An American Editor

April 6, 2011

On Books: Indie eBooks Worth Reading (I)

In the scheme of things, I haven’t got a lot of time — well, maybe I do have the time; perhaps it’s a lack of ambition and desire — to review all the books I read. (I usually read several books a week.) Consequently, I make the effort only for those books that I think are exceptional — either exceptionally well-written and interesting, or exceptionally poorly written. The in-between books are only mentioned, if at all, in my Today’s Bookshelf articles. (The problem is that I am constantly buying books. For example, in March, I purchased 116 ebooks and 8 hardcovers; I will name only a few of them when I next write a Today’s Bookshelf article.)

I have decided that such an attitude — that is, only writing about the exceptional books — is unfair to the many indie authors whose books I have read that are good reads and worth reading, but that fall at the 3- to 4-star mark. So I’ve decided to start naming names. Basically, in broad terms, this is how I rate books:

  • 5 and 5+ stars are exceptional books. They are interesting, well-written with few and very minor grammar and spelling errors, and if 5+, have characters with whom at least I, and usually also my wife and perhaps some friends, get involved emotionally; that is, we react emotionally to events that happen in a characters fictional world. These are the authors who inspire you to immediately buy whatever else they currently have available that you haven’t read and whose next book you eagerly look for even months after finishing the current read. These are the books that are worth buying almost regardless of price.
  • 3 to 4 stars are well-written books, too. They also are interesting but may have more serious grammar and spelling issues than the 5/5+ books. However, such issues are not so serious that one can’t read and enjoy the book. These books are not particularly memorable; they are memorable for a few days then forgotten. The characters don’t involve you greatly, although a 4-star book’s characters do involve the reader at least a little or occasionally. These are the “average” books — the ones you read once, perhaps mention to someone else that they might be worth reading, and then discard. Whether the author writes another book doesn’t matter all that much to you. These are books worth buying if the price is right.
  • 1 to 2 stars are the horrors of indie publishing. A 1-star book has nothing in its favor — the story/plot is bad, the writing makes a sixth-grade student look like a Pulitzer Prize for Literature winner, and the book is so riddled with grammar and spelling errors, you wonder if English is a language the author recognizes at all. Not even a professional editor could salvage the book; the book needs to be scrapped and begun from the beginning. The 2-star books are slightly better. With these books there is a glimmer of hope. These books need the touch of a professional editor, but they at least do have a good story/plot. Again the grammar and spelling is atrocious, but editorial help might fix the problem. A book with a 1- or 2-star rating should not be bought, or even downloaded for free.

So what follows are my first ebook recommendations for the 3- to 4-star ebooks. I don’t think the 1- to 2-star ebooks are worth listing, so they are excluded. I also exclude the 5+-star ebooks because those I generally review. Most of the ebooks are available at Smashwords and some at Baen Books.

5 stars

  • Sugar & Spice by Saffina Desforges
  • The Man with the Iron-on Badge by Lee Goldberg
  • The Honor Harrington books by David Weber
  • A Just Determination, Burden of Proof, Against All Enemies, and Rule of Evidence by John G. Henry
  • The Speaker by Sandra Leigh

3 to 4 stars

  • The Mudbug Trilogy (Trouble in Mudbug, Mischief in Mudbug, and Showdown in Mudbug) by Jana DeLeon
  • Pool of Lies by J.M. Zambrano
  • An Unfettered Mind by Annmarie Banks
  • Ain’t No Sunshine by Leslie DuBois
  • ExodusThe Ark by Paul Chafe
  • The Sex Club by L.J. Sellers
  • Heris Serrano, The Serrano Succession, and The Serano Connection by Elizabeth Moon
  • Carved in Bone by Jefferson Bass
  • Ameriqaeda by Markus Kane

I have read all of the above books. I can’t tell you how many 1- and 2-star ebooks I had to go through before I found these books, but there were a lot of them. I hope you will find a few to enjoy from this list.

January 29, 2010

The eBook Wars: The Price Battle (II) — Starbucks 1, Publishers 0

On January 23, 2010 The New York Times had a front-page article titled, “On Kindle’s List, the Best Sellers Don’t Necessarily Need to Sell.” The article went on to discuss the phenomenon with which most savvy ebookers are familiar: many of the “bestsellers” on any ebook bestseller list are free titles. More important to publishers is that many of those bestsellers are always-free public domain books, not paid-for ebooks being given away temporarily as promotions.

The article went on to discuss publisher approaches to freebies, how freebies are promotional, and other good reasons why giving away an ebook is good and/or bad. (Sadly, the article neglects to mention some of the best sources for free ebooks such as MobileRead and Feedbooks. Free ebooks at these two sources are well-formatted and generally well-edited by a caring community.)

Let me say upfront that I like free ebooks–afterall, who doesn’t like free. Free ebooks have introduced me to authors whose work I never would have read otherwise. But let me also say that with rare exception, I have not proceeded to buy other books of the new authors I have liked. (I do, however, buy a lot of ebooks and hardcovers — more than 100 of each type in 2009.)

Free ebooks are a two-edged sword for publishers and authors. On the positive side, it introduces readers to authors they might not otherwise have read. In my case, it introduced me to David Weber, author of the Honor Harrington Series, and now I buy all of his books in hardcover. On the other hand, it also introduced me to Fiona McIntosh, author of the Quickening Series. I liked her writing but have not bought either of her newest two books (books 1 and 2 of her Valisar Trilogy) because the publisher set the ebook prices higher than the paperback prices.

So, problem #1 is that many publishers still have no clue about what differentiates an ebooker from a print copy buyer. In the case of David Weber, Tor/Baen gave away older Weber ebooks and reasonably priced new ebooks, thereby gaining a new reader, whereas for Fiona McIntosh HarperCollins/Eos gave away the ebook then threw away the reader with excessive pricing.

Problem #2 is that publishers are creating reader pricing expectations. Readers expect that sometime down the road an author’s newer books will become freebies too, so why buy now, especially at exorbitant pricing. Once the impulse buy is lost, readers tend to forget the author and move on. Yes, the Times article quoted some success stories, but remember this: It is still very early in the ebook revolution (ebooks account for only 5% of the current book market) and what happens today doesn’t indicate what will happen tomorrow. Let me repeat: The ebook bestseller lists are stacked with freebies, not paid-for ebooks.

Let’s consider consumer thinking for a moment. Many people rush to their Starbucks and plop down $4 for a coffee. Within minutes the coffee and the $4 have disappeared, neither to ever be seen nor savored again. This is the Starbucks law: Make the product a one-time consumable and require new payment for the next one-time consumable.

Contrast consumers’ willingness to buy the coffee with their willingness to pay for ebooks. An ebook, unlike the coffee, can be savored over many hours and can be resavored 2 years later. Read that $5 ebook 5 times, and each reading has cost $1; try drinking that same cup of coffee twice let alone 5 times — it simply can’t be done. The coffee is $4 for a one-time thrill whereas an ebook is multiple thrills that cost less each time. This is the anti-Starbucks law: Make the product consumable multiple times  with each consumption costing less. Yet, consumers balk at paying for an ebook and publishers feed the freebie frenzy.

Clearly, publishers aren’t making their case about value very well. Isn’t there something amiss when Starbucks can convince someone to part with $4 for a one-time, short-lived thrill but publishers can’t convince anyone that their product has greater value because it is a long-lived thrill. Perhaps the time has come for publishers to demote the bean counters and promote those who give value to their product. There is no financial future in free books for any publisher or author.

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