Sunday, October 19, 2014

Shall I Read Your Book?

I’ve come to the conclusion that there are more books I’d like to read than I have time for. Shocking, right?

It means I need to be selective. I could probably be happy for a long time reading new books by authors I have enjoyed or reading their backlist if I missed some. However, as a (relatively) unknown author, I realize that if everyone else were to apply that same philosophy, my books would not prosper, nor would those by most of my writer friends. Eventually, I’d end up in a rut, which would be depressing. I think it is important to support midlist and lower authors who write good books.

Consequently, I needed to develop a new way to decide what books to read and what books I won’t read. Here’s my current methodology for fiction (Nonfiction is entirely different.):

1. If I have read your books and enjoyed them, I will try to read the next one, especially if you write a series, because I tend to like series better than standalones. (That’s not a value judgment, just an observation of my reading habits.)

2. If I have read your books and not enjoyed them, then they are not for me, and I wish you great success with the rest of the reading public, but I won’t be picking up another of your books.

3. If I enjoyed your series, but from my perspective it has gone stale, I’m done with that series—but if you start a new series, I’m likely to check it out. I grant all long-term series authors one “miss,” but if you have two, then I’m done.

4. If I meet you at a conference or meeting or bookstore and we have an interesting conversation, I will read one of your books (probably your latest since that’s the one you are promoting) with hopes you will move into category #1. If I’m moderating a panel you are on, I will read your book to help make you shine.

5. If we meet and you are a snob, disrespectful of others, or hog a panel (panelist or moderator) you could write the most fabulous book in the world and I will not support you by reading it.

6. If we are on similar listservs and you make helpful or insightful or thought-provoking comments, and you write the kind of books I like to read, I’ll pick up one of yours. You could be a great blogger or list member, but if all you write is (say) romance or horror, well then, I’m sorry I can’t support you with my reading, but I’ll try to say nice things about you so others will know of you.

7. If you are a cyberbully, disrespectful, or always posting “woe is me” stuff, I’ve crossed you off my list. I am not into psychic bleeders. I want to surround myself with positive vibes. That does not mean you can’t share downs (we all have them) as long as I also get to experience your ups. I can give hugs as well as cheers. But no whining—enjoyable wine has no “h” in it.

8. If the only posts I see from you are self-promotion, I will turn a deaf ear and ignore you and your books. This goes for Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, you name it.

9. If I “like” you on a social network and I immediately get a message to the effect that you’ll buy my book if I buy yours, or that you’ll trade five-star reviews, we’re done.

10. If someone who enjoys books similar to my tastes recommends a new author, I will try it, and if my book club is reading it, I am all in.

11. If a reviewer I respect (because of their honest ratings) enthuses over a book, I am likely to check it out if it is in a category I enjoy.

Notice that nothing on the list defines what kind of writing I like. My preferences may not be yours, which is not a problem with so many authors to choose from. So, how about you WWK readers—what puts or keeps an author off your reading list?

~ Jim


Clamo88 said...

I'd have to say, Jim, that you covered it pretty darned well and my choices would match yours.

It's great that there are so many good books out there. It makes it so difficult to make choices though.

I'm all for helping support the new author, so I'll also offer to read and review, or do a ms swap, which helps me find new (to me) authors to keep on my reading list.

Jim Jackson said...

Claire -- It's nice to know others have similar sensibilities. I also am happy to read and blurb books, but I always let the person know that if I don't enjoy their book, I'll not write a blurb. ~ Jim

KM Rockwood said...

A thoughtful, helpful blog. I'm afraid I'm no nearly so organized. As you say, there are far more books out there than anyone has time to read (although I do remember someone complaining to a local school board that too much money was being spent on books for the school library. After all, not all the students had read all the books, so why did they need more?)

Thanks for putting in words, though, many of my thoughts on reading books.

Sylvia A. Nash said...

I'm not sure I've ever thought out my reading strategies, but at least subconsciously, they seem to be very similar to yours.

I would add this one: If a book is horrific for the sake of being horrific, I probably won't finish the book, and I will never pick up one by that author again.

I love to read and can find something good in most every book I do read. I can even overlook typos and errors if the story is good.

Thanks for posting this and helping me to see some of my own whys and wherefores!

Shari Randall said...

Thank you for sharing your system, Jim. There's a lot of good food for thought here. I still can't figure out why I return to some series that are on life support - pity maybe? I picture the characters I've grown to love knocking on the window, mouthing "help me, help me"
And we're all stealing the w(h) ine line!

Warren Bull said...

We are all in the same situation. Thanks for sharing. I also have rules for once I start a book. I no longer believe I have to finish what I start.

Jim Jackson said...

KM -- The organization comes by writing the blog. I don't go through some checklist before picking up a book -- well, not an actual one, I guess I go through a mental one.

Sylvia -- gratuitous violence is not to my taste either. I have some tolerance for typos as I have come to realize that publishers can introduce some after the author's last pass at a manuscript. However, if they start to pile up, it spoils the reading experience for me.

Shari -- we like series because they are part of our extended family, and like the recalcitrant nephew, we keep hoping the miscreant will turn around and give him a second chance.

Warren -- similar to Shari not wanting to give up on a previously favorite series, it is tough for many of us to stop reading before the end. I do it now on material I really don't care for, but I must admit I read more marginal books to the end than I should -- I just keep hoping it will justify my time, but that rarely happens.

~ Jim

Linda Rodriguez said...

I agree with your list, Jim. I'd add one more, though. If you take some horrendous stand publicly, such as Grisham did recently defending "old, middle-class, white men" who are into child pornography (which is basically real-time video of children being sexually abused)--I'll never buy or read another of your books.

Jim Jackson said...

Good addition, Linda.

Gloria Alden said...

Jim, like you I have stacks and stacks of books waiting to be read - largely what I got as freebe's in the bags we receive, and ones I bought because I thought they'd be interesting. I totally agree with your list.

Warren, like you, I no longer finish a book I started and couldn't get into, either. Even if it's a best seller everyone else is raving about.

Linda, I had not heard that about John Grisham. I read some of his earlier books, but quit with one that dealt with an evil law firm that was creepy to me. I guess all those unread books of his, I'll now get rid of plus those I did read.

Kaye George said...

You've hit my nail on the head, too, Jim. Linda, you too with John Grisham. I'm SO done with him!

I'll add that I try very hard to read books objectively by people who air political or religious views that are distasteful to me, but that's difficult. It's better not to mix that stuff up with a writing career in my opinion (which is, of course ONLY my opinion). If the views align with mine, I have no problem. Funny how that goes.

Polly Iyer said...

Good list, Jim. I do try to support indie and small press writers and fit a biggie favorite of mine in between. I favor standalones, but I will read series where I find the character intriguing, such as Slaughter's Will Trent and Crais's Joe Pike. Cozies rarely find a place on my TBR file, though I will give one a try every now and then, but that's more because of my tastes than the writer. Arrogance in a writer is an immediate turnoff, and I won't read that person's books anymore. We all have our buttons, that's a big one for me.

Kait said...

Excellent post, Jim. As you say,there are more books to read than time. One needs a strategy. I'm curious, do you always make it to the end of books? I've only recently given myself permission to decide a book is not for me and put it aside.

Maggie Toussaint said...

I like your list, Jim, and the additions people have suggested also work for me. I tend to read in fits and spurts, and when I do I gorge myself on books.

I have rules about reviews I write. I won't write a review if I didn't like the book. Like Warren, I don't finish all the books I start. If I'm not hooked enough to stay awake to turn the pages, the book goes in a donation bag.

I used to have more time for reading when I worked full time and was raising a family. Working for yourself is much more time consuming! But I love to escape between the pages...

Jim Jackson said...

Kaye -- I'm with you regarding reading fiction with a huge political bias that I don't agree with. In nonfiction, however, I seek it out to hone my own opinions. Not saying that's rational, but it's who I am.

Polly -- a curiosity question: why do you prefer standalones? I have wondered if they need to be better written to be good since they don't rely on past the past good will a series generates.

Kait -- I have no trouble stopping reading early on in a book if I find the writing poor. However, once I am past half way, I have much more difficulty quitting. I know it's a sunk cost, so I'm reminding myself that it's okay to quit at any time if the writing becomes bad.

~ Jim

Jim Jackson said...

Maggie -- on of the tough things about working for yourself is setting and keeping boundaries -- of course, I didn't do a very good job of that when I was working for others!

~ Jim

Polly Iyer said...

I guess, Jim, because I prefer writing them. I like the fresh development of the characters. Many series writers drop that development after a couple of books, and then the books become just another mystery or thriller or whatever. I think a good series grows the character and we keep discovering more about them. I understand the lure of writing series, though. Mine sells more than my other books, but I found it more pressure to write the third one than a standalone.

E. B. Davis said...

I agree with most of your criteria, Jim, except for the personal ones. I may not like someone, but I may enjoy her writing. Writing reveals much about the mind of the writer, and it may interest me to find out more about a person through her books. I doubt that I'd like many of the authors I've read and liked. Would I really like Ken Kesey, Earnest Hemingway, Stephen King, Ayn Rand? I doubt it, but I would have lost so much had I not read their books. I know you are talking about contemporary mystery writers, but I wonder if you've thought that one through. Sure, you don't want to help someone you don't like, but at the same time, I think a book, painting, music can stand on its own. I love the Stones, but I doubt if I'd really like them if I met them.

Jim Jackson said...

Elaine -- I don't believe I indicated that liking/disliking a person was one of my criteria. Boorish behavior can turn me away-- and yes, I agree with you that I could miss some great books that way. But, that's a bit different than needing to like someone to read their work.

I actively seek out people who have different ways of looking at the world than I or who have different experiences than I do in order to learn more from their experiences or perspective. Because we have such different worldviews, those people are unlikely to become friends, but I can find them interesting, enlightening or entertaining.

~ Jim

Deb said...

I really appreciate this conversation, and my gut feelings march along with the comments expressed here. I'm finding that sometimes I like a premise but not the writing-I've learned from experience if I'm more conscious of the writing and less conscious of the story, I won't finish the book. Sometimes I read outside my usual genre (mystery) because the writing is wonderful. Since being on the Guppies List at SinC, I am often intrigued enough to read someone's work because of their thoughtful takes on a topic. It's a whole new way for me to find books I enjoy!

Vinnie Hansen said...

My selection process is similar to yours, Jim. I will choose books because they are receiving accolades--most recently Ordinary Grace, and The Other Woman. I loved both books, although they are on opposite ends of the mystery spectrum. Since I'm a member of the Northern California Sisters in Crime, I have a goal to read at least one book by every published member. I often read books by people I meet and like at conferences and events. If I have time, I circle back to certain series. I recently read Cara Black's Murder in the Latin Quarter. I'd read several other books in this series, but chose this one because my husband and I were going to stay in the Latin Quarter. I had a blast tracking down places referenced in the mystery. Now if I'm traveling, I will make a point to take along a book set in the locale.