What I look for in a (free) eBook
Since I got a Kindle app for my smartphone, my eyes have been opened to eBooks. I’ve only ever read free ones as there are so many out there, including classics, that I don’t need to pay for them. Instead, while I still enjoy buying novels in dead tree version, I only read books on my Kindle which will fill a different need. So what do I look for and what will get my attention?
On a Kindle I seek books which will keep me occupied when I’m travelling or can’t sleep; I need to be able to dip in and out readily. Other than that, these are the features that I look for:
• Attractive cover. It should be simple and easy to understand (especially when squished up small) but must not look too home made or I will be put off, in case the book is not professional either. Nor do I want something which will glare on my screen, so save vibrant yellow for other uses.
• Proper categorization. Nothing turns me off more than reading what I thought was a crime novel, only to find a fantasy-based ending that is not possible in reality. But getting the category right can work in the author’s favour, as I have been tempted to experiment with different categories of digital books, for example I am sampling “chick lit” and if I like it I may well buy several paper books in this genre, but I don’t feel confident enough to try it unless it’s free. Making sure your book is in the right category means I won’t be disappointed and might later spend money buying up other books of yours of the same type.
• A simple name. I don’t want something that’s trying to be clever, or is so obscure that I can’t work out what it’s about. Once I’ve made a bunch of downloads, the way I will choose which one to read next will come down to the name. Examples I’ve enjoyed include The Penal Colony by Richard Herley and Falling Star by Diana Dempsey. I initially picked them out because the name (and the cover illustration) made the basis of the story obvious.
• Not part of a series. I just know that it’s a taster in order to get me sucked in rather than something I can enjoy in its own right. When an eBook is part of a series I know that if I enjoy it I then have to go through some hard work to source the rest of the series (and in order) particularly if I didn’t discover them as they were published and “grow up” with them. I feel that I’m likely to be disappointed trying to get hold of further books in the series, and that it would be better to enjoy a one off story which will be more representative of that artist’s entire catalogue. So I am actively turned away from eBooks which are subtitled “(One of the XYZ series)”. If your tactic is to make the first book of a series free, think again if you wanted to attract me! Try making one of your one off novels free instead.
• Decent reviews. I do look at the reviews and star ratings on Amazon and good reviews will influence me to give a book a go; but not one liners such as “wonderful!” – I need something which will describe what I will get and exactly why it’s a good read.
• High ranking (high number of downloads). To be honest this only affects me because the way I search for eBooks on Amazon seems to be ordered by download, and so if it’s more popular I’m more likely to discover it. I set more store by reviews, though.
• In the style of authors I know I like. So if the subtitle reads “(Like Stephen Leather)” or “(Like Tess Gerritsen)” I’ll give it a go. This works both ways – if the subtitle says it’s in the style of an author I dislike, then I’m more likely to pass over it. But so long as the description is accurate, it should work in the author’s favour in terms of drawing in new fans.
One final thought: As I’m not paying for what I read digitally, I hope it will give me a taste of new authors. However, they need to meet the same standard I’d expect of a professionally published book: for example in a story I just read, the writer used “raised” instead of “razed” and “you’re” instead of “your” – and this spoiled my enjoyment by jarring and pulling me out of the adventure. I have also been disappointed to find that, having gone and read the free eBooks from some of my favourite established authors, they are only providing short stories or very early works which are not representative of their novels that I might buy in supermarkets either in form or standard. I don’t expect much for nothing from a favourite author, but I don’t just want to be given stuff that wasn’t considered good enough for a regular publisher – it might not be good enough for me, either! I’m mostly talking about authors who I now like enough to go out and buy their latest novel on the day of release. Perhaps instead of only publishing old or short stories, writers could release a book or two digitally for free a year after paperback release – perhaps only having one available for free at a time so that no matter when you discovered an author, there would be some reward for the reader but not enough to eat into the writer’s royalties? It would let new readers see what their books are really like, and get them hooked enough to pay for other examples. If prospective readers rely on what’s currently out there for free, the lower quality or shorter format might discourage them from ever buying a real book with that author’s name on it.
But of course, I don’t expect something for nothing! In return for receiving free eBooks, I…
• Review books after completion (or after deciding to discard them!) I wish that there was a prompt on the Kindle which would pop up once you’ve reached the last page of a book, inviting your review. After all, Amazon have integrated the Kindle with your account login, so it shouldn’t be too hard for it to prompt you for a review when you finish a story.
• Tell people about it. I tell my friends about books I’ve enjoyed, and I tweet about them too. I understand that authors, like all businessmen, rely on word of mouth to help them succeed, and I’m willing to be a part of that if I feel I’ve had a good deal.
• Look by more books by the same author. Not in the same series (see above); I find it hard to get every book, in order, and if I do they are almost certainly going to be second hand and so not paying a royalty to the author. But I will look for other novels by that person, ideally in the same genre as the free eBook that I enjoyed.
So what else can I do? Authors, it’s over to you. Where should I be looking for free eBooks and how do you feel about providing them free of charge? Do you see free digital books as a way to get new fans hooked, to reward existing fans with extra content, or both? Or do you find it all rather frustrating, or just not see the point? If I’ve enjoyed a free eBook by you, how can I best thank you – what can I do in return?
I hope this blog is useful in telling authors what I’m looking for in a (free) book download, and I’d love to hear what I can do in return – apart from blogging, obviously!