Editorial note: This article is the first in our new series from SFWA’s Independent Authors Committee – THE INDIE FILES! Expect a new addition to The Indie Files once a month.
By Anthony W. Eichenlaub
You thought you were done.
You’ve been reading new books for ages. Year-end approaches, and you’ve read every new science fiction book from the big publishers and a few from the little ones. You’ve listened to audiobooks all day every day in order to consume as much fantasy as your brain can possibly manage.
It’s been amazing. But you’ve hardly scratched the surface.
Self-published authors are putting out some of the weirdest weird fiction, the most magical fantasy, and cutting-edge sci-fi. Somewhere, there’s a self-published book that hinges on tech discovered three months ago, written by a neuroscientist who actually understands its implications. Out there is a fantasy inspired by a magical tradition you’ve never heard of, written by someone intimately familiar with it.
Before you read these works, before you can possibly nominate them for awards or share them with friends, you must find them. Here are a few tips on how:
Ask a friend: You probably have a friend who’s been reading self-published books for a while. They have favorite authors and some fantastic recommendations. All you need to do is figure out who that friend is.
Find a reviewer: Until you’ve read a fair number of self-published books, this may be hard. But I assure you, there’s a reviewer of self-published works out there with similar tastes to your own. They’re the friend you didn’t know you had, and now, in addition to finding a book, you need to find this reviewer. There are many places to look, but The Book Blogger List is a good place to start and following #booktok on TikTok will drown you in options.
Consult the Amazon recommendation engine: Whether you plan on buying through Amazon or not, make use of its search algorithms to find books you love. Plug in the title of a favorite book–not a book everyone loves, but a recent book that you love. Then review the suggestions by scrolling down to the “Customers who bought this item also bought” section or “Books you may like.” Both are based on your history, and “Products related to the books you’ve purchased” is a list of promoted books targeting the ones you’ve purchased. No matter the section, start clicking.
Judge a book by its cover: Self-published authors control everything, so the cover tells you a lot about their work as a whole. Rankings can tell you what everyone else is buying, but popularity doesn’t mean that this is the perfect book for you. The general rule of thumb is if the cover and description catch your eye, read the preview. Otherwise, continue down the rabbit hole and click on more books. Also, while on the product page, note the stated release date and confirm it later, if this ends up being a book you love enough to nominate.
Reading previews is critical: On the product page of the retailer of your choice, you’ll have access to a preview of the book. Use it. This is your chance to evaluate a book before purchase. A random page in the preview reveals the author’s writing style and their attention to good editing and grammar. If it looks like solid prose and it catches your interest, buy it. Otherwise, continue searching. There’s a self-published book out there for you.
Join email lists: BookBub is the biggest, but there are more. Fussy Librarian, Ereader News Today, and others will email you daily with the books of authors running promotions through those services, which are very often self-published books you may not have discovered otherwise. BookBub has the added bonus of letting you know when your favorite authors have a new book coming out.
I’ve Found and Loved the Stories! Now What?
Once you read a book you like, leave a review. Rate the book on whatever service you used to buy it. That’ll train the recommendation engine, but it is also an immeasurable help to the author, whether traditionally or self-published.
But online reviews aren’t the most important part. Remember the friend we mentioned before? The one who reads amazing self-published works and tells everyone about them? The friend who nominates self-published works because they’re cutting edge, brilliant, and raw?
That friend is now you.
Not all the books were for you. Some of them were too strange or not strange enough. A few made no sense at all, but you read them and learned more about what you like in the self-published universe. Next year’s award-nominating season, you’ll be ready because you’ve read them all, and not limited yourself to traditionally published works.
Tell everyone about the books you loved. Nominate them for all the awards to help raise their profiles. Lead others to the books that hit you like undiscovered punk rock, to the indie comics that can change the world, and to the unknown poetry that will set its claws in the hearts of a generation and never let go.
And keep reading, because you’re not done. Nobody’s ever done.
There will always be more books.
Anthony W. Eichenlaub is the author of short stories found in numerous publications. His self-published books include cyberpunk Westerns in a Texas ruined by tech, murder mysteries on faraway planets, and technothrillers featuring an elderly hacker. In his spare time he enjoys woodworking, landscaping, and long walks with his lazy dog.