreads and the like are for ebook readers, or in truth for readers in general. When I look at these sites I see a lot of hardcopy books being read, and not usually new ones at that; I also don’t see much in the way of substantive reviews for them. In the end, they’re not really about sharing information about the things you read, but about sharing the fact that you do read. The act itself is the thing being broadcast, like a personal affirmation that you like the things you like and want others to know that. And hey, that’s human nature and there’s nothing wrong with it, but it doesn’t provide all that handy a service.
Ebook review sites
Do these really exist? No, this isn’t a rhetorical question – I really want to find some! I know they’re out there, somewhere, but they shift and fade like Brigadoon. And even if you find one, it’s a drop in the ocean, because they can only review so many ebooks a day/week/whatever, and I imagine most are labours of love that get put aside when time runs too short.
But damn, a smart, regularly-updated ebook review site with a stable and decently-sized readership base would be my Holy Fucking Grail. It’s all I want for Christmas.
Dumb fuckin’ luck
And sometimes you just see mention of an interesting-sounding ebook in a forum discussion or in someone’s sig block or a stripper has a URL tattooed around her navel and you check it out and it’s the best thing ever.
But that happens less often than you might think. Honestly, that stripper’s novel needed a serious edit.
So anyway, all of this bitching and moaning about not being able to find ebooks to read is self-serving, because it’s also bitching about how I struggle to get reviews and word-of-mouth for Hotel Flamingo and Godheads and how it’s likely to be difficult for the new novella I’m currently planning and that you heard about here first OMG. Let’s be honest, nearly everything on this blog is a desperate (but genuine and hopefully interesting) cry for attention and sales.
But still. It would be good to find stuff to read. And to help others find good ebooks, whether or not they’re mine.
So chime in, please, with ideas, recommendations and stories about how you find the good word. I want to hear.