Sunday, May 9, 2010


Happy Mother's Day!

We've talked some in earlier posts about what we look for in a bookstore, and what we wish wasn't in a bookstore. So here's a new question for you guys. What do you look for in an e-book store or e-book publisher? What would make you visit the site of an e-book publisher or store you've never been to before?

Why, you might ask, do I want to know? It's really quite simple. With each day that passes, more and more people are being published electronically. The majority still come from "legitimate" publishers, be they traditional publishers who also publish electronically or publishers who are exclusively electronic. But with the emergence of Amazon's electronic publishing options for writers who do not have a "publisher", Smashwords, and other similar sites, more and more authors are making their material available for download. Are you willing to try a new author in electronic format if they don't come from a "real" publisher?

When I purchase a book from an author I've never read before, it is almost always in hard copy. I've been enticed by cover art or quotes or the synopsis on the back of the cover. What I've seen from a number of self-published e-books is the lack of professional looking cover art and, even worse in my mind, no cover blurb or plot synopsis.

So, I guess what I'm interested in knowing from the rest of you is why do you pick up a new book in dead tree versions. Do you use the same criteria for choosing an e-book?


Brendan said...

In the past when looking in a DT store I would look for Australian author first(supporting locals) and number of books on the shelves. The rationality behind the Books on Shelves was that the author must be pretty good for a shop to stock so much of their work. I also like to try a stand-alone title for my first dip into an author's writing(which is getting harder and harder to find in SF/F, everybody writes series). Unfortunately this hasn't worked recently so I have fallen back on the tried and true Recommended By a Friend. It is either that or I get them from a second hand store or a remainder bin.

Most of the online retailer have RBF built in with their People who Bought This... and I will have fun following links around getting a selection of titles up that way, but to tell the truth with most untried authors I look for free e-books to sample before I put my hard earned on the line for the real thing.

Kate said...

For me the dead tree process is "Looks interesting" (that is, the title and/or cover catches my eye), "blurb looks interesting" (i.e., it seems to be about something that doesn't make me go cross-eyed and sounds like I might like it), "read a bit".

If I don't want to put the book back, the book gets bought. If I enjoy it all the way through, I look for more by that author.

eBooks would need to allow the same general principle - particularly the ability to read a few chapters to decide if I'm going to like it or not.

If I can't preview to some extent, I ain't buying. And the "look inside" on Amazon is useless if it doesn't cover at least one full chapter. I'm not forking $10 or more on something I'm not reasonably sure I'll enjoy.

(Note to publishers who think $9.99 is too low a price for ebooks - I will devour a book a day, given half a chance and an endless supply of books. Pricing ebooks at around $5 will get me spending a LOT of money on your products. Pricing them at $10 and locking them up to a fare-thee-well won't. Higher prices? Go take a running jump.)

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

For ebooks for me the process is: must be cheap -- or free for a first book by unknown author. Just today I saw a book I badly want, and it has a kindle edition. But it's 15! there is no way I'm paying that for electrons when it's not by someone I've read before. I'll wait till either the kindle comes down or it comes out in pback or more likely -- given it's non fiction -- I'll bully my library into buying a copy.

I've discovered one author through ebooks -- he seems to publish his back list himself at very reasonable prices. Being able to buy an ominibus of his first three novels for $5 got me to try him (I had read a snippet by him before) and I went back and bought his other ebooks at full price. Not all of them yet, but I WILL when next in the mood for the his type of writing. Another almost-found author was a recent Amazon ebook -- a romance of all things, which I normally don't read -- on the free pile. I liked it very much and would right now be buying everything the author ever wrote, only... it's the only thing she's ever written. Another Amazon free ebook -- mainstream! -- was pleasant enough that while I'm not going out of my way to find the author, if another of her books pops up on my Amazon page or I see it in a store, I'll buy it.
So, that's my process. Which is comparable to "find an author in used/flea market/conference giveaway then go out and buy everything by him/her" -- my deadtree book buying process. Weirdly I do care about the cover. Not that the cover is often very visible, but having one seems to make you "legitimate." It tells me someone cared enough about the book to do this.
So, for ebook publishers/stores -- I'd say: Have free samples. Have a cover. I'd also say "have a site cat" -- with an animated cat that can be petted, and/or asked questions about what to read next. Kind of like the animated search dog? And have it vanish and leave only a smile. But I don't know how hard that would be to coordinate.

Interestingly, most authors I know right now are doing three thing: Deadtress publisher; epublisher; self-pub back list. More and more are doing ALL three. I'm wondering whether to dip my toe in, myself.

Anonymous said...

I think a successful ebook store is going to need a whole lot of "extras." If you look at active fan bases, they like to talk, and all the better if their favorite authors chime in at least occasionally. I think Bulletin Board would be good. Possibly a Facebook Group for official announcement/advertisements such as "this month's new releases are now up!"

Games and amusements, such as Sarah's RLF. Dave mentioned Fan Fic. I think a site that actually allowed it, and wrote out the strict rules "You do not own these characters, worlds or situations. Plots are not unique."

Contests, giveaways.

Sell things, from T-shirts to intangibles like Red shirting.

Internet communities, as we get used to them, are starting to feel very much like communities. Starting a new internet colony from scratch, what do we offer, to entice people to join us? It only costs time - but I think we're all realizing that there's a limited amount of that and we've all had to drop this or that site or activity because it was eating too much of it.

So what shops are on the Village Square? Yeah, the bookstore has the best location. Knickknacks over there. The Pillory in the middle, oh, wait, we substituted the dunk tank. Over at the Country Registry they're registering names for the Red shirt Brigade. The school's running a never ending writing class. In the theater, someone is reading their latest excerpt. Drawing almost as large a crowd, the latest Fan Fic is being posted in the Town Hall.

Lots of links, lure in some madness from elsewhere. Excentifugial Engineering, RLF World Headquarters.

Make it place people go to. And buy their books there, as well.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...


I like that idea. I've been noticing that authors who keep a forum online where people can be goofy and hang out do better in the long run.

Anonymous said...

For me a good e-store has to be easily searchable.

I like to search for new books by category and arrange in order of date released.

It's also helpful if the search gives you suggestions even if you don't type the title or author's name exactly right.

I don't want to spend a long time trying to find a book I know I want, but I also want to be able to browse when I don't have a specific book in mind.


Chris McMahon said...

Errm . .. I've never read an ebook. That's probably more to do with time than anything else. I try to follow up new leads for authors. More often than not I will read somethign in Locus - or be given a book from a friend.

I have nothing against reading ebooks - I read & crit electronically all the time. But I prioritise conventional publications. Having said that I really envy ebook devotees their ability to access out of print books etc.

Dave Freer said...

"What would make you visit the site of an e-book publisher or store you've never been to before?"

that is the key question to me.
1)I'd have to know it existed. I'd suggest a amazon associates type programme for referals - not sure how it would work, but you need a kickback of some kind to referring sites. Kind of "cite this number with your purchase and the author gets an extra 5% royalty" or something - so readers can show their support for authors directly and authors are very motivated to push it out there. Other draws - a conference situation, audio samples, a fanfic branch, prizes, competitions (for purchasers only?)

2)Once I am there: It would have to have a big free sample platter, and good 'cheap' platter too. 3)It'd need a number of known names.

Synova said...

I'll try anything from the Baen free library.

E-books ought to cost less than a paper-back or it's not happening, even for a well known author that I love. If it's someone I've got to have I'll buy the paper version later, eventually.

Ebooks that are more expensive than paper are a no-go... sort of like trade paper from unknowns for $15.

But why do I pick up a new author in paperback? I really hate to say it but... cover art. ;-)

And I've been trying to find authors I'm interested in at the library, because I just don't have the funds for taking chances. Like electronic versions, if it's something I really like I'll probably buy my own copy eventually.

I found Ryk's _Boundary_ at the library, and checked it out because of knowing Sea Wasp on rasfc. A found a couple of Sarah's at the library, too. When I can I'll be buying those books.

What's sort of funny, though, is that I really had to push myself not to be *picky* with library books as if I was at a book store going to spend money. I think that the point of a library is trying everything. And I knew that, I just didn't do that.

Synova said...

Hm... I think that was unclear.

When I buy an e-book I'll also buy the paper version later if it's something I really want.

Amanda Green said...

Brendan, I love the fact you've tried to be loyal to Australian authors. I also agree with you about trying a stand-alone title for a new author first. I've made the mistake before of starting a series, buying the books without first trying one, and being stuck with books by an author I don't like.

Most of the new books I've tried of late do come on recommendations from friends. That is especially true of e-books now.

Amanda Green said...

Kate, you're process is very similar to what I've been known to do when stalking the shelves of a bookstore. If a cover calls to me and then if the cover blurb seems interesting, and then, if the first few pages interest me, I'll buy the book.

E-books are similar in that I still find myself drawn more to one that has a professional looking cover than one without. I'll read the blurb about the book -- and again, if there isn't a blurb, I probably won't download it unless someone I know and trust has recommended the book. If I'm still on the fence, I'll download the sample chapter(s). That is usually more than enough to convince me whether or not I want to buy the book.

Amanda Green said...

Sarah, you are absolutely right about new author pricing of e-books for new authors. I don't mind paying a couple of bucks for a new author. Actually, I am more likely to try a new author if they charge a token price for their book than if it's free. Again, I think because it gives it an air of legitimacy.

I also appreciate the fact that so many authors are releasing their backlists as e-books. More than that, I love the fact they are doing it at reasonable prices. A lot of books I've read until they've fallen to pieces, I haven't been able to replace because they are OOP. Now I can get them and read them as much as I want.

Amanda Green said...

Matapam, you are so right. And it is also why so many e-book ventures don't get off the ground. I think the publishers -- be they hard copy or electronic -- forget that their readers want to be involved. They want to be able to contact and "converse" with the authors they like. People still want their silly mugs and t-shirts. I am firmly convinced part of what has helped Baen over the years has been the Bar.

Does it mean the publisher or author has to work harder? Oh yeah. But the payoff can be worth it. Traffic to a site means people are looking at your product and that means folks are going to buy. If they see other people on the forum talking about a certain author or certain book, they're likely to buy it.

Amanda Green said...

Sarah, it's not just a place where fans can be active and can be goofy -- it is also where the authors are active. As I said to Matapam, fans want to be able to interact with authors and are more likely to buy that author's book if they feel like they "know" the author.

Amanda Green said...

Laine, great suggestions. I hadn't thought about being able to search and arrange by publication date. But you're right, especially for those authors who write series. I'll be more aware of that the next time I go searching for an e-book or three.

Amanda Green said...

Chris, it really was the ability to read the out of print books that started me reading e-books. Also, I've discovered a lot of new authors because of the freebies publishers have offered through Amazon and other sites. Now I look first for e-books and will then buy the hard copy if it's a book I really love and want to hang onto. I'll never do away with my "real" books, but I do love the convenience of being able to carry hundreds of books around on my kindle.

Amanda Green said...

Dave, you're a man after my own heart. I have to know the e-book store is there and then it has to entice me through the "door". Then hand me the free sampler platter and have nice cover art to let me see you're at least trying to be professional. I also want a good selection, especially if the store doesn't claim to be a specialty e-book store. And yes, the store does need to have some names, although I'll be honest, I would be more drawn to mid-list names than best sellers. But then, as you've probably figured out by now, I'm a bit different from most folks ;-p

Amanda Green said...

Synova, I'm like you. If I really like an e-book, I'll buy the hard copy version. The way I look at it, I still like the feel of curling up with a "real" book at times. Plus, I have no problem at all giving an author royalties twice for a book I like.

Baen is the publisher that first got me started on e-books. They've done a lot of things right. There are some things I'd like to see them do, but they are still the best, imo, as an e-publisher.

The library has often been my source for trying new authors or finding new books. And, like you, I've had to tell myself not to be a picky. After all, library books don't cost me anything.

Libraries around here are now jumping onto the e-book wagon as well. Our local library hasn't, but some of the others have and now you can "check out" e-books, just like you can music and "books on tape". It downloads directly to your computer. You can then transfer it to your e-book reader and off you go. At the end of the checkout period, the book disappears. Another great service by libraries and another great way to find new titles/authors.