Finding the Next Great Read - by Pamela Beason
I’m excited about attending the Left Coast Crime Conference next week. It’s not a writers’ conference, but a mystery fan conference. The attendees will be about 50% mystery authors and 100% mystery readers, because of course all authors are voracious readers, too. I generally read around 150 books a year, in all genres, and nonfiction as well as fiction.
The question I always ask readers, and especially those in book clubs, is how they find books. I’ve heard all kinds of answers. The most disappointing one for me is that they follow the well-known bestseller lists, such as the New York Times and Publishers Weekly. Those are the places that I never look for my next read. Why? Because due to my long experience with the publishing industry, I know that those lists might as well be named The Books That Received All the Marketing Money.
Most publishers do not market every book they publish, but instead, focus their advertising funds and special bookstore deals on making only a few books best sellers. While there are no doubt great reads on those bestseller lists, I know there are thousands more that I’d like to read as much or more, whose names would never appear there because they received no advertising from the publishers.
So, how do I find the books I want to read? So many ways: recommendations from friends, library lists, Amazon bestseller lists, magazine articles. But mostly, I find new authors and books while searching for my favorite authors. In this regard, it helps to have a bad memory like I do, because I frequently search in vague ways like “books set on spaceships” or “female author who writes about search dogs.” And not only do I again find my favorites to see if he or she has books I haven’t yet read, but I find other similar books. So that’s often my starting point.
Then, how do I decide if I might like a book? Personally, I’m a sucker for setting as my first criterion. Some readers enjoy settings they know, like their home city. I’m exactly the opposite: I want to explore and learn about a place I think I’d like to go, but have never been. So set your book in the jungles of Borneo, or on a submarine, or in the arctic wilderness, and I’m pretty much guaranteed to read it.
Second for me is the protagonist. I don’t put up with wimps, or with situations where the protagonist wanders around without any obvious goal, the “slice of life” books. But I don’t want superheroes, either. There’s nothing more boring to me than a war story where everyone in the army unit is a hero all the time. I want guts and determination along with fear and doubt, whether that character is a high school girl facing down a bully or a solitary game warden tracking down poachers in the wilderness.
Third for me are realistic scenarios. I am a former private investigator, so I’m not going to read a story where a PI routinely breaks laws. I’ve also spent a lot of time with wildlife, so I don’t want to read about vicious manta rays (they have no teeth!) and other unrealistic scenarios. I write and read tons of fiction, but all the scenes have to be at least plausible for me to continue reading.
That’s my process and those are all just my personal tastes, and I am never offended when others don’t share them. I think it’s wonderful that we all have different tastes; that makes for a much more varied and colorful world, and it creates many more opportunities for writers to showcase their talents.
How do you find books, and what are your criteria for choosing what to read? I'd really like to know. Please scroll to the bottom of this page and chime in.