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Free-For-All Friday: Writers As Readers

We talk about (okay, write about!) writing a lot here at the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood, but most of us are voracious readers, too.   Today, on Free-For-All Friday, I’d appreciate your perspective on a couple of questions:

How do you become aware of new books you might be interested in reading? Me?

  • At industry blogs such as Smart Bitches, Dear Author, RT, All About Romance, etc. – by reading reviews and seeing ads
  • Reading magazines such as Romance Writers Report and Romantic Times – reviews, articles and ads
  • Twitter mentions, though too many RTs are kinda annoying
  • Eye candy – the book cover or title catches my eye 

Which factors help convince you to buy or read a book?  Mine:

  • Author is an auto-buy.  In addition to my Rubies, my personal auto-buy list includes Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb, Nalini Singh, Kresley Cole, Emma Holly, Angela Knight, Eloisa James, Julia Quinn, Anne Stuart, Courtney Milan, Victoria Dahl…okay, someone stop me.
  • Author’s online presence.  By this, I mean the manner in which the author represents themselves online. Case in point, Courtney Milan. I definitely enjoy her books, but Milan moved to my ‘auto-buy’ list as much for her intelligent blog postings and the helpful, supportive feedback she provides to aspiring authors at Dear Author’s “First Page” as for her novels. Hers is a voice I value and respect.      
  • Word-of-mouth recommendation. The book is recommended by someone whose opinion I trust. I can’t tell you how many authors I’ve learned about right here at the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood! 
  • Reading reviews. I like reading reviews written by people who can clearly explain why they liked or disliked a book, so I can compare my own likes and dislikes against the reviewer’s. For me, the review doesn’t necessarily have to be a positive one to result in a sale, because sometimes a reviewer’s pet peeve is something that I know absolutely rocks my world.  
  • Cover and back cover copy. A great cover and well-written back cover copy are definitely a factor in my purchase decisions. Accuracy is important to me.   
  • THE WRITING. When trying to decide whether to buy a book or not, I often turn to Page One and start reading, or go to the author’s website to look for an excerpt. If the writing sucks me in like a riptide, I’m SO there. 

How about you?  What roles do reviews, ads, social media, author’s online presence, book trailers, giveaways, newsletters etc. play in your book purchase decisions, if any? Which promotional approaches turn you off, or simply don’t register? Do you feel there may be a disconnect between things we as authors are told to do to promote our work, and what we as readers know attracts our attention? 

I look forward to everyone’s thoughts.  

REMINDER: The Ruby Slippered Sisterhood’s Winter Writing Festival starts Monday! Join us!  

Tamara Hogan’s debut urban fantasy romance, TASTE ME, will be published March 1, 2011 by Sourcebooks Casablanca – and is available for pre-sale at your favorite online bookstore.  

47 responses to “Free-For-All Friday: Writers As Readers”

  1. Kelly Fitzpatrick says:

    I have a few “must reads”. Mostly I find I’m reading people I know and books people give me. I love book covers, but they can be deceiving. I’m attracted to a cover, read the blurb and sample pages. I download free reads to see if I like the writing style.

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    • Tamara Hogan says:

      The more authors I get to know, the higher “Mount TBR” gets. (The cats knocked over a good section of it last night.) It’s a good problem to have.

      I know what you mean about covers. Having recently gone through the cover process for TASTE ME, I found that there’s a level of negotiation, of give and take between the author and publisher on the cover. TASTE ME had a draft cover and a final cover. My editor and I agreed on the cover scene right out of the gate: the concert scene where my siren heroine, Scarlett, sings a set guaranteed to make her reluctant bodyguard, Lukas, writhe with sexual frustration (do NOT piss off a siren). “Draft cover Scarlett” was…perfection. Body’s right, hair’s right, clothes are right for the scene. But her long hair covered her back, which was where the TASTE ME back tattoo we’d discussed had to be placed (Scarlett doesn’t have one in the book; it’s strictly for marketing purposes). That back space had to be opened up to give the graphic artist a place to put the tattoo, which has to be big enough for people to read. So on the final version of the cover, Scarlett’s glorious hair has been shortened (that hurt), and (trope alert!) she’s now wearing the traditional kick-ass UF heroine uniform of leather skirt and bustier, because the bustier opens up her upper back enough for the tattoo. And somewhere along the way she picked up some curves she definitely doesn’t have in the book.

      I suggested a mod to the tattoo – make it bigger, with more elaborate scrollwork – which Sourcebooks did. Happily, they accommodated my ink density pet peeve right out of the gate, because I made sure I told them I had one. 😉 (I find most book cover tattoos WAY too dark and sharp – any tattoo’s that’s been on anyone’s skin for awhile’s going to fade slightly over time).

      In the book, Lukas is physically larger (I used NFL football player and KIA soldier Pat Tillman as a physical template). His hair is longer and lighter. On the cover, he seems to have lost the shirt I know he’s wearing in this scene. 😉

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      • Kelly Fitzpatrick says:

        I think all heros must be shirtless. It’s the law. Cracks me up when I’m watching TV and – cue the blatant chest pandering of some dude – hello! Distract me from the lack of plot with a waxed chest. TV execs know me so well.

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  2. Like you, Tammy, I have a list of “auto-buy,” several of whome appear on your list. The Sisters are a given. I go outside of my comfort zone to read their work. And, guess what? It’s good stuff!

    I discovered Karen Marie Moning in the bargain bin at Wal-Mart. Didn’t have much to lose at $3.99. Two weeks later, I had her entire backlist and have pre-ordered the next Fever book (although the Fever series is an uncomfortable read for me.)

    Recommendations from friends who know me, go a long way. I don’t know whether to kiss is kick Elisa for Joanna Bourne–I needed another auto=buy like I need 5 more pounds.

    Reviews don’t figure becuase subjectivity is what it is. A back cover blurb can get me, but woe to that author if the inside disappoints. Covers alone can catch my eye, but not decide a purchase. Some of my favorite reads didn’t have great openings, so the first few pages rarely decide for me. I’m willing to delve a little deeper to discover treasures.

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    • Ooh, Gwynlyn! A friend introduced me to some fabu Karen Marie Moning books when she was trying to educate me in the way of historical romance.

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      • Have you read Immortal Highlander? That’s a go-to book for me when I’m in the doldrums–although my hardcover copy apparently grew legs and walked. *sigh*

        Warning: The Fever series has little in common with Dunstan & Gwen, (OY! The brother’s name is escaping me!) & Chloe. Very dark, uncomfortable, yet fascinating reads.

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    • Tamara Hogan says:

      –> Reviews don’t figure becuase subjectivity is what it is.

      So true. That’s why a well-written review that explains WHY someone did or didn’t like a book is so important to me. A tonguebath review, or a review that simply regurgitates plot points before awarding five stars (like so many reviews at Amazon tend to be) doesn’t help me very much as a reader.

      As an author? Of course I want the tonguebath. 😉

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      • Can’t blame you there. LOL

        But even the good reviews are subjective, and while most folks won’t say “not my preferred genre,” that’s a lot of it, IMO. You hunker down to read what captures and holds you. As I told Vanessa, Immortal Highlander is my go-to read (since Lion’s Lady is still in storage,) yet Laurie couldn’t get into it when I loaned it to her. Not her cuppa.

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    • Elisa Beatty says:

      Karen Marie Moning, eh? I’ll check her out….you may have your revenge for Jo Bourne, Gwynlyn!!

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      • Well, fair is fair, Elisa. LOL

        But, as I told Vanessa, the Fever series, for one, isn’t historical in the slightest and very dark. Don’t start there, but don’t be surprised if you finish there.

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    • Ruth says:

      I was sold Karen Marie Moning Fever series in a 9 hour ride to a book conference currently on #4 Dreamfever. It is a good dark Urban Fantasy.

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  3. I love to browse book shelves, both in store and online. While a great cover or title will catch my eye, it’s the back cover blurb and first pages that will make me take the book home. With that said, the author will not go on my auto-buy list unless he or she delivers a good story that leaves me feeling satisfied. I’ve had a few this year that started off great and just sizzled out, for me.

    Reviews; I’m not much for them. I’ve read books that were totally raved over and they just didn’t click with me. Maybe the reviews jaded me. Made me expect more.

    I tend to read reviews more when shopping online though. I purchased one recently that had reviews all over the chart. The comments both good and bad gained my interest enough that I want to form my own opinion. I haven’t started it yet, but it’s on the top of my TBRP.

    I’ve purchased books because the author spoke at a conference and i liked what she/he had to say. I heard Karen Robards speak at the NJ conference a few years ago. I had never read her work before and fell in love with it. Jordon Dane is another.

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    • Tamara Hogan says:

      –> I had never read her work before and fell in love with it.

      The catalyst of this blog posting was that I’d recently read a book because of a recommendation someone made deep in a comments thread at Smart Bitches. That book was WARPRIZE by Elizabeth Vaughan (2005). It was her debut, and it clubbed me upside the head with its brilliance (obvs someone else agrees with me; the book is being rereleased this year.) AND I’D NEVER HEARD ABOUT IT. I read hundreds of books a year, and I’d never heard about this fabulous book and its equally fabulous follow-ups. I started wondering why.

      Sometimes I think there are so many authors fighting for eyeballs that some great reads can’t help but fall between the cracks.

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    • I bought a cover on a backcover blurb once that promised a story in the Pacific Northwest. When I read it, however, it took place in Rhode Island. The housekeeper took a vacation to Washington State to see her family, however. LOL

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  4. I’m very much a reader … I still buy books by browsing and reading back covers. For a while, I had a few authors whose books I always bought, but nowadays I don’t have that kind of extra cash.

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  5. Hi, Tammy. I often base my decisions on word-of-mouth – if a friend whose tastes run similar to mine raves about a book, I’ll usually buy it too.

    Like Gwynlyn, many years ago I discovered a little book called ‘Welcome to Temptation’ in a bargain bin. The cover and the first page did it for me. Poor sheltered me hadn’t heard of Jenny Crusie before then! After I read that book in record time, I went out and bought as many JCs as I could.

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    • Tamara Hogan says:

      Sounds like a lot of us root through the bargain bin! The price is right.

      I suspect my soul might whither just a little bit the first time I see one of my books in the bargain bin. But hey – a sale’s a sale!

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      • Yep, and it gets new readers to try something they might otherwise pass. Then that piddling little “bargain” sale turns into an entire backlist sale and a fan for life. Not a bad investment!

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  6. Elisa Beatty says:

    My TBR pile has grown exponentially in the past couple of years as I’ve gotten more connected to the romance world online. It used to be Mary Balogh was my only auto-buy, and beyond that I just followed my sister’s recommendations or read books she sent to me, but now I’m picking things up from web chatter (and I’m the one recommending things to my sis).

    The web has led me to many of my new auto-buys, esp. “boundary pushing” historicals–Sherry Thomas and Meredith Duran and Courtney Milan and of course Joanna Bourne. I’m not even sure where I first heard of Jo Bourne (maybe via Smart Bitches?) but Jo’s blog mentioned Sherry Thomas, and Sherry blogs with Meredith Duran…. and I read and loved them all.

    When when I saw their books pop up on “best of” lists, I checked out other books on those lists, figuring there was a good chance I’d like them too, which is how I found Meljean Brook’s The Iron Duke, Jennifer Ashley’s The Madness of Lord Ian MacKenzie, and The Hunger Games–all of which have been FABULOUS FABULOUS FABULOUS and none of which I would have read otherwise. (Next up: Eileen Dreyer’s Barely a Lady.)

    I think I first found Courtney Milan when I bought that Christmas anthology starring Mary Balogh, and Courtney’s fabulous story blew the top of my head off. Now Courtney’s an auto-buy too (and, yes, her super-smart blog posts have done lots to cement my loyalty!!)

    Plus I’ve got the inside scoop on all the fabulous Ruby books coming out….and, Tamara, you KNOW I’m thrilled I’ll get my hands on TASTE ME soon!!!!!

    Great post!

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    • Elisa Beatty says:

      Sorry for the already epic post, but I need to add that sometimes old-fashioned marketing strategies work. You know all those free books they put on luncheon chairs at Nationals? That’s how I found Kristan HIggins. I’m not normally a contemporary fan, but the opening couple pages of the one they gave out in 2009 grabbed me…and now she’s an auto-buy.

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      • Tamara Hogan says:

        I’m with you on the old-fashioned marketing strategies, Elisa. My publisher’s publicist was a little startled that I’d used some of my advance to buy physical ad space in RWR and RT Reviews. To me, doing this is a no-brainer. It’s a way to supplement the blog touring, to maximize eyeballs. One question I asked myself (again, catalyzing this blog entry) is, “Where do I find out about new releases?” and I spent my $$ there.

        Until we live in The Matrix, jacking in and taking our red pill or our blue pill every morning, we still live in a physical world – a world where people pick books up off of chairs, subscribe to magazines, watch TV, get things in the mail. I think we forget that at our peril.

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  7. liz talley says:

    This is a great topic, Tam.

    I’ve been thinking a lot about reviews lately and how valuable they are/are not. I often go to Dear Author and Smart Bitches and I think there was a post there a few days ago about why people give so many positive reviews. I read all the responses in which many said they love the horrible, low grade reviews. Hmmm? What does that say about human nature. We love to see an author get ripped by a reader or reveiwer? I get that many reveiws on Amazon and sites like Goodreads are filled with tonguebaths. But what if there were no tonguebaths? What if you (aka the average not familiar with the indusry reader) happen upon a book that had one review. Let’s say a two star. No comments. Just the two. Will you buy that book? No. You won’t. It’s human nature.

    Think about when you are going to the movies. You have one film you really want to see. Don’t know much about it, so you decide to look it up. You see 56 reviews and start perusing them. If you see enough really bad ones, I’d bet you won’t go see that film.

    My point is that the tonguebaths serve a purpose for an author. She/He needs some positive “I loved this!” reviews to counteract the inevitable “What the hell was this author thinking?” ones. Many people don’t bother to give reviews to books they like. They’re more likely to feel hacked if they hated it and post a review. So having good reviews are basically promo. Am I right? I mean we can agree that all reviews aren’t “true” representations because readers bring all sorts of baggage to the table in any subjective art.

    So I really, really try to stay away from reading reviews on a book I want to buy. Because I’m falliable and I DO let what others say color my choice and before I know it, I’m like “meh, I’ll pass.”

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    • Tamara Hogan says:

      I think part of the issue here is that as a reader, I want to read HONEST reviews of others’ books. As an author, I want to read GOOD reviews of MY book. 😉

      What I got out of the Dear Author column you’re talking about – and maybe I’m reading between the lines here – is that readers feel burned. They’ve gotten sucked in too many times by a glowing review that they didn’t agree with, that they felt the book didn’t deserve.

      Our community, our industry, is rather insular (I was about to type ‘incestuous.’ BAD AUTHOR! *slaps own hand*). Think about it. Everyone knows everyone, and everyone knows how the game is played. A friend’s book comes out, and we mobilize, hopping to Amazon or Goodreads or Twitter or Facebook to talk it up – understandably so. We want our friends (and damn good writers) to have a chance at scratching out a living in this tough, tough business. We scratch each other’s backs. We try to get the word out.

      But savvy readers know this game too, and no longer necessarily take reviews at face value. And who can blame them? Really, if a friend of yours wrote a book and you hated it, would you write a negative review? HELL NO. It violates the Author’s Code: “Thou shalt not write negative reviews about another author’s book.” So what are readers to do? By conflating reviews and promo, we’ve kind of pissed in our own pool.

      YMMV.

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  8. Ruth says:

    I Cyber stalk the authors for info for the next book in a series; reading newsletters takes too long. The only reason I facebook is to follow the authors I read. I love twitter for the same reason.
    I only read reviews after the fact and usually for the why I didn’t like it.
    Word of Mouth only goes so far.
    If I’m on the fence about a book I like watching book trailers.

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    • Tamara Hogan says:

      Hi Ruth! I’m a firm Facebook holdout, but I love Twitter. It’s like going to a cocktail party and overhearing everyone’s conversations. I limit myself to about 10 minutes at a time because otherwise it becomes a timesuck and I don’t get anything else done.

      If you come back (hope hope!) I’d love to hear more about how book trailers help you when you’re on the fence about a book.

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  9. Great post, Tammy!

    I am a huge fan of Goodreads now. I love the reviews and you get to see what all your “friends” are reading. I find SO many books that way. Word-of-mouth, definitely. Reading an excerpt and falling in love with the writing.

    I have to say, a book trailer has convinced me not to buy a book more often than the opposite, but there are a couple really good ones out there. The ones for Seth Grahame-Smiths’ books are great.

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  10. Cat Schield says:

    I don’t get to read romance for pleasure as much as I used to. Most of my choices are based on research and learning. I buy a lot of debut authors to see what’s new that publishers are buying. I buy best selling authors to improve my craft.

    And then there are those authors I meet or that someone recommends that I pick up and add to my growing TBR pile. Sometimes that works out. Sometimes it doesn’t.

    When I do read for pleasure, most of my autobuys are mystery, thriller and fantasy authors I’ve been reading for years.

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    • Tamara Hogan says:

      Hi Cat! I’m right there with you on the reading debut authors thing. I like reading debuts because I think they have a higher likelihood of having been published primarily on merit; the debut author has no track record.

      Snooki’s track record notwithstanding.

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  11. Laurie Kellogg says:

    I must confess, I’m not one of those people who enjoys reading any kind of book. In fact, my taste is pretty narrow. I mostly stick to character-driven romances. I’ve got an auto-buy list, and with unfamiliar authors, I’m influenced by word-of-mouth, the cover, and blurb. However, I have to be hooked by the author’s writing and voice. Voice, the writing, and sub-genre are the strongest influences on whether I read a particular author or not.

    I don’t prefer PLOT-driven stories, so other than a few exceptional authors who include a lot of character internal conflict as well as external conflict in their work, I don’t tend to read a lot of Romantic Suspense or Adventure, and I’m extremely reality-based so I don’t usually enjoy paranormal, fantasy or sci-fi.

    The one thing that doesn’t influence my decision to buy at all is an author’s on-line presence. Authors’ promotions have ZERO impact with me. However, I do like to check out debut authors just to see if their work is something I’ll enjoy.

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    • Tamara Hogan says:

      Laurie, I think my taste is pretty narrow, too. When my neighbor or Mark’s mom asks me if I’ve read such-and-such a NYT best seller, chances are good my answer is ‘no’ unless it’s a romance. Roberts, Singh and Cole notwithstanding, most of the books I like to read don’t often make the bestseller lists. I love reading paranormal, UF, erotica, space opera/time-travel, romantic suspnse, horror, fantasy and speculative fiction. In the last few years, I’ve started reading historicals. Inspirationals, cozies, YA, or traditional/sweet romance doesn’t appeal nearly as much.

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  12. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Qwill. Qwill said: RT @TamaraHogan1: Today at the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood: How do YOU find out about new book releases? Weigh in! http://bit.ly/gImMzT […]

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  13. Hope Ramsay says:

    Great subject.

    Like all voracious readers I have a must-buy list — and the longer I live the longer the list of authors. I read widly in romance, women’s fiction, fantasy, and science fiction (with the occasional mystery or thriller thrown in for variety).

    It used to be that I would select my books by going to the book store and perusing the aisle. The cover would lure me, but the buy was based on the back cover blurb the first page.

    Two years ago I got a Kindle — which is like giving crack to an addict. Since the Kindle doesn’t do such a good job of showing cover art, my bookstore perusing has gone almost exclusively online. (although I do purchase must-buys and recommendations through the Kindle. Someone recommends a great book, and out comes the device and in one click I’ve bought it — like I said it’s like crack!)

    Also, the more I purchase from Amazon, the better their book suggestions are. I’ve found a whole bunch of new must-buy authors through Amazon’s “if you liked this you might like …” links and suggestions.

    I’m now also a member of Goodreads and back when I had more time to read (before I had writing deadlines), I was a monthly participant in the Romance Reading Challenge interetest group. If you love romance you might want to give that group a try. There aren’t any reviews, just montly reading challenges.

    Speaking of challenges, I decided to read all the Rita nominees for Best Contemporary Romance this year. That was ten books. I got them all between March and RWA Nationals.

    Now, like a lot of the Rubies, I find that my Kindle is filling up with books authored by friends and cyber buddies. That’s fun!

    You will notice that reviews (aside from books being nominated for the RITA) have absolutely no bearing on my book selections. They never have and I doubt they ever will. (I will remind myself of this, I’m sure, when reviews of my debut novel start rolling in over the next few weeks.)

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    • Tamara Hogan says:

      –> I’ve found a whole bunch of new must-buy authors through Amazon’s “if you liked this you might like …” links and suggestions.

      I have, too. Yesterday I pulled up my own book at Amazon, and squeed like a schoolgirl as I paged through the books listed under “Customers Who Viewed This Item Also Viewed”…Nalini Singh! Kresley Cole! Susan Grant! Shannon Butcher!

      Wow.

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  14. Shoshana Brown says:

    For me, it’s all about the writing. If it’s not an author I’ve read before, I always try to find an excerpt online before I buy the book, even if it was recommended to me by a reliable source. If I can’t find one (so incredibly frustrating) I usually won’t buy the book, even when it otherwise sounds amazing. Taste is just too subjective, there are lots of amazing books out there, and I only have so many reading hours in the day.

    I do sometimes try to check out those books I couldn’t find online excerpts of when I happen to be in a physical bookstore, but unless it’s the super-popular bestseller-of-the-moment that I hear about 20 times a day, I probably won’t remember the name. Especially when I’m distracted by all the pretty covers on the bookstore displays.

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    • Tamara Hogan says:

      –> I always try to find an excerpt online before I buy the book, even if it was recommended to me by a reliable source. If I can’t find one (so incredibly frustrating) I usually won’t buy the book, even when it otherwise sounds amazing.

      Great reminder to put excerpts out at our websites, Shoshana!

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  15. Vivi Andrews says:

    I have my autobuys (a ton of ’em), but for new authors I’m unlikely to pick it up without a personal recommendation from someone who knows my taste or A LOT of word of mouth – usually both. And even then, I’m more likely to borrow from a friend or the library than buy an unknown quantity. As far as what keeps me coming back for more (and actually shelling out my cash), tone and voice are key. I read across all genres, but I have a low angst threshold.

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    • Tamara Hogan says:

      I have a very busy library card myself, Vivi. Unless the debut author is someone I know, I usually check the book out of the library too, give him or her a test drive.

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  16. Kathy Crouch says:

    Well besides my favorites if a book is appealing the blurb on it intrigues me and I hear it recommended by someone. I recently became a Lori Wilde fan I’m no even sure how but I read her True Love Qulting Club and was hooked. So now I just read The First Love Cookie Club was so poignant and you could see all sides and didn’t want to throw the book and go oh for heaven’s sake just talk to each other lol. I am slogging through a best selling male author’s books I am not real impressed with him and another male author didn’t impress me either but they are big sellers perhaps to men but I know of women who like these books. Just not my cup of tea.

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    • Tamara Hogan says:

      –>Just not my cup of tea.

      This is such an important point, isn’t it. Hundreds of thousands of books get published a year, and the chances that any reader would like all of them – even all of them in a genre or subgenre – seems ludicrous, no? The experience that Gwynlyn describes above, where she loves a certain book and her CP Laurie just couldn’t get into it? Two intelligent, discerning readers, both fabulous writers themselves, have different tastes. (shrug) We like what we like, and no explanations are necessary.

      That said, I really appreciate it when people – reviewers in particular – are aware enough of craft that they can explain precisely WHY they could or couldn’t get into a particular book.

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  17. joan itaska says:

    I like to read the first chapter if I can. Yes, I am one of those annoying people who stands in the drug store book aisle reading. Now that Amazon has posted so many first chapters for the new books, I can do it home with much less embarrassment. I have some favorite authors, but even the best ones seem to vary in the quality of their writing and stories so having the first chapter is a real help in making my decision. For example, I though Elizabeth Hoyt’s first three books with dark interwoven fairy tales — The Serpent Prince, The Leopard Prince and The Raven Princess were very unique in their imagery and characters. But her more recent books are more typical Regencies.

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