book lover, professional writer & blogger
How do I tell a great e-book from a terrible one? What we’re about to discuss will help you find out.
Every purchase we make in our lives needs thought. Is the price right? Is the item worth the money? Will I be disappointed? Buying new fiction can be especially daunting. The range of e-books is growing at an unprecedented rate.
In 2012, there was a 28 percent increase in online sales of books from independent bookstores. That’s an 8 percent improvement on 2011. The results can mean only one thing: readers are buying more e-books! It also means another: writers are self-publishing millions of new titles each year.
Many books available online are also available as paperback but, what about the ‘e-only’ books? Are they worth reading? Here’s how to work it all out before you decide to buy:
Titles are key. Of course, it depends on personal preference. There may be a book-lover out there who wants to read the eighteenth in the series, Dustin’s Magical Kitchen Socks but, most titles that sound bad don’t hide an amazingly well-written, meticulously planned, brilliantly executed story. The ones with uninspiring titles are usually just as nauseating to read in full. As with everything in life, there are exceptions. However, as a general rule, if you want to avoid paying for poor quality – and, there’s a lot of it out there in e-book format – look carefully at the title first and decide for yourself if it matches your idea of a readable, interesting book.
Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas, Wolf Hall, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Murder on the Orient Express, To Kill A Mockingbird . . . a quick-fire selection of great titles that lead to great books.
A sexy clipart woman holding a sword with her tongue hanging out and a dead body at her feet is an image that might appeal to some but, it might be the sign of an e-flop. If you want vampire slayers and sci-fi fantasy fiction, the world of e-books has taken that genre by storm. It’s everywhere. It’s clogging up the lean little arteries of better books. But, it has a perfectly healthy market, so why shouldn’t it be there?
It’s just worth remembering, as a reader trying to find something unique and intelligent, that book covers matter as much online as they do in a traditional bookshop. The only difference between the two places is that really awful book covers simply don’t get as far as a real bookshop because, usually, the writer has to have the backing of a professional publisher to appear on the shelves of the store. Here’s the proof test: try finding a bad book cover in a bookstore. Post a photo if you find one!
Most e-books are viewable for free up to a certain point before you even purchase them. You usually get around 15 or 20 percent of the entire book. Always read that starting section before you download the full copy. It’s amazing what the sample will tell you about the rest of the material.
Look out for editing errors like misspelt words (the difference between ‘their’, ‘they’re’ and ‘there’ is a good test). Check grammar peculiarities (“I was gone to the supermarket and Johnny said to me, “Hey, what’s that awful tense you’re using?”). Worst of all, identify whether the book has computational formatting mistakes. Please do this or you will never try another e-book again (and so many are faultless). I’m currently reading the e-book version of ‘It’ by the great Stephen King. Even that has formatting problems. Mr King probably didn’t format the e-book version personally but, it is contaminated with terrible errors. As a reader who enjoys being drawn into a story, I know how formatting irregularities can really throw you back into cold reality. One example is the name of the town in which the story is set: Derry. For ages, the word was always Derry. Then the formatter got sloppy and now it’s anything from ‘Berry’ to ‘Kerry’. Really unprofessional and annoying. King needs to terminate his e-book creator’s contracts!
Don’t be put off e-books because of one example. Please. There are so many fantastic new stories to be found that way. If you spend even ten minutes reading the free start sections of a good online e-book, you will immediately see the way professional formatting, spelling and overall prose looks – and you will feel the quality of the work as you read through it. The formatting does not deteriorate as the book progresses. It’s the same high quality all the way through, giving you peace of mind before and after you purchase.
In the online system, anyone can review any book. It’s a good thing in many ways but, can occasionally create problems you might want to avoid. If you want to separate the wheat from the chaff, start by reading reviews from websites like Amazon or Barnes and Noble etc. They are by no means perfect: the writers-paying-for-hundreds-of-reviews saga is an example of where the process fails but, generally speaking, the established online bookstores will have the most variation of opinion and a larger selection of customer reviews for each title.
If you like the idea of an independent voice, good for you – that’s what all e-book writers are, so why not support independent review sites, too? Just keep your wits about you and check that the author of the reviews or author interviews is not the same person as the writer of the book. It is bad practice to create a review posing as a reader if you are, in fact, the author. You will never see a professional writer try to pull this off.
Instead, look for professional reviews with as much good spelling and grammar as the book you want to read. Find reviews that are balanced, fair and reasonable. “It’s a pile of s**t,” is not a fair or reasonable comment. “I didn’t enjoy this because there were too many spelling errors,” is much more reasonable (and useful!).
The e-book world is a strange mishmash. There are very cheap and very expensive books out there. Price does not translate to good or bad. Trust me. Something by a famous author, like J.K. Rowling for instance, can be priced at $15 because she is a big, well-known name. New, independent authors will often price their work very low to generate interest – at as little as around $1 per book. I say this with absolute honesty: there are dollar books out there that are better than the ‘big-buck-books’. It’s just a case of finding them.
Choose carefully, use the tips set out in my post every time and try a few lower-priced e-books before settling for the mass appeal of a well-known author. You will be disappointed once in a while but, if you try before you buy, you’ll discover a diamond in the rough.
If you would like more information about buying and reading e-books, get in touch by posting a comment.
Broken Shells (Literary Fiction, Short Novel)
Slaughterhouse (Thriller, Short Novel, Featured in Crime Fiction Lover’s New Talent November 2012)
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