A Toolkit And Compass for Romanceland
Because All The Roads Are Being Re-Built (Maybe)
Finding Books – Part 1
With Romanceland fracturing and thousands upon thousands of new publishers and authors self-publishing their romances every weeks, the first challenge for you as a reader is knowing where to find all the new titles.
After all, you don’t want to miss out on a potentially brilliant new (to you) author, or a fabulous romance that could pass by you unnoticed if you don’t have your ear to the ground, or the right tools and connections for hearing about it.
All the old ways of keeping up with newly published romances just don’t cover all the virgin territory being opened up in Romanceland these days. Not all review sites and romance oriented sites will cover every publisher out there. Some have a policy of “only” dealing with New York publishers (still). Many refuse to deal with indie authors at all, not allowing them to list themselves as authors, or list their books, or reviewing their books. And many publishers and authors simply can’t keep up with all the thousands of blogs, sites and social networks out there that list and review romance books (I know I can’t).
You must bear in mind that these days, there is simply no single source of information that will provide you with all there is to know about romance novels. You’re going to have to build your information from multiple sources.
Keep this motto in mind: “No one knows everything.” The best anyone can do is become an expert on a small sub-niche of a category…and even that will become more and more difficult as authors grab hold of the idea that they can pretty much write any sort of romance they want, now, and publish it…and so you will find all sorts of cross-over, mixed-genre, wildly different and almost impossible to categorize romances flooding the market. Soon, it will become easier to simply say “The sort of romances xxxx writes,” in order to indicate a genre. Romance categories will become that specialized.
So, your first step, as I mentioned, is finding titles.
And because many titles you will be finding will be indie published and small press published, and from sources you don’t know, your next step will be assessing if the romance title is worth buying. But that will be the subject of the “assessment” post.
For now, you need tools and methods for finding romance titles.
Building your potential titles list
The Strategic Approach
As you build your list, keep a few key strategies in mind:
Go For Quantity
The intention at this stage is not to narrow down your selection at all. Put on the list any romance title that tweaks your interest at all, for whatever reason. Later, in the assessment stage, you can knock it off the list after further consideration. But if it nudges your curiosity, put it on the list. The more the merrier, at this stage. Do not be fussy about where the romance came from, who published it, who wrote it, and even try to ignore the cover, if it’s not brilliant. There’s more than one fantastic romance out there with the suckiest cover ever. The cover has nothing to do with the way the author wrote the book. If there is anything remotely interesting about the book — the blurb, the (sub)genre, the hero’s occupation, whatever catches your eye or attention — it doesn’t matter — add the book to your list.
Be open minded
If you’ve only ever read vampire paranormal romances, and you insist on only collecting romances titles in that narrow niche, then you might be missing out on some wonderful reads. I’ll have more to say about niches, keywords and genres in a minute, but for now, consider expanding your genre horizons…even just a little. By looking high and low in all sorts of unusual places, you may find other “genres” that suit your tastes right down to the ground, that you never knew existed — or simply didn’t exist until recently. But you have to do the looking, first, and that means opening up and exploring, rather than staying with your tried and true category(ies).
Break your genres into keywords
You more than likely already have one or two or more favourite subgenres of romance novels that you prefer to read.
Because Romanceland is breaking up and the categories are fracturing, shopping around by categories will become impossible, soon. Besides, most of the on-line bookstores offer woefully inadequate search facilities within the “romance” category, and brick and mortar bookstores rarely break down their romance shelves at all. Given how many thousands of books are released each month, that makes reading each blurb impossible.
You need to drop down to the next level of search granularity in order to find what you need. And that level is keywords.
It will need a bit of brainstorming to start. Write down your preferred categories of romance novels, and beneath each of those categories, write down a handful of keywords that you consider important for each category. It is critical that you select keywords that are relevant to you.
Here’s an example. Say you like erotic romantic suspense. Now, there are dozens of potential keywords you could pick for that category: Sex, guns, suspense, crime, rape, serial killer, black ops, SEALs, military, undercover, spies, espionage, political thriller, war and on and on. Romantic suspense is a big field.
But when you think about the sorts of romantic suspense you tend to enjoy the most, you realize that most of them are military ones. So that’s your first keyword: military. And you like them sexy and hot. So erotic goes in there. And of course, there must be romantic suspense. And you think you prefer Black Ops to straight military operations. So there are your keywords: military, erotic, romantic suspense, black ops. There are both very broad and quite narrow keywords in the collection, so you will end up with some good search results from these keywords.
Go through each of your favourite romance categories and create keyword groups for each type of romance you like. If there’s two or three subgroups within a category (say, you like werewolves and vampire paranormals) create two different groups of keywords, with repeat keywords as necessary for each group (each might have “erotic”, say, or “menage”). Don’t forget to include “romance” in there, too. My example above had “romantic suspense” which covers the “romance” keyword.
If there is a category you think you might like to try, create a keyword group for that, too.
Now to go searching.
Google Alerts are kinda cool, because they send all the good stuff back to you, once you’ve set them up. You just sit back and see what comes to you from across the Internet.
You can choose to set up an Alert for once a day or week or month. I usually set for once a day, unless it’s a wildly popular and heavy hitting Alert, in which case I’ll drop it back to once a week. That rarely happens.
You set the Alert up to search on all the keywords in a group. Surround each compound (multi-word) keyword in a quote mark so Google doesn’t return results on each single word. Do include all the keywords in each group in one Alert.
Set up a different Alert for each keyword group you have developed.
The Alert will return to you each day any news site, website, or blog that has created new content that includes all your keywords, or most of them, along with live links to those sites. This is invaluable in your hunt for new romance titles.
Just scanning the brief summary of page contents included in each Alert will probably provide half-a-dozen titles and authors that you can add to your list, right there.
Clicking on the links and following them back to the source pages will give you further titles. The types of pages that Alerts reports on are a) news b) websites and c) blogs. For the sake of finding new romance titles, I’ll break them down the same way Google does, so you can figure out useful ways to deal with them when you find new ones inside your Alerts.
Google treats any website that isn’t a blog, but has a high volume turnover in timely, current content as a “news” site. Some sites are news sites, while others who do not style themselves specifically as news sites still get classified that way by Google because of the timeliness and volume of their content. The number of hits you’ll get for news sites will be fairly low, but they’re usually worth following up just to see what the site is like to deserve the classification.
When you come across a new “news” site that is dealing with Romanceland content, check out first to see what titles they’re mentioning with your keywords, and add the titles to your list.
Then spend some time on the site and see if it has anything else of value to offer you. Does the site deal in lots of titles around your favourite categories? Or was the title that tripped your Alert an oddity? Were they disparaging it? If so, perhaps the news site will be of little value in the future. If they’re raving about the title, dig a bit deeper and see if the site has other titles mentioned like it. Add them to your list, too. (Remember, quantity!)
If the site has a newsletter you can subscribe to for a month or so, to check out their future offerings, bookmark the site and sign up. You can always unsub later.
When future Google Alerts direct you to the site, you’ll get further confirmation of this newsite’s usefulness, too.
Blogs are plentiful in Romanceland. There are review blogs, author blogs, and general romance blogs galore. Publishers and agents have blogs. Everyone is into blogging. So a vast number of your Google Alerts will be for blogs, especially because blogs update their content frequently.
Just as for news sites, follow the Alert link back to the blog and check it out. Add any romance titles mentioned to your list.
Then spend some time reading posts and checking out the blog to see if it has anything of value to offer you. If it seems valuable and relevant, subscribe to the RSS feed via your reader or email. Then you can monitor the blog for a week or a month and farm the posts for book titles, while assessing if the blog is worth staying subscribed to.
If the blog is an author’s blog, find (somewhere on the site) a list of that author’s books and add them to your list. If the Alert directed you to this author based on your keywords, there’s a good bet that her books fit your preferred reading.
Review blogs need to be treated a little differently. They handle a vast range of romance books, in all sorts of categories that may or may not fit your keywords. You can try searching their review database to see if you can find books in your keyword group. If finding books in their archives is difficult, then you may have your first clue as to how useful the review blog will be in the future.
Also try reading one or two reviews of books that are in categories close to what you like. How do the reviews read? Are they badly written? Insightful? Spelled correctly? (You’d be surprised.) Is every single review a glowing recommendation? Is every single review a bloody mauling?
By the way, you’re not looking for a single review blog as the ultimate guidance on books. But if you find a review blog that seems to be even-handed and fair, and handles the sorts of romance books you want to read, then it’s worth adding them to your collection of resources and tools. They will become a part of your group of word-of-mouth peers.
If you think the review blog that your Alert has sent you to might fit the bill, then subscribe to their feed for a week or two, and check them out. But don’t be afraid to off-load them if you don’t like the feel of their reviews; if they fail to appear in any more Alerts; or if you find you’re not adding any titles to your list from their reviews — any of the above means they’re not useful.
This same thinking/sorting applies to any blog that your Google Alerts directs you to. Assess and farm for titles. Monitor via RSS feed for a while to see if the blog might be useful, and watch to see if Google comes back with further Alerts. If the blog doesn’t a) pop up in more Alerts, b) provide you with more titles for your list and c) doesn’t impress you with its RSS feed; then its time to cut it loose.
Websites are the “everything else” category in Google Alerts. If a site isn’t a blog or a news site, it’s a website. Websites are static, with the least amount of change in content. Having said that, there are some very active websites out there.
Treat Alert links to websites just as you would for blogs: Assess and farm the site for titles. Consider its usefulness. However, there will be no RSS feed for you to subscribe to, so check if there is a newsletter or some other way for you to get site content coming to you, and subscribe as necessary. If the site doesn’t offer a way to send you content, then give up. You don’t want to have to remember to go to them. There’s a dozen other sites who will give you the same information. Just move on. If the site does keep providing great titles, the Google Alerts will tell you, and you’ll be building alternative resources and tools, too.
Next post, we’ll consider even more sources on the Internet that will provide even more romance titles to add to your list, before you start assessing the titles for their quality.
Next: Finding Books – Part 2