With the onslaught of digital reading devices and the subsequent flood of eBooks, readers are faced with a big dilemma.  How to keep from getting burned by poor quality eBooks.

Awash In Books

If you haven’t noticed, publishing is changing faster than Clark Kent in a phone booth.  For the most part this is a good thing.  However, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll find any of the major publishing houses agreeing with this point of view.

Much like the music industry of a decade ago, the publishing industry is undergoing a sea change, creating a virtual ocean of new eBook and print on demand (POD) book titles.  On Amazon alone, there are more than 124,000 paperbacks and in excess of 59,000 eBooks, and that’s just in Amazon’s Mystery, Thriller and Suspense category.  That’s a lot of mystery stories.

All total, there are almost a BILLION Kindle eBooks now available on Amazon.

Too Many Choices

We are all busier than ever today.  No one has the time to scan through anywhere near a billion titles looking for a worthwhile read.  And unfortunately, not all of these eBooks are worth reading.

Not having read anywhere near 1,000,000,000 eBooks, I can’t tell you what percentage are worth your time and money.  (Although, there are nearly 55,000 FREE Kindle eBooks at this writing.)  However, I suspect a significant number of the eBooks available will come up lacking.  Out of the last twenty eBooks I’ve added to my Kindle, I will only finish a handful.  The rest, I’ve stopped reading.

From personal experience I can tell you, writing good mystery books (or any other form of fiction) is an arduous task.  Not many do it well.

At a minimum, it’s disappointing, and often frustrating to spend precious time scanning through vast seas of eBooks, then finally making a selection only to discover the eBook isn’t worth the digital paper on which it’s printed—worse than nothing.  You’ve been robbed.

What happened?

The Old Gatekeepers

The Good Ol’ Boys of publishing a/k/a the Traditional Publishing Houses (as opposed to Indie and Self-Publishers) claim that quality in publishing is a gone dog, ruined for publishers and readers alike with the advent of all this easily-accessible digital technology.  (We’ve all heard THAT tune before.)

Nobly appointing themselves as the “Gatekeepers,” traditional publishers claim their contrived manipulation of book markets somehow allowed only worthwhile books to make it.  Certainly, it made for scarcity and high prices.  I don’t know about you, but I prefer lower prices and more choices.  Obviously, the publishing industry’s “new normal” is a boon for the reading public.  Not to mention, throwing the doors to publication wide open for a mystery writer like me.

Yet, how much is too much?  With so many eBooks available and no one home in Quality Control, how do you keep from getting burned?

Improving Your Chances

For starters, we’ll focus on Amazon, since they are arguably the largest purveyor of books and eBooks on the planet.

While Amazon’s highly publicized mission statement is “Start with the customer and work backwards” they shy away from quality issues, relying almost entirely on customer feedback regarding products and their relative worth, hence the “customer review” program.  However, like most large corporations, it’s all about the bottom-line—money.  The number of books sold is what counts.  And when it comes to fiction, humongous publishing houses with deep pockets can skew the results.  Fiction books and the stories they tell are, in large part, subjective, adding to the degree of difficulty.  Arming yourself with good information is the key, so here’s a few tips.

1.  “Bestselling” status does not always equate to a worthwhile read. 

We’ve all had the experience of buying a “bestselling” book only to wonder how it made the list.  Never forget that the “bestselling” status was conjured up by marketing experts for large publishers in collusion with the media for only one purpose—sell more books.  That said, there are many outstanding works that rightfully make the bestseller lists.

2.  Use Award Winner lists as a guide, but be selective.

Like “bestseller” lists, awards were invented to sell more books.  Stick to those awarding entities whose judging bodies are made up of the reading public and/or author peer groups.  Avoid media-managed awards, such as publisher-backed, journalists’ or critics’ awards.  If in doubt, find out how the judge selections are made.  If it’s not fully disclosed, avoid the list.

3.  Comparative shopping tools help, but aren’t the “be all, end all.”

Amazon’s recommendations based on your purchases, along with specific book site recommendations such as “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought” and “Frequently Bought Together” can guide you.  However, don’t buy blind on these recommendations only, or you’ll eventually get burned.

4.  Customer Reviews also help, but beware.

There are both good and bad reviews/reviewers, and I’m not talking about the number of stars.  Look for the tag below the stars “Amazon Verified Purchase.”  It’s more likely a real customer review.  Additionally,  look for “real” reviews that are specific regarding story points, characters and prose—likes and dislikes.  Then take it all with a grain of salt.  A gushing 5-star review could be the author’s mother.  A scathing 1-star review could be a competing author with a severe case of sour-grapes.

5.  Try the combo!

After you’ve carefully tip-toed through the minefield, the best results usually come from a three-part inspection process:

1.  Read the “Book Description” to get a feel for the storyline.

2.  Take a “Look Inside.”  Read enough to know whether or not you like the writing style.

Along with a few “Customer Reviews” to give you reader impressions (the third of three parts), you are in position to make an informed buying decision and not likely to get burned.

Okay, so there are really 6 tips . . .  Or are there actually 7?

The New Gatekeepers

At the end of the day, we, the eBook reading public, are the new “Gatekeepers.”  And in this new era of digital publishing, it’s a big responsibility.  However it WILL get easier as long as we remember to look out for each other along the way.

Set an example.  Let other eBook buyers know what you think.  Help them make informed choices based on your reading experience, good or bad.  After you’ve read your new book and while your impressions are fresh, take a few moments to write an in-depth review (without giving the story away.)

Remember to reward those works that are worthy with good reviews.  Click the “Liked” button at the top of the book site.  And finally, share your reviews with friends and followers.  Amazon is only too happy to link with your social media platforms, publishing your review in their streams.

Also, if you have any suggestions on how to add to and/or improve these eBook buying tactics, please enlighten me.  I intend to look at other eBook and POD book venues in future blogs.

(Warning.  Here comes the blatant plug.)  More on my murder mystery novels can be found at  https://michaelallanscott.com/ 


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