November 6th, 2012
The last book I downloaded was To The Grave by Steve Robinson. This book appealed to me on several fronts: it was a mystery and it was about genealogy. I have always been fascinated with genealogy, and I'm even more interested because my daughter owns a genealogy business, Roots in the Boot, that does research for people of Italian heritage. I haven't started reading the book yet, but it's near the top of my TBR list, and I have to say I'm eager to get into it.
As to how I chose it...
I'm a diehard digital reader now, but I resisted switching until the first iPad came out. Even then I had no intentions of reading books on it, but after trying a few out I got hooked. Reading ebooks has made a big difference in how I read, but it's made a far bigger difference in how I discover new books and new authors.
In the old days, when I went to the bookstore, I would wander through the mystery or fantasy aisles, or even the history aisles, depending on the mood I was in. My routine was to browse until a cover caught my eye, or maybe a book with a catchy title. Once a book found its way into my hands, I would read the jacket cover and, if I was still interested, I'd read the first chapter or so. If I managed to get 10 or 15 pages into it, the book usually went in the basket to buy.
What has changed?
Digital books have changed my selection process, and I have to say it's for the better. Let's say I'm looking for a good mystery book, or even something more specific—a hard-boiled mystery. I type that into the search bar and hit return to get the list, then—and here's the key—I move over to the right, to the sort bar, and click, "sort by avg. customer review."
To The Grave was fourth on the list, with fantastic reviews.
Interpreting the results...
This process sorts the results with the highest rated books at the top. What you get isn't purely top rated, but it's close. Amazon massages the results with their algorithms, and, from what I can tell, it's a combination of the number of reviews combined with the highest ratings. So a book with 200 reviews that averages 4.3 stars will be ahead of a book with 40 reviews that averages 4.6, but it might only take a few more 5-star reviews for that other one to overtake it.
The reason I search like this is because, for me, this is the easiest and most sensible way to shop. I can skim the top 50 books and surely find some good buys. Otherwise I might have to look through a thousand books to find the same high quality. As an example, To The Grave, is #2,435 in the Kindle store when sorted by sales.
Once a book passes the review test, then the best part of digital comes into play—downloading a sample. Samples give you about 10% of the book, which is more than enough for me to decide if I like the author's style.
If you follow this method, you might still be fooled. Maybe you like the voice and style, but the plot falls apart, or there is a crappy ending. That's where reading reviews comes into play, but interpreting reviews is a post all by itself.
Shopping for books this way isn't as much fun as going to the bookstore, but I used to buy a lot of books I ended up not reading. Now I don't.
For full disclosure, my book, Murder Takes Time, comes in at #1 in hard-boiled mysteries, #2 in mafia fiction, #4 in crime drama, and #14 in mystery and thriller, when sorted by "average customer review," so there is a reason why I like readers to shop this way.