Don’t You Want Somebody to Love? How I Find New Favorite Authors

Once upon a time, I gobbled up every new book of fantasy and science fiction that I could find. I’d trek to my local independent specialty book store or my local branch library and devour each month’s arrivals. Now getting to the closest (general) bookstore requires a trek, our local library branch is in danger of closing, and the number of new books has multiplied beyond any hope of keeping up with everything that’s being published. I don’t recognize many of the authors, at least not under those by-lines.

One way through the deluge is to connect with authors online. (Shameless Promotion Hint: Book View Café is a wonderful way to get acquainted. A whole community of fabulous writers with a wide range of styles and genres is right here — we will now pause while you read a short story from a writer new to you. Okay, aren’t you glad you did?)

Conventions also work well for me as a way to sort through the enormous number of new titles. I’ll hear someone talk on a panel or read aloud from their work and be impressed with what a strange and thoughtful mind they have. Sometimes, I’ll meet them afterwards and be curious about their stories. Sometimes when I hear a writer in person, I’ll pick up a book whose title or cover would not otherwise appeal to me or I’ll be willing to read something outside my usual “taste zone.” Since I believe in supporting other writers, especially newer ones, I usually buy (at least) one “unknown” book from the dealers room. This has the additional benefit of helping out my friendly convention dealers, who get even friendlier and more diligent in carrying my own books. The next step is a request for an autograph, which is a pleasure for everyone involved. So many times, the few moments it takes can give a writer, even an established writer, a lift. “Wow! Deborah J. Ross bought my book — and asked me to sign it!”

A delightful outcome from these meetings has been personal as well as professional friendships. That happens when we love each other’s work and enjoy each other on a personal level.

A third method is personal recommendations and reviews, although with discernment. I may like and respect another reader/author but have different tastes in reading. (I have a good friend who give me anti-recommendations: anything she loves, I am sure to hate, although I don’t always like what she detests.) Reasons for liking or disliking books are particularly valuable. For instance, a reviewer or friend may say, “I couldn’t stand Book because Topic or Theme turns me off” but I happen to adore stories with Topic or Theme, so a negative review can actually make me more likely to go out and read the book.

Sometimes the experiment is successful and I go out and buy everything else I can find by that author. Other times, the library book sale is the recipient of these autographed copies. That’s the breaks. I don’t always enjoy the work of people I admire and like (and sometimes I like work by people I can’t stand), so I try to look at the process as an interesting experiment. A book can be well done, but is just not my cup of tea. If I don’t care for it, someone else may love it.

Now comes the delicate issue of reciprocity, because I extend this support not only as an avid reader, but as a fellow writer. The first sale is without expectations, but after that, I pay attention. Unless I’m utterly captivated by the author’s work (in which case I devolve to the status of a fan), I notice whether the support is mutual. Alas for human nature, I’m more likely to continue to buy your books if you also read mine or at least let me know you are interested in my own career. I don’t demand that the other writer adore my work, only that they extend the courtesy of giving it a try as I have done for them. If that sounds self-serving, it is. Relationships between peers (we are each readers but we are both writers as well) require mutual support. If we are honest, we can separate out personal taste and be of genuine help to one another.

What do you think? How do you find new authors to love?

Deborah J. Ross has been writing science fiction and fantasy since 1982. Her recent publications include Hastur Lord, a Darkover novel with the late Marion Zimmer Bradley, and Jaydium, available in serialized chapters and ebook here on Book View Cafe.

Find my new and out-of-print books at Powell’s online.



Don’t You Want Somebody to Love? How I Find New Favorite Authors — 4 Comments

  1. I used to cruise bookstores looking for new things. I tended to do a cover scan to see what signals the marketing people were sending, then I’d look at the blurb for turn-offs. Words that sometimes made me wary were “lyrical” (too often pretentious or purple in my perceptive lens) “wrenching” (who needs more of that?), “gritty” and “in the tradition of . . .” if I didn’t much like the original, or if Tolkien’s name was evoked. (I don’t see much of that any more.) If the signals were mixed, I’d do the page 97 test–I’d read a middle page, and if anything appealed, I’d go to the opening.

    These days I don’t get to bookstores much, I rely on reccos online, pretty much like you outline.

    I never expect any other writer to read or to like what I do, so reciprocity isn’t even in my realm of consideration, except in ms trading. It’s very difficult to find fresh eyes these days, and so I don’t usually say no if someone asks me to read their thing, but they do pile up. (And I am way more likely to get to someone’s work faster if they offer to read mine. So ego gets her jackboot in there!)

  2. @Mary — The library got me through high school! Alas, with budget cuts, our local branch has very little new sf/f. I can order it inter-branch, but I have to know what to ask for.

    @Sherwood — Increasingly, I find covers deceptive. That is, there are too many wonderful books whose cover art and copy are turn-offs. I need a way to sort through those I would otherwise reject.
    Also, have you discovered writers you love by exchanging critiques? There’s magic in watching a new writer develop and thrive!

  3. Pingback: SF Signal: SF Tidbits for 8/18/10