I've been hanging around blogs and forums by and for self-published writers, and the talk about promotion made me wonder, how do people find the authors they follow?
For me, in vaguely chronological order:
Terry Pratchett: I'd heard about his Discworld series from online acquaintances. When I had a look in a bookshop the first time, I put it out of my mind right quick, because the old Josh Kirby covers were so offputting, with people looking like scarecrows mde of skin stuffed with lumps. Then Nautilus a German magazine about fantasy media ran a series of articles, and when I needed a book for a long car trip, I picked up Mort (translated, paperback, full price).
Walter Moers: I'd heard about his novels back at school from one of my classmates, but didn't really pick up anything. A few years later I saw that the local library had the books, and I gave the first one a go.
Steven Brust: If I remember correctly he was recommended to me by Herm Baskervile and at least one other Profusion member.
Jim C. Hines: Becca Stareyes posted a review of The Stepsister Scheme on her Livejournal.
Lois McMaster Bujold: A local bookshop had remaindered English paperbacks on offer for one euro (the usual price for remaindered books being 3 or 4 euros nowadays...), and I found Komarr in that box.
M.C.A. Hogarth: I found her via the Livejournal grapevine. I think the first project of hers I heard about was the Three Micahs column. I could "sample" her fiction on her blog and with free short stories, and am in the process of buying the backlist as well as new offers.
Lindsay Buroker: I saw her posts on the Mobilereads forum, and somewhere (I think in her signature) she linked to a free short story featuring the same characters as one of her novels.
I get the impression what works best for me is word of mouth and/or getting something for little money or for free. I haven't really developed a habit of downloading samples of ebooks rather than looking for complete free works yet, but I'm working on it.
Which authors do you like so much you're keeping an eye out for their next book, and how did you find them?
Wish List by John Locke is a novel available as an ebook for less than $1. Last time Kobo ran a "$1 off" coupon code promotion, I snapped it up.
Then I tried to read it.
Somebody, for some reason I can't fathom, thought it would be a good idea to put SEVEN BLOODY PAGES OF ADULATION in the front of this book - review outtakes, including "five star" reviews. In a small font. Preceded by a relatively lengthy copyright note, and followed by a page with a dedication, and a page with acknowledgements. The book had no working table of contents to skip that cruft and just get to the story. That left me pretty irritated even before the prologue started.
Seriously, why would you do that?
I can kinda see how those comments might be considered potentially useful in paper books, because in a bookshop there is no display with reviews, but downloadable ebooks? Online, reviews are easy to find - usually on the page where you download the book in question. So they strike me as superfluous in ebooks.
And those reviews have a better chance of being balanced than whatever is included in the book. Since I've seen one author quoted on a book with "a fabulous book, I wouldn't want to miss a line" and on the later added sequel with "a fabulous series, I wouldn't want to miss a line", I assume those endorsements are fake, or at least dishonest. And even if they all were genuine, obviously only 100% positive bits of reviews get into the book itself. It's advertising.
If I had looked at a sample to decide if I wanted to buy, I'd have dismissed it before reaching the end of the adulation, because with going through that much hyping being "required" before I can read it, the book probably isn't any good speaking for itself. It reminds me a bit of the unskippable advertisments in some DVDs, only this is even more pointless, because if I already have the book, I don't need convincing to get it. And it bears repeating: SEVEN BLOODY PAGES! AAAARGH!
I've got to say, it makes HarperCollins ebooks I've seen so far look better by comparison. They include stuff often found at the front of print books - other books by this author, or the copyright page - at the back of the book, after the story.
In my opinion, there should not be more between the reader and the story than neccessary, because anything beyond that will bore, annoy and put off some prospective readers.
Eh, yeah, enough rant, back to Wish List.
The prologue involved a date between a man and a woman, from the viewpoint of the man. He wants sex, she doesn't, but he talks her into it (not that he has a hard time). While they're in bed getting started, his mobile phone rings, he pulls a knife from below his cushion and stabs the phone. Then he's disgruntled because his date is freaked out by his behaviour, rather than impressed.
From the style I guess it's supposed to be funny. I found it extremely creepy.
I decided to not read the rest of this book. It's rather unlikely I'll ever pick up any other book by John Locke.
With the impression that the place was mostly a porn shop catering to men, it was a decade before I entered it again. In that time, I filled two bookcases with manga and albums/trade paperbacks, and a few boxes with "floppies", bought in bookshops, in the second comic shop in town, or online.
I don't understand why some shopkeepers and a big chunk of the comics industry have decided they don't want the money of people who happen to be female. Maybe because they would have to at least pretend they considered us people, rather than tits&ass on legs.
A while ago one of my online-friends, Eliza Gebow, mentioned something about asking people what scares them most, to incorporate it in her writing.
Trying to think of what that I had read in a piece of fiction scared me most, a situation from one of Lois McMasterBujold's "Miles Vorkosigan" books came to my mind.
There was a woman who got a surprise visit from two of her male relatives. Another guy had written them a letter about a supposed danger the woman was in, and they’d travelled quite a distance to talk to her about it and help her.
She told them that there was no danger. She even pointed out why their informant might want to cause her trouble.
Her family dismissed her completely.
Someone with a vagina could not possibly know better what’s going on in her own life and immediate surroundings than some guy whom she met a couple of times, and/or the word of a complete stranger is to be trusted above that of your own sister, provided said stranger has a penis.
This scenario terrified me more than the two or three dozen books by Stephen King that I read put together, because being dismissed is a whole lot closer to home.
There is a paragraph from Chris Baty's book No Plot? No Problem! going round on LJ in meme form.
"Before you sit down to write a novel, you make a list of everything you love to see in novels. When you write your own novel, you should put the stuff from your list in there. Then you should make a second list of everything you hate to see in novels. When you write your own novel, you should make sure none of the stuff from that second list creeps in when you’re tired."
I'm not immediately planning to write a novel, but anyway...
Language that's fun to read. Banter. A narrator or viewpoint character who doesn't take things all that seriously. I liked Raymond Chandler's stuff on that alone, and love it in Discworld, Vlad Taltos, Bartimaeus, Vorkosigan...
Weird aspects/concepts. It can go too far when the story-world is all out wacky and nothing else, but if it's just some elements, or the story is somehow else "anchored" so I can relate to it, it's great. Examples:
A magic orb circles the Empress of Dragaera. It protects her from harm, enables her subjects to use magic - and also enables them to check the time "telepathically", and changes colours according to the empress's mood.
Skullduggery Pleasant is a sixgun-toting, undead sorcerer detective.
In The Warrior Apprentice, Miles Vorkosigan builds a space mercenary fleet of respectable size with himself as commander in chief - by accident.
People I can root for. Being good, at least for a given value of good... For example, so, yeah, Vlad Taltos is a murderer and gangster boss, but he does pay the family of his underling crooks if said underling gets killed in the line of duty... Also, see first Like.
Well-developed, strong characters who happen to be female are a plus.
Antagonists I can sympathise with, or whose motivations I can at least intellectually understand. This does not include "being evil is awesome!"
Friendship. Loyalty. Trust.
Optimistic basic mood.
Despite how often I've heard them compared, that's the difference I see between Discworld ("hey, even Death is on our side!"), which I like, and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy ("Humanity sucks, has always sucked and will suck as long as it exists."), which I did not like at all.
For fantasy settings including magic (which in itself is a "like"): Creatively used magic. "Whoever can fling the biggest fireball wins" is boring. Oh, and magic used for useful things, too, rather than only destruction.
A bit of information on how magic works/what rules it follows feeds my inner geek. <3
"This story mostly exists to carry a MESSAGE!" Worst example I encountered being Lord of the Flies - the version I read had a preface which gave away the ending to explain its symbolic meaning. Disgusting.
All characters are male, apart from the trophy bride(s) (e.g. Ocean's Eleven or Lord of the Rings). Or female characters only existing for the benefit of male characters (and/or assumed-to-be-male audience).
For fantasy races: males are monstrous, or at least unattractive, females attractive by human standards.
Strictly/overtly patriarchal societies, unless they're depicted as ridiculous (e.g. in Ethan of Athos) or otherwise criticised in the story. I already live with being considered a second class person, I don't need to have that shit shoved into my face in my escapism.
Villains. People who consider themselves evil and are proud of it, and/or are evil because they like being evil... It's insane or stupid, and on top of that lazy writing in all instances I encountered so far.
"All X are good, all Y are bad". Or generally splitting the world into good and bad.
Doom and gloom and nothing else. For example starting off a story with a list of the hardships a character went through in their life so far will most likely mean I don't read the rest, unless the tone is un-serious enough to cancel it.
Male dwarf considers human woman (or elf attractive by human standards) gorgeous. Different species should have different standards of beauty, and I can think of three instances of that particular constellation offhand, making it way over-used for something so stupid.
"You are the Chosen One of the Prophecy, so you must do this to save the world, even if you have no idea whatsoever about anything."
Gushy romance making up most of the story.
Detailed sex scenes. I really don't need to know how and how often which tab goes into which slot.
Sloppy writing and inconsistencies. For instance saying outright and showing through multiple examples throughout the book that technology stops working or breaks as soon as anything magic comes near, but having a major magic ritual accompanied by background music from a CD player. Writing like Wolfgang Hohlbein.
I realise that the "dislikes" list is way longer than the "likes" list. My impression is that I have more relatively specific "hot buttons" that will annoy me, and mostly wide "likes".
A small addendum to the "all characters are male, apart from the trophy bride(s)" dislike in the case of movies or comics, rather than prose: Men come in a variety of different shapes and ages, but women are all young, slim, "conventionally attractive", as if made in the same plastic doll mold.
I have less trouble liking a story without any female characters in it (even though that is likely to cause some annoyance, unless the cast is extremely small) than ignoring cardboard-cutout female "characters", or women inserted for male readers to drool over, or other nonsense like that.
I came across a blog entry, How Often Should You Publish? by a published author, I'd like to comment on. Of course I'm speaking from a reader's perspective.
The idea that the publishing speed should be right for the fanbase I can see - say, I stopped reading Sluggy Freelance because there was too much too fast being added to for me, but obviously it's great for enough other people to make it a really popular webcomic.
But as he says in his key assertion, "you don't publish unless it's good", there is objectively publishing too much. My "favourite" example is Wolfgang Hohlbein, a German fantasy author who seems to publish 7 or more books a year. The problem is that the quality suffers. To avoid anything that may have to do with taste, here are some examples.
In one book hailed as "his most ambitious novel", one of the secondary characters for a few chapters is incorrectly referred to by the name of an entirely different character that died in the prequel. Offhand I remember one other scene which didn't make sense until I figured out in one sentence he'd used the wrong name of the two characters involved.
Another was a six-part series, and at the end of one book one of the characters was catatonic, and the rhetoric of the other sounded like getting him out of it was the big quest-thing for the next volume, but at the start of that next book the poor sod was just a bit under the weather.
His last book that I gave a chance on one page said "she ran towards the forest, where she could get away since she knew every single tree", and five pages later "she had never entered the forest, only walked along its edge".
Re-reading and editing a manuscript before sending it to a publisher certainly is a good idea, even if it takes time.
Turning back to webcomics, the fun part is that there (among amateurs, of course), one piece of advice is to start your first project even if your art and all sucks, because the practise will help you get better, and not doing it means you probably won't get better.