Saturday, October 1, 2011

Choosing Books

SF Signal offers a list of October releases, complete with many shiny covers, here, and asks "Which of These 112 SF/F/H Books Coming Out in October 2011 Do You Want?" (SF = Science Fiction, F = Fantasy, H = Horror)

This gave me a chance not only to look over the field, get a sense of what's new and trendy (in cover art/design as well as theme/subject), but also to observe my own process, to watch what I am attracted to. First off, there was the sheer visual pleasure of many gorgeous covers. Then the pique of interest in seeing new works by authors I love or newer authors whose careers I have been watching. I love celebrating the successes of my friends. Beyond that, a few things stand out for me.

There are genres and topics I simply am not interested in, and no amount of advertising foo-foo, raving reviews, or brilliant cover art is going to change my mind: war porn, zombies, tie-ins to media I haven't seen and which has no appeal for me, series I've given up on/didn't work for me. Then there's a subcategory of books I might pick up if I know the author or someone strongly recommends them, or out of curiosity if I happen so see it in a bookstore (or, more likely, in a dealer's room and I know the dealer); this includes tie-ins for media I have seen (there are a lot of media tie-ins on this list).

Then there's a vast amorphous grouping, about which I feel like an Independent voter. I'm willing to be convinced, so give me a reason to be interested in this book. I'm slightly more likely to take a look if (a) the cover does not have macho men with guns/swords, (b) is from a publisher I consider interesting, such as many of the smaller presses.

Last, but should be first, come the books I know I want to read. I know the author or his/her work, I've heard something about the book, I've loved the series. It strikes me that the personal connection or previous work trumps glitz.This definitely biases me against new and unfamiliar authors. I'm not sure how I feel about that. On the one hand, the bias rankle my sense of fairness, and I know I'm depriving myself of books I might adore. On the other hand, my book buying budget isn't unlimited, so I do need to pick and choose. Let's face it, if I'm given a choice between a new book by one of my favorite authors and one by someone I know nothing about, human nature will prevail.

One way I try to mitigate the unknown = uninterested bias is to go out of my way to meet authors at conventions and online. At least one of the books on my "definitely" list owes its position to my having "met" the author in social media sites. When I'm at conventions, I try to buy one book by an author I've just met at the dealer's room. Here's a bias toward paper publication, usually by traditional publishers, although not necessarily big ones. Small press publishers are doing a lot of interesting things these days, and taking more creative risks than their NYC counterparts.

I'm not yet in the e-reader market, although I've been bringing out my backlist and individual short stories in those formats. I'm curious to see if and how having access to works available only as ebooks will affect my buying patterns.

I'd love to hear your own thoughts on how you choose books. And do take a look at October's list. There are some real treats!


  1. 'Advertising foo-foo" ... chortled into my tea I did!

    And thanks for the heads-up ... I'm going to scoot over to SF Signal and peruse the offerings.

    I'm also going to take a deep breath and send my book off to them in hopes of a review. Fingers crossed.

  2. Widdershins - Hee, hee. I knew we were kindred spirits!

    Getting reviews is a whole new game with the internet.

  3. Okay I have to ask (even though it's a fair bet it isn't something I'd pick up let alone read) what is war porn?

  4. Hi Chris -- war porn is military sf that glorifies violence, promotes black and white thinking, demonizes the adversary, and ignores the suffering on both sides. It's also prone to stereotypes, both positive and negative, and often puts forth the author's political views as the only right one. Alternatives to violence, if shown at all, are mocked as weak, ineffective, "unmanly," and naive. (Not all military sf does this, of course, and it's certainly possible to find rigidly dogmatic fiction in other genres.)

  5. Classic war porn - Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein

  6. So I was correct in my original post. NOT something I'd pick up let alone read.
    I tend to look at the homepages of authors I particularly like, occasionally the publishers website in case there was something I missed, and then a stroll through the bookstore.
    Sometimes my favorites authors will mention what was a good read for them :-)