My Crazy TBR Pile & My Tough Love Rules To Cut It Down

The free books I brought home from RWA Nationals this year - I've read two so far.So this weekend I decided to do a little house cleaning when it came to my books. This involved organizing my Goodreads list into shelves and culling some of the herd. This also meant going through my physical bookshelves and taking inventory of what I haven't read yet. And the numbers, my friends, are rather insane...

Right now, I have exactly 100 unread novels/novellas on my Kindle and over 200 print books on my shelves waiting to be read. 0.0 I knew it was bad, but...well, I didn't realize it was that bad.

And I have a true addiction because I CAN'T STOP BUYING BOOKS. I see someone tweet about something awesome or I see one of those Daily Deal posts and I'm all click, click, click. Buy, buy, buy. Plus, if I have friends or favorite authors that put a new release out, I want to support them and buy it when it comes out. I know the buying won't stop--though I may be putting a lockdown for the month of December since I need to be buying Christmas gifts for someone other than myself. :) But I realized I do need to come up with a plan to start working through some of the books languishing on my real and virtual shelves.

So here's what I'm thinking. I have admitted in the past that I am a chronic finisher. Meaning, I have a really hard time giving up on a book unless the writing is just outright horrible. But this habit slows down my reading. If a book isn't completely sucking me in, I put it down and then don't read other stuff until it's done. Not good.

And even though I've abandoned more books in this past year than I have in the past, I'm still pretty hooked on trying to finish things. But I realized as I'm staring at all these unread books that LIFE IS TOO SHORT and there are too many FANTASTIC books to waste time on a book that's just okay.

So here are my new Tough Love Rules for the coming year:


1. If a book hasn't completely captured me (i.e. I don't want to put it down and can't stop thinking about it) by the end of chapter 3, then I'm moving on. 

As a writer, it's beat into us that we have to hook a reader from page one. I work hard to write books that do that from the first line. So why am I accepting less as a reader? Yes, sometimes page one is hard, but by three chapters, you should have me.

2. If I'm enjoying a book, but I'm just not in the right mood for it at the time, I will move it onto my new "Limbo" shelf on Goodreads.

Sometimes I'm just not in the right headspace for a certain book. For example, it may be a light, fun romance but I'm in a dark mood and want something grittier. It's nothing wrong with the book per se, just not the right time.

3. If there are books on my TBR shelf at this time next year that have been there for at least 2 years, I'm donating them to the library or a hospital. (Or holding a massive blog contest.)

I tend to hoard books. "Ooh, it sounds good. I'll probably read it one day." Yeah, if that hasn't happened in two years, it will probably never get read.

 

We'll see if these three things help me. I'll update next year and let y'all know. And in the meantime, if you want to follow the list of what I read. I'm active on Goodreads and I keep a running list of what I read each year here.

So what's your TBR pile look like? How do you go about picking your next book to read--i.e. is it my method (Ooh! New! Shiny!) or do you have a more organized way to go about it? And how long do you give a book before you move on for good? Anyone else have a "limbo" type shelf?

Readers Face the Slush Pile: A Few Hard Truths

Elliott bay: Seattle's legendary independent bookstore - IMG_1422

Photo of Seattle's Elliot Bay bookstore by Nicola since 1972

I know the publishing industry has been in major flux over the last few years with e-readers and the advent of digital self-publishing. (Let's mark that as my most obvious statement of the year.)

And though change is always uncomfortable and stressful, I think it's also opened up a whole new world for writers. Like agent Deidre Knight posted about recently--No, no longer means never. If a book can't find an agent or a publishing home (or the author doesn't want to go that route at all), self-pubbing is there. Options are wonderful to have. It gives power to the author. Yay for that!

However, that also means that books now don't have to go through gatekeepers, so Amazon and online bookstores are open to anyone who wants to put words on a page (whether well-written or not). That means there is a tidal wave of slush filling up the market and it's up to the reader to decide if a book is worthy or not.

First novel attempts are out there (thank God this option wasn't around when I thought my first attempt at writing a book was made of awesome--it wasn't and would be an embarrassment to me now.) Rough drafts are out there. Total, breathtaking masterpieces are out there. But it's up to the consumer to sift through it and discover and applaud the ones worthy of it by posting great reviews and passing on word of mouth.

But here's the thing: lots of readers seem to be perfectly impressed by mediocre writing.

Now, I know books are a totally subjective experience. And who am I to judge what is good or bad writing. But there are also standard practices of writing, clichés to avoid, and just general solid story telling techniques that are around for a reason. And I realize that I'm a writer who is going to have a much more critical eye when it comes to craft, but still it's frustrating seeing a book with a nice cover, a good blurb, and great reviews/sales rank, getting excited, then opening up those sample pages and groaning with disappointment.

Yesterday, I had it happen twice. Two books that looked great and then didn't deliver in the sample pages. If they'd been read in the opening pages gong show I talked about last week, they would've been gonged by the agents, no doubt. But these authors are selling books and have an army of good reviews gracing Amazon, so either they're padding their reviews or most readers are satisfied with "decent" writing ability. 

Now, before anyone jumps my case, I'm not saying there aren't traditionally pubbed books that suck too. But at least they've been through a few editors, including not just a copy editor but a macro editor who is looking at the big picture stuff. Grammar and typos can be handled by a high school English student. Having an editor that can critically evaluate things like story structure, character arc, info dumps, plot holes, etc. is not quite as easy to find. That kind of editing is what is going to separate (whether traditional or indie) the good stories from the just alright.  

So here are some hard truths I've come to terms with regarding the new world of books...

#1 I can't trust reviews or sales ranking anymore unless the review comes from someone I know and trust or a professional book blogger/reviewer who I know gives honest opinions.

And I am looking more and more towards goodreads instead of amazon for reviews. I find that goodreads gives a more well-rounded picture. And I'm learning the book bloggers who tend to have taste similar to mine, so I trust their recommendations.

 

#2 For self-pubbed/indie books, I'm reading sample pages before I buy unless it's an author I already know/have read/trust.

No, it's not fair that I tend not to do this for traditionally pubbed books. Usually if the blurb and cover grab me, I'm buying. But I've been burned one too many times on the self-pubbed stuff, so I'm reading pages before purchase.

 

#3 Though the gates opening is a great thing, I think we're going to miss out on some really fantastic writing from authors who would've had to hone and refine their craft more if they'd faced the gates first.

If an author puts out a book that's "good enough" or "decent" and it sells well, there is no motivation for her to take the time to study craft and get better, to push herself. In fact, the only thing she'll probably feel pressure to do is write the next one as fast as she can to get more "shelf" space. So, she can continue to put out more of the same. That's great if she can make a living at it, but what kind of story may the world have gotten if she'd had to push a little further, dug a little deeper? (So if you are publishing, either self or traditionally, always remember to hone your craft. Study books/blogs on writing, read books from authors who are masters at their craft, and always strive to make the next book better. Never be happy with "good enough.")

 

#4 Being a writer means being a picky reader.

I'm almost jealous of those readers who can read a not so well-written book and enjoy it--not pick up on the clichés or the 20 million exclamation points, not worry that the character is looking at herself in the mirror and describing how she looks, not seeing the plot holes. Being a writer is like being a chef who tries to eat in someone else's restaurant and sees every flaw in the food.

 

#5 I now have an endless variety of stories to choose from.

This is a good one. I LOVE that books that may not have fit in the traditional mold and would've gotten put in a drawer are getting out there. Genre-crossers, niche stories, boundary-pushers, shorter works. That's fantastic. I just have to accept that the flip side of this benefit means the extra step of sifting through the slush.

 

So yes, I'm all for writers having the variety of publishing options. I haven't ruled out self-pubbing stuff in between my traditional stuff in the future (if I can learn to write faster and have some time in between deadlines, lol.) But the benefits don't come without some negatives. As a reader, I now have to work a little harder to find what I want. It's something I'm still getting used to.

So what are your thoughts? How do you make your book buying decisions? Have you been burned buying a book that had stellar reviews and sales? Do you read sample pages before purchasing? What are some indie books that really knocked your socks off? 

Do You Trust Reviews? - The Hierarchy of Book Buying

blaine

Photo by Jeff Nelson (cc)

This week on one of the author loops I'm on, there has been a discussion about book reviews--particularly ones on Amazon and Goodreads. One of the authors on the loop linked to this discussion on Amazon by readers about "padded" reviews. Meaning--the author's family, friends, and minions go and jack up the average by writing 5-star glowing reviews.

Be warned, some of the readers in that discussion are pretty harsh in their opinions of authors--kind of painting us like we're these evil puppetmasters who look to deceive readers by getting biased reviews. Some even go so far as to say they never trust a five star review and think the ones are much more valid. Any other author reading this get a shudder of fear over that one?

Now, I am not going to sit here and say that some authors don't send their friends and family over to give them reviews. It happens. But my guess would be that it's a very small part of reviews. And I get most wary when I see a book only has say 5 or 6 reviews and all of them are five stars with "this book is perfection" kind of reviews. But if a book has a good number of reviews and most are positive, I tend to believe it. (I like looking at the average rating.)

However, this whole discussion did get me to thinking how I as a reader (not a writer) look at reviews when I'm making purchasing decisions. And you know what? I do kind of skip over the 5-star ratings (unless it's by a review site I recognize) and I ALSO discount the 1-star ratings. Ninety-five percent of the time the one-star raters have some bigger issue outside of this specific book (they thought it was going to be in a different genre, there was too much sex i.e. they didn't realize it was erotic, or they took some personal offense to the book.) Those reviews aren't helpful to me.

So I usually gravitate toward reading the 2-4 star reviews. I'm not so concerned with the number of stars as I am what the people said about the book. That's usually where I get the most helpful info to let me know if it's going to be a book for me or not. So even as an author, I'm inadvertently discounting those 5-star reviews. Ouch.

But really, for me, the reviews on those sites kind of fall low on my radar when it comes to buying books. It's not so much as a lack of trust as it is I know opinions vary so greatly. For instance, the movie critics loved Contagion. I thought it was completely boring, lacking conflict, and had zero character development.

So here's kind of my hierarchy chart for book buying. 

 

My Hierarchy of Book Buying

AUTO BUY

 

  • It's an author I already know and love. Blurb doesn't really matter. He or she has proven to me that their books are made of win. Until they prove otherwise, I'm buying.

 

 

PROBABLY BUY

  • Recommendation from a friend whose tastes are similar to mine.

The old word of mouth thing. It works. I know the friends I have that recommend winners to me every time.

  • If it's a publisher I trust + Good Blurb

I know this may be more of a writer thing because we're more aware of who is publishing what. But way before I ever had an agent or a deal with Berkley, I was a Berkley fan girl. I knew that I liked 95% of what they put out, so as long as the story blurb interests me, I will usually buy.

 

STRONGLY CONSIDER BUYING

  • Good blurb + Good cover

Yes, covers shouldn't matter. But they do. If the story souds interesting and the cover looks great, I'm in.

  • Good review on a book blog or review magazine I know and trust.

These are the reviews that I think are much more worthwhile. You find those book bloggers who have similar tastes to you and then you can get recommendations that you can trust.

 

MAY CONSIDER BUYING

  • Good Blurb + Good ratings on Amazon/Goodreads

As you can see, this is very low on the list. All the ones above are how I make most of my decisions. Maybe this is because I don't totally buy into reviews, or maybe it's just because I'm buying so many books for the above reasons, that I rarely get down to this point.

 

WON'T BUY

  • Blurb I'm not interested in.
  • Genre I don't read.
  • Clearly homemade cover 

I know it's not fair. But especially with indie pubbed stuff, the cover to me is the first sign of whether or not the person has put forth the effort to be professional. If they didn't spend money on cover design, they probably didn't worry about paying a good editor either. (Not saying that's always true, but just telling you how my mind automatically responds.

  • A lot of reviews and they're mostly bad

A few bad reviews won't scare me off, but if that's the majority of what the book received, I'm probably not buying.

 

So that's how I make my decisions, but I'm curious to hear how you make yours?

Do you put a lot of stock in Amazon and Goodreads reviews? Do you trust 5-star (or 1-star) ratings? What makes you most want to buy a book? What scares you off a book? What book blogs can you always count on for reliable reviews? What would your hierarchy of book buying look like?