I find this interesting thread discussing the effectiveness of various methods of online promotion (linked fixed now - sorry about that!) at Absolutewrite and I find myself wondering how I look for what ebooks to read. Okay, some authors send me their ebooks, but as other authors who don't send me their ebooks can testify, I buy them myself as well. But with so many epublishers out there and more opening their doors every now and then, and so many titles out there nowadays, how do I figure out which ebook to choose?
I don't know and can't say if I'm a typical ordinary ebook reader but here's how I choose 'em anyway.
This may be me casting stones in the glasshouse since I review ebooks on my website, but I don't read ebook reviews on other websites, with the exception of Karen Scott and Dionne Galace who I frequent regularly since they review ebooks, because the reviews on those websites are pretty much fluff. Can I say that they are fluff, because honestly now, they are. All those reviews with "five stars", "five roses", "five moist thongs", or whatever they use on those websites as grading objects are meaningless to me because most of these reviews are nothing more than a paragraph or two of plot summary and a closing paragraph urging me to buy those books. Such PR fluff didn't work on me five years ago when such websites were reviewing print books and it's not going to work on me now. Maybe other ebook readers out there flock to those websites, I don't know, but if these readers are like me, buying banner spaces on those websites is a waste of money since I only go there on rare occasions to look for a synopsis of an ebook when the description on the publisher's website doesn't tell me anything about it (something Loose Id is pretty annoying for, I find). And even then, I don't go to those websites directly, I locate them using Google in the usual "book title+author's name+review" search key words manner.
I notice that I do have some loyalty to an epublisher after I've found a few of their ebooks pretty good. In this case, I check the websites of Samhain Publishing and Liquid Silver Books at least once a week to see whether there's anything new worth taking a look at. I don't care much for Ellora's Cave books anymore due to the overkill of the whole "BDSM alien/furries/vamps" formula by their authors, should anyone care to ask, but that particular epublisher should never be overlooked by any author who wants to sell something because everything they put out sells pretty well, or so I hear, even those expensive trade paperbacks. They are even translating the books into Spanish, so they mean business. But for me, it's those two publishers on my radar because currently they balance kink with stories fairly well and there are always some pretty original or interesting stories on sale, compared to Ellora's Cave where everything is pretty much "BDSM alien/furries/vamps" overkill. They are, to me, the online version of Dorchester - not every book is gold and some are complete duds, but chances are, there is always an interesting idea or raw potential even in those duds that make them worth a look. So for me, there is a thing such as epublisher loyalty - I check some epublishers which I believe are in the business of putting out stories that I will enjoy more often than I do with other epublishers. Compared to the abovementioned two epublishers, I check out New Concepts Publishing, Lady Aibell, and, starting just recently, Freya's Bower only at the end of the month or when the mood hits me, while I've given up on Loose Id. Other epublishers don't really register on my radar because I don't hear anything from them or their authors.
And by "hear", I don't mean these publishers must inundate me with free ebooks to review. Please, I'm cheap but not shameless. What I mean is that I don't encounter the presence of these publishers or their authors online. What do I mean by this? Let me explain. I enjoy visiting blogs such as Dear Author, Paperback Reader, Dionne Galace, and Karen Scott and when it comes to ebook matters and books not reviewed by conventional avenues like The Romance Reader and All About Romance, I have Dionne Galance and Karen Scott to be my guinea pigs when it comes to ebooks. I am not active in reading everything online, but once in a while I will come across a blog entry or a comment in response to a blog entry that I enjoy, maybe because it's funny or it is thoughtfully written. If that person responsible for such entry is an ebook author (which is why, ebook authors, always leave your website URL when you leave any comments anywhere), you bet I will visit her website and see what books she has that I can take a look at. It's not how the author promotes her books in a blog entry that I pay attention to, it's how she is being herself when she's responding to other people instead of trying to schmooze readers that I take note of. At the very worst, I'll look up the author, discover that her books are not what I'm interested in reading at the moment, and bookmark her website under my "Interesting Authors" bookmark folder while thinking, "Maybe another day."
So if an author occasionally shows up on the blogs I frequent and say something that make me laugh or go hmmm in thought, she's put herself on my radar. For me, an author doesn't have to lead a frenzied online life constantly self-promoting herself day and night - actually, it gets very obnoxious when the author does that, even if she's just being enthusiastic rather than deliberately spam-crazy - it's more of the author hanging out on the blogosphere and being an interesting personality without coming off as contrived, forced, too desperate/too eager to agree with everybody in order to make a sale, or too gimmicky.
Also, I like to buy anthologies from e-publishers. Any author that strikes me as good in those anthologies will get me to check their titles out. Unlike print books, chances are the e-books from this author will only be a little bit longer than her contribution in the anthology so I'll get a pretty accurate idea of how her single titles will be from her anthology contribution. So, yes, authors who want people to notice them - or me to notice them at least, which may or may not be a good idea depending on who you ask, heh - go get yourself in some interesting anthology. How else did I get the compulsion to purchase Amanda Brice's adorable She's Got Legs if not for her taking part in an anthology that I bought prior to that?
I don't do chats, unless it's held by a hot male celebrity who promises to do a nudie webcam show during the chat. However, I read chat transcripts because it's easier to follow, so for me at least, authors chatting with other authors isn't a completely useless endeavor since I can use the transcripts to catch up on what they have to say and maybe check out their books if I like what they have to say or how they say these things. So, yes, maybe authors and the people organizing these chats should consider storing the chat transcripts, even if they are in a simple txt file, on the publisher website if they don't already. That way, at least a chat session can still be a method of publicity, kinda like the publisher linking to it with a prominent header "Our hot bestselling authors recently got together and discussed intriguingly spicy things like how naughty you would like our books to be and how author Vivi Section came up with her latest story that combines cornucopia, pornucopia, lamina propria, and lots of labia. Check out the transcript if you've missed the exciting event! " or something so that the chat session won't exactly be a heat of the moment thing that will be completely forgotten once it's done. Naturally, I am assuming that those chat sessions will be worth taking a look at with something that is worth reading being brought up during the chat rather than the chat being just another fluffy, frilly love fest. These authors are writing about sex. If they can't find anything interesting to say during a chat session, they should be writing about something else. Like the history of the blackboard duster or something.
I don't notice banner ads. And let's face it, a banner with the image of two people in pre- or mid-shag plus some silly phrases like "This book is hotter than a blister on your behind!" isn't going to convince me to buy anything. I realize that I do notice Google ads though on a website, so maybe taking an ad on Google Adsense or similar text-ad services like Adbrite will help? I don't know, but I do know that I've developed an instinctive habit to overlook banners and other visual ads in my websurfing but I find myself taking notice of text ads however. However, since I don't go to the usual "ebook/author friendly" websites where so many epublishers and e-authors are buying banner ad spaces nowadays, the whole thing is pretty much moot anyway since I won't be seeing their ads in the first place. If I'm an e-author, I'd rather take an ad in a website where there are evidence of visitor participation - in this case, an active blog. I'll also make sure that the participants in those blogs will read or are open to reading ebooks, however, so in this case, I suspect placing an ad on, say, Dionne Galace or Dear Author will give me better returns than placing an ad on a highly-trafficked site like, say, All About Romance where the focus is on printed books instead of ebooks. But that's just me, of course.
As for bookmarks, pen, magnets, and all, they are nice, I suppose, but speaking for myself, I'd prefer the author hand me the money she paid for that bookmark and pen rather than giving me a bookmark and a pen because I can at least use the money to buy some sweets. Or her ebook. I don't need a bookmark and I don't want one unless it comes with a big bag filled with hundred dollar notes.
So, to sum things up, I try out new e-authors based on the following:
1. The (interesting, thoughtful, amusing, et cetera) things she has to say in her online presence.
2. The publisher she is with.***
3. Whim - cover, interesting synopsis, story with something I don't come across often, et cetera.
Banner ads, reviews in general, bookmarks and other cute but frivolous freebies, and chat sessions don't sell me anything. Also, I don't read publisher blogs (no interest in knowing how many cats an author has and definitely no interest in TMI moments from these authors) or epublisher forums. I don't really care for an author's blog as well unless the author really has something substantial to say, like insider industry news or opiniated op-eds and I always wonder why some authors open blogs when they have no intention or interest in updating them. Why not just get rid of the long-neglected blog if the author has no time or mood to update it? There's nothing like coming to an author's blog and realizing that the last entry dates back to July 2005, all the better for the reader to assume that the author has retired from writing and move on to another author.
*** And finally, regarding the publisher thingie, can I ask e-authors who happen to read this to stop hopping around e-publishers so often? I know, if Ellora's Cave rejects this work, you sell it to Liquid Silver and when Liquid Silver is still negotiating rights with you, you've finished another book that you have to sell and Changeling Press wants to buy it and lo, by the end of the month you have a hundred stories coming out simultaneously from seventy publishers. Or something. That's good for you. I understand that it's great that someone is finally publishing your works and you can finally make some money from your passion. But who on earth has the time to keep track of where and when your next book is coming out? I don't specifically camp out at an author's website, for one, so if the author's previous book came out from Samhain and I don't see any future works listed on the epublisher's website, I'll most likely assume that she has nothing out.
I know it's nice to support new epublishers, especially if they are co-founded by you and a few other author friends who believe that you can all do a better job than that incompetent nincompoop who published your previous book. But that's not what I'm talking about here, I'm talking about all those e-authors who cheerfully has one book out with this epublisher this month, one more with another epublisher next month, and so forth until it seems like I'm playing some kind of game with the author to locate her books in the far reaches of cyberspace or something. Yes, if one publisher is terrible, grab those books back and move on to a better one. That's the right thing to do. But publisher-hopping just to sell, sell, sell? I don't know. (Oh, and I also believe that many - not all - of the ebooks published under the "short" categories are pointless wastes of time and money because they are not developed well, too short to have many erotic love scenes, and should have just been kept in the author's drawer but that's a different rant altogether. Although, seriously, there's no way I'm paying $3.00 for a 30-paged story, Phaze.)
It makes sense, economically, on the author's part but, fairly or unfairly, I don't think it's my responsibility to keep track of where an author is being published with the following month and the month after. It's different with print books from major publishers in New York - the author moves from Avon to Random House but her subsequent Random House books will still be in the bookstores, shelved with her Avon backlist, for her fans to see and buy. But when it comes to e-books, I have to personally track down every epublisher website and open a customer account with them, and that's only after I've figured out which publisher to get that author's e-book from. Factor in the fact that I am not comfortable with giving out credit card numbers to badly-designed epublishers with shopping carts of dubious security and the fact that many authors/epublishers don't like to list their titles on Fictionwise because they don't want Fictionwise grabbing a share of their income and I will end up thinking that it's way too much work to support that author.