A Toolkit And Compass for Romanceland – Part IV

A Toolkit And Compass for Romanceland

Because All The Roads Are Being Re-Built (Maybe)

Assessing Books

This is Part 4 of a series:
Part 1: Romanceland Meltdown
Part 2: Finding Books – Part 1
Part 3: Finding Books – Part 2
Part 4: Assessing Books
Part 5: Contributing To Word-of-Mouth

(Series based upon a guest post at The Bookish Snob)


By now, if you have set up your Google Alerts; mined the depths of Amazon, romance-related websites, blogs and news sites; plus the various RSS feeds and newsletters you have temporarily subscribed to; along with any romance-related groups you may have joined, you should have built up a satisfyingly long list of potential romance titles to investigate.

The titles you placed on your list you should know very little about, except that for some small reason, they appealed to you, and they’re in your preferred reading niche(s).  The authors, publishers, and general quality of the books could (and should) be a complete mystery to you.

Now, you get to assess those titles and find out if they’re worth buying.

The breakup and fracturing of Romanceland is bringing a flood of new titles onto the market.  There are new e-publishers springing up every day.  They edit their books, yes, but how good are those editors?

There’s no guarantee that just because a book comes from a New York publisher, its quality is guaranteed, either.  Recently, an e-book published by a New York publisher garnered so many complaints about formatting problems, editing and spelling errors in the text and more, that the publisher was forced to withdraw the book from sale and issue refunds.

Too, indie authors’ books have long suffered the reputation of being poorly edited and badly written.  Sometimes this is true.  Often, it isn’t — indie authors are increasingly becoming more savvy about their work; they hire professional editors, and book formatters to build their e-books for them, plus professional cover designers (I do, for instance).  The product indie authors put on the virtual shelves can be indistinguishable from New York books.

There is nothing stopping indie authors from publishing whatever they want, whenever they want.  Titles are hitting the market every day.

The flurry of new e-publishers means those publishers are also pumping out new titles every week, too.

And New York is gamely trying to keep up its output, as well.

The fact is that with the fracturing and breakup of Romanceland, there will be hundreds more exciting, different and interesting romances flooding the market.

The price for all that innovation and creativity is that some of the books are going to suck.  Romanceland is turning into a free market, where anyone can publish anything — and will.  And some of what will be published will be fabulous.  The flip side of getting all that fabulous stuff is that you also get the stinky stuff.

You have to learn how to recognize the stinky stuff before you put your money down.

Relying on other people to tell you what is good is no longer going to work.

No single review site can keep up with the deluge.  They haven’t been able to do that for a while now.  Most review sites run anywhere up to six months behind release dates — or more.  I’ve had reviews of my books emerge up to a year after the book was released.  The lag can only get worse as the number of romance titles released per week rises.

There is no single best-seller list that incorporates every single romance title for sale.  There never has been.  The New York Times Best Seller list, for instance, never included Harlequin/Silhouette category romances, which regularly outsold the #1 best-seller.  The NYT list only started included e-books in mid-2011.  It still doesn’t include indie titles.

There are only two ways you can find out if a book sucks, or if it is worth reading.  One way is to read it.  But that gets expensive, especially if you keep hitting sucky books.

The other way to find out if a book sucks or not is to tap into word-of-mouth sources.  Consult other readers.

There’s a number of ways to do that.  If you use a combination of these tools and resources in a systematic way, then you’ll get a pretty good idea, very quickly, if the book you’re considering is a dud, or not.


Amazon is the best place to start, because something like 99% of every romance book ever published is there, and because 99% of every review for the books on there are reader reviews.

In addition, you get reader ratings — the five star rating that is an average of every readers’ rating.

There will also be the odd professional review, too.

Read through all the reviews, both the good and the bad.  Reader reviews are usually not very specific about why a book doesn’t work for them, but see if you can determine why the book failed to please the readers who didn’t like it.  If it is for reasons that won’t affect you (they don’t like European settings, say), then you can safely discount the negative reviews.

If the book gets consistently bad reviews, you may need to cross it off your list.  Put a question mark next to it for now.

If the book is part of the “Look Inside” program, you can even read an excerpt and see if it intrigues you.

Professional Reviews

Hunt down some professional reviews for the book.  Using Google, or your favourite search engine, put in the book title, the author’s name and “review”.

Amongst a few negative results, you will get a listing of links to reviews of the book.  Check them out for overall impressions on the quality of the book.

If the book received crushing reader reviews and ratings on Amazon, and the professional reviews support the bad rap, then it’s probably time to knock the book off your list.

However, if the reviews are all glowing, or even just generally positive, you can move onto the next step, if you are still uncertain about whether you want to buy the book or not.  If you’re already convinced you want the book and are comfortable enough to buy it, then you don’t have to search for further word-of-mouth.

While you are browsing the review sites, if you find that there is a particular reviewer whose voice you like, bookmark the site, or subscribe to their feed.  This is a reviewer who reviews romances in the niche you read.  They may review a romance you will like in the future.  It could pay to keep up with their reviews.


Goodreads and other social reading networks will provide you with one more average reader rating on the book you’re researching — if it has been listed on that network.

There may also be the odd reader review (more like short comments).

The feedback you get from these reader networks usually isn’t comprehensive, but it will provide confirmation and back-up for whatever you’ve already learned about a title.

Reader Groups

If you belong to a reader group, this is the perfect place to actively ask for information.  Put the question to your group:  “What did you think of xxxx?”

If the group has archives or a database of titles you can access, even better.  You can check out members’ reviews of the title for yourself.

Too Little Information

It sometimes happens that a title is too new to have gathered enough information to help you make a decision about its quality.  There won’t be any, or too few, reader reviews on Amazon to reassure you.  If a title is very new, there likely won’t be any professional reviews for it, either.  If it is an indie title, professional reviews are even harder to acquire as many review houses refuse to review indie authors at all.

In this case, what you can do is:

1)   Read an excerpt of the book and check the quality that way.  If the excerpt reads okay, and you don’t notice any obvious grammar and spelling mistakes, typos or other formatting flaws, then the rest of the book should be of similar quality.

2)   Go to the author’s website.  If there are any reviews or positive feedback at all, there’s a good bet the author will have them listed there for the title. (But keep in mind that the author won’t report bad reviews!)

3)   Research one of the author’s other, older titles, in the same or a similar niche as the one you’re interested in.  If that other title got glowing reviews and high ratings, then you’re probably on safe ground with the new book.  Check several of the author’s books, if you really want to be sure.  If they’re all high ratings and good reviews, you’ll feel that much more certain about the new book — and you’ll have more titles on your to-buy list, too!

Sometimes you’ll hit a book where there’s little information and no other titles by the author.  (Every author has a first or second book).  Ultimately, you’ll have to make a decision about whether to buy, or not, based on your gut feeling.

If it’s an indie author, the chances are the price will be very low, so taking a chance on the book won’t be such a big deal.

For New York titles, where the price isn’t so reasonable, you may decide to wait a few days or weeks until the book has gathered reviews and ratings…or not.

For any title where the blurb and excerpt have really grabbed you by the throat and you decide to risk it; go for it.  Why not?  Sometimes you just have to jump in with both feet and see where it takes you.  And sometimes that jump will pay off with the most unexpectedly delightful story you’ve read in ages.

That’s the bonus of a free Romanceland market.  You get to be surprised and delighted every now and again, when you reach out and try something new.

Enjoy your hunting.


Next:  Contributing to Word-of-Mouth


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