I recently joined the Kindle Lending Library, but have had trouble finding anything I care to borrow. Usually, I have trouble finding books I'd be willing to buy, but it is quite a statement to myself when I become aware that I am not even willing to wager my time to read a free book.
What is my problem? Am I a literary snob? Am I just so old that I've "been there and done that" with every book subject and nothing gets my creative juices flowing anymore?
I wasn't sure. I decided to pay attention to my internal dialogue while digging through ebooks to try to figure out why I was rejecting so many of them. In search of the most common themes of my thinking, I realized that what it comes right down to is that I avoid anything that feels slick.
One factor that contributes to the slick feel is using gimmicks like "do x in y number of days" or "13 tips on how to z". That's an old magazine article technique that attracted readers who wanted a quick bit of advice from an expert without having to read a novel. It doesn't sit well with me in the arena of ebooks.
Blatantly fake pen names are a big turn off for me. If you stand behind your writing, why not use your real name? And if you prefer to keep your anonymity and privacy because you fear you will become famous someday, at least use a believable name and don't make up something a 10-year-old girl might use while playing house, or worse yet, a name that sounds like a stripper in a nightclub.
I also find that I flip right past books that have parentheses in the title, usually saying something like (Book 14 in The John Smith Series). My first response upon seeing that the book is one of a series is to vomit a little in my mouth. I tire of reading about the adventures of the same character pretty quickly and need new characters to hold my interest. Plus, since anyone can publish a book nowadays, I don't trust that most authors know how to make a series book stand on its own. I certainly don't want to be forced to buy the first book and read them in order so that I can know what is going on, when I've got so many other things to do before I die.
Along similar lines are the authors who have a dozen titles with slight variations on the subject matter. Many times they use the same title over and over, but just change one word to make the book stand out from their others. When an author has published too many books in a short period of time, I get suspicious. Either the writing is going to be awful, or the book is going to be more like the length of a leaflet. Their efforts feel more like a slimy, deceitful business move and less like a creative force.
I see this a lot in books on writing and publishing. The first thing I do when someone wants to give me advice is to look at their credentials, and when I see a picture of some teenager on the author's page, it is difficult for me to believe that he or she has had enough life experience to be giving advice in the first place. For me, those who want to give advice either need to already be successful in the subject area and have a recognizable name, or they need to hold an educational degree that shows that they at least have been trained on the subject.
The usage of lingo that identifies the author's generation as being that of my future grandchildren is also a big turn off. I'm sure young people can be very successful in attracting an audience within their own generation, but by using current terminology only found on high school and college campuses, they are limiting their prospects.
Also, I can identify reviews written by friends and family of the writer from a mile away. Reviewers who talk more about the author than the ebook give their relationship away. I immediately dismiss the opinions written in those types of comments. I also dismiss all five-star reviews. I figure that people who write five-star reviews either know the author personally, are easily impressed, are afraid to criticize, or are giving out five-star reviews like candy because they are authors themselves and want the favor returned some day. I go straight to the least number of stars and read what those curmudgeons have to say, because I figure most of them are jaded like me. If their complaints resonate with me as something that would bug me, I move on to the next book.
I recently read a book written by an acquaintance. I really loved the book and had planned to give it a five-star review. However, when I got out to Amazon's site and saw that the author already had dozens of five-star reviews with not a single negative remark, I decided to do her a favor and give her book four stars with one small criticism. At least that way people knew there was one "real" review in there. Call it reverse psychology, but I really felt that I expanded her audience by doing that.
I've read all the same books that other indie writers have studied, and with many ebooks I can tell which of those writing advice manuals they've followed based upon their marketing approach. It's okay to march to the beat of your own drum. I prefer to read the works of writers who think for themselves. They are more likely to produce something that is fresh and exciting.
I've read a lot of books that emphasize the importance of book covers. That's the first impression a buyer gets, and the cover (if the buyer isn't searching for works by a specific author) is what leads to the buyer either flipping to the next person's book or taking the time to read the description of your book. At that point, your description has to hold the buyer's attention, so I agree that book covers and descriptions are extremely important. However, the book itself has to be great if you expect to get any return customers, so pretty much everything has to be perfect.
I think a lot of authors ruin their chances of attracting attention by the images they put on their book covers. I have a strong aversion to romance novels, so any time I see shirtless men with washboard abs in cowboy hats or huge lips slathered in red lipstick or people kissing with their hair blowing in the wind, my stomach starts heaving. The book may not even be a romance novel, but if I see any image that suggests that it may be of the romance genre, I'm outta there. So, you constantly have to be thinking about how your book cover images could be perceived by different personalities and how they could impact the expanse of your potential readership.
Cliches kill me. Yes, I use them when I speak and write blog posts, and cliches can be useful in dialog to show characterization, but I do not want to see them in titles and descriptions, because all that does is tell me that the author has not had the proper training to be writing. Any respectable creative writing mentor would blow those cliches right out of a student's writing, and no well-trained editor would let them reach print.
Unprofessional author bios are a really quick way to lose my attention. When I was a part of the literary crowd in college, we all wrote jokes into our bios when our works were published in the university's literary journal, but once you get out into the real world, you need to keep things business-like. I don't want to hear about how special the author is because he or she wanted to be a writer ever since he or she started eating solid foods. I'm also not interested in how many moonlighting jobs the author possessed, how poor the author might have been while whittling away at his words, or other things he sacrificed to prove his devotion to the profession. Sacrifice is a given if you choose to do just about anything artistic for a living. I don't mind a little bit of personal information beyond a list of writing accomplishments in order to make the author more accessible to his readers, such as Dean Koontz mentioning his current Golden Retriever, but keep it down to one sentence. Do not go overboard on the silliness or you will date yourself as having been born yesterday.
Also, anytime I see an author's name taking up more than 1/3rd of the cover like it's being shoved down my throat, I google the name to see if he or she is truly deserving of having a flashing name up in lights on the boardwalk. Traditionally, publishers started making the author's name more prominent than the title of the book when the author surpassed a certain number of best-sellers or was already a celebrity of some sort before the book was produced. If you aren't already famous, be humble, put the focus on the book and not your name. If you're not sure if you're famous, sign up for a service that shoots you an email every time someone searches on your name. That will serve as a decent gauge for your popularity and offer a more scientific approach to keeping your ego in check.
I admit that I have a stronger aversion to sales techniques than most people. Manipulations are very transparent to me, and I am not afraid to slam doors and windows in the faces of con artists who show up on my doorstep. I can also be pretty rude to people who don their salesman caps in my presence. If I want or need something, I will go get it. I don't need people to convince me to buy something that is not on my radar, and I don't appreciate having my time wasted when they attempt to do so. I'm slowly moving away from traditional cable TV to commercial-free services, because it lowers my morale having sales pitches coming at me so relentlessly. I think that is why I am so sensitive to ebooks that place more of a focus on the sales of themselves than on what the reader wants or needs, which brings me to my final peeve: Book descriptions and reviews that are obviously written by friends and relatives of the author that say, "BUY THIS BOOK NOW!"
Don't tell me what to do. Does anybody really think that people are so stupid that they will mindlessly follow such a command? Come on. Give us some credit. Respect your readers. Acknowledge that they are intelligent beings. Please. I beg you.
So, that's my subconscious method of picking through ebooks in the Kindle Lending Library. Unfortunately, I talked more about why I choose not to check out most books. I'll let you know the flip side of it once I find something I'm willing to read. I'll also let you know if my choices were satisfying.