A post by MWT — Discoverability

Over at Fantasy Book Cafe, a post by Megan Whelen Turner, writing about the problem of discoverability.

I believe that Discovery, the process of finding books and authors that are new, is the most important aspect of increasing diversity in publishing. Some people find their new books by reading reviews regularly and getting newsletters in their inbox, but the vast majority of readers pick up the thing that’s on the endcap at Barnes and Noble.

Probably true, although in fact when I lived within 10 miles of a bookstore, I found most books and authors via the library. Physical bookstores are still really important for my sales, though. So I think that bit about tables at B&N is still basically true.

Here’s the bit I found most interesting:

I fall into reading ruts pretty easily. When I was a kid, I read all the Black Stallion books, all the Susan Cooper books, all the Alistair MacLean books. It took effort and sometimes blind luck to get me out of my comfort zones. Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God is one of my favorite books and I only read it because it was on the shelf in a small apartment where I was trapped as a nanny to a sleeping baby. I love Iain Banks and I am not sure I would have if his books hadn’t constituted 40% of all books in English in the Oslo Public Library the year I lived there.

… This is interesting because I really don’t think “reading all of x books” can be called a rut. I mean, I totally did that too as a kid, and still do as an adult. All the Black Stallion books, check, all of Alistair MacLean, check. Also everything by Dorothy Dunnett, say. Or everything by CJ Cherryh. Or much more recently: all of Martha Wells’ books, all of Andrea K Höst’s books.

But how can that be called a rut? Unless you read them and then re-read them and then read them yet again, rather than going on to something else. Does anybody ever do that? Because that’s a little hard for me to imagine.

If you read all of Martha Wells’ books, that’s only, what, fifteen or so novels. Then you’d go on to something else, right? So, that doesn’t sound like enough novels in a row to really count as getting into a rut.

Which of course does not derail the main point, which is that Discoverability Is Really Important and Really Hard.

MWT says: As more and more of my purchases are made online, as more of my reading is online, I worry about the algorithms that are used to put books in front of my eyeballs. Amazon’s whole imperative is to show me books just like ones I’ve read already. Even as I am trying to diversify, I can I see myself going down a narrower and narrower tunnel.

Which also makes me wonder, do any of you pay a significant amount of attention to Amazon’s suggestions? Or do you, like me, get nearly all your reading recommendations from bloggers? In that case, since no one’s taste overlaps perfectly, you should find yourself being pushed toward books you wouldn’t ordinarily notice, right? Chachic got me reading romances. Charlotte got me reading more MG. Brandy and Maureen got me reading contemporary YA. And I have no idea how many books on my TBR pile were recommended by commenters here, but lots.

Discoverability is still really hard, obviously. Bloggers don’t use algorithms to suggest similar titles, but on the other hand some titles come with a LOT of buzz and hype and every. single. blogger. in the entire universe reviews those books while a thousand others fall under the radar. I see no solution to that, basically.

But to do my tiny bit about the issue: in the comments, please mention one under-the-radar novel or series that you read recently (or semi-recently) and really loved.

I’ll start, obviously.

My pick: Rosemary Kirstein’s The Steerswoman

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14 thoughts on “A post by MWT — Discoverability”

  1. I never thought Steerswoman was under-the-radar. The local B&N featured Language of Power pretty prominently when it was released (and the series was re-released.) It wasn’t on the SFF table, but it was sideways on the shelf.
    Here’s mine:
    Enchanted, Inc. by Shanna Swendson. Yeah, it has (apparently) significant press, but chick lit isn’t my usual cup of tea. I liked it because of the sendup of corporate politics. (Merlin reading Who Moved my Cheese is worth the price of admission.)

  2. Oooh. The Steerswoman. I found that through a recommendation by Chad Orzel (physics blogger) after its re-release.

    I’m going to suggest the ThiefTaker Chronicles by D.B. Jackson. There are 4 books in the series. It’s set just prior to the American Revolution in Boston, but it’s alternative history because some people (including the main character) have magic.

  3. It’s hard to define under the radar. My suggestions are the Twelve Kingdoms series by Jeffe Kennedy and anything by Jasper Fforde.

  4. I recently read the Steerswoman quartet because of your earlier mention on this blog. I liked it a lot, and hope the announced book 5 & 6 appear soon.

    There’s one ‘under the radar’ author, Lazette Gifford, who’s books I enjoy reading. She writes science fiction and fantasy, mostly adventure-type stories that are quick to read for relaxation, and self-publishes them through Smashwords. She’s not up to the level of Andrea K. Höst, but I enjoy a lot of them for light reading anyway.
    There is, however, one reason why I tend to hesitate when recommending her books to others: she suffers from bad (copy-)editing and some home-made looking covers (some faces on her covers hit the uncanny valley for me). She has paid people to copy-edit her books, but the finished products tend to still contain 20 – 80 small typos (an occasional missed or doubled word or transposed letter, and quite a lot of missing/misplaced punctuation) per novel. I know some people can get very upset by this, which is why I hesitate when recommending her; though I think if she were taken up by a publisher with professional editors she’d make a saleable product.
    She writes a lot, so if you’d like to try her, my favorites are Ada Nish Pura on the SF side, and for fantasy Summer storm (comedy) and Mirrors (more serious); Devlin’s team 1: Dancer is a combination SF-mystery, and of her rare contemporary stories with no F/SF elements Muse is my favorite.

  5. I’d love to see more people reading a high-quality self-published series I discovered last year. The Summer King Chronicles by Jess E. Owen features gryfons, dragons, and wolves, all with their own unique societies and beliefs. I enjoyed it so much I backed the Kickstarter to fund the publication of the last book of the series in hardback.

  6. I think The Steerswoman is under the radar *now*, regardless of whether it was noticed at the time of its publication. It has 179 reviews on Goodreads, which considering it was published 28 years ago, is really nothing.

    I did try to think of something published more recently that I really loved that was definitely under the radar, but once I thought of The Steerswoman, it just wouldn’t get out of my head. So.

    Thanks for all your recommendations! I will check them all out.

  7. Well, I’d never heard of the Steerswoman until you praised it recently, so it was under the radar for me, and I’m glad you mentioned it.

    @Kristina, I bought Song of the Summer King by
    Jess E. Owen on Kobo, and got previews of books 2 & 3 for in case I like it; it looks interesting.
    Thanks for the good ideas!

  8. As a READER, discoverability is a huge issue. I’m always looking out for new things I might want to try, but I find recommendation systems frustrating at best. Most of them seem to stick on one aspect of the book while ignoring what I actually liked about it. I used to have tons and tons of time while in school, and would push to the end of even books I didn’t particularly care for, but these days with more limited time I’m faster to put things down and more picky about what I even pick up.

    As for underappreciated books…. Since someone mentioned another Twelve Kingdoms, I’ll just put a shout out for the Twelve Kingdoms books I’m familiar with, by Fuyumi Ono. They have interesting worldbuilding. I like how Yoko, the main character, changes from someone who is a huge people-pleaser to someone who can actually rule a kingdom and not get pushed around. And I like how the story doesn’t end after she takes the throne—the best arc for her is actually the one after that, which chronicles how she settles into the role she never asked for and her struggles to be a good queen when she’s starting with no knowledge about her new world. (Small spoilers: I love that she basically joins a rebellion against herself as a way of enacting the needed changes.)

  9. Wow, Megan, that series by Ono looks tough to get. Too bad she hasn’t put out a ebook version yet! — If she has, it’s not coming up on Amazon, so please comment with a link.

  10. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely to get an ebook version since Tokyopop, the original publisher, went under a few years back. There are some very well done translations a few fans did on their own, which are available for free if you search online (as ebooks too), or the original TP books are still out there (though admittedly a little more expensive). If you do get the paper versions be warned that #4’s hardcover has a rather unforgivable editing snafu that outright deleted a chapter, but it’s present in the pbk version.

  11. Thanks for the warning about the hardcover edition of #4! I would be REALLY upset to discover that the hard way.

  12. I DID discover that the hard way. I had been collecting everything in hardcover until that point, and I was very confused how we suddenly got from A to C until I realized there was a whole missing chapter, and it was kind of important. . . So that’s the only one in the series I have both hardcover and pbk.

  13. I can’t say I know which books are well advertised and which aren’t. Used to be I would browse BN until something caught my eye. Nowadays I rely on the library system more.

    Which is how I found these two books (although they’re published by Disney, I don’t know what that says about their discoverability): Spinning Starlight by RC Lewis (The Wild Swans in space), and As Old As Time by Liz Braswell (sticks close to the original B&B for a while then expands).

    There’s also Charlie N Holmberg’s work. Seems she’s got good/numerous reviews, if that’s any indicator of discoverability. On the other end of the review spectrum: The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman. That’s a fun one. Mulitple worlds / parallel universes with one gigantic library, librarians who collect unique works, plus Fae and Dragons.

    Oh this doesn’t have many reviews: Tanith Lee’s Wolf Tower (Claidi Journals). Enjoyed that series when I was a kid, and still enjoy re-reading from time to time.

    Looking forward to checking out everyone’s recs!

  14. I would have stomped in circles cursing.

    I have a paperback omnibus edition of Anne Bishop’s Black Jewels trilogy . . . which has about fifty papers misplaced in the book, which was, as you say, very confusing. Fortunately the pages are *there*. Just not in the right spot.

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