Monday, May 2, 2016

How Do You Pick Out of 20M Books?

Google Books has scanned more than 20 million books.  Yes, that is 20,000,000.  It’s hard to wrap our heads around that number.  By the end of the 1980s, fewer than 45,000 new books were being released annually.  Over a decade ago it surpassed 500,000 new titles per year, and then a million.  Self-publishing, foreign translations of overseas books, and an explosion in ebooks has made the book market a very crowded place.  But the books scanned by Google include a lot of old, rare out-of-print books, some of which are historically important.  The question is this: How do we prioritize or rank these books so that they are meaningful to readers, scholars, the media, and writers?

The old card catalogue at your musty, neighborhood library used to list books in alphabetical order, by an author’s last name.  They may have also had a version that did the same with the titles.  Eventually this went digital.  Vast computer banks in the clouds store the names of all the books known to have existed, give or take a few.  Now you search in a number of ways, though no system is perfect.

You can search by an author’s name, book title, genre, publisher, year published, and to a degree, by specific words or phrases in these books.  Google Books, on the positive side (even if it violated copyright law in my view), makes the content of all books searchable.  Historians, researchers, writers, media, companies, and the government have access to a great amount of information.

But how does one find a book to read?  There are so many ways to go:

·         Pick a bestseller.
·         Go off a book review.
·         Get a recommendation from a friend.
·         See what makes a Top 10 list by a blogger.
·         Find one that won a significant award.

Or you can pick out one with a provocative title, cool cover, or interesting artwork.  Actually, a good chunk of books are read because a teacher assigned them, a boss required it, or because you received it as a gift.  But there are times where we want to just discover a book, not knowing what we want, not particularly in need of anything.  How do we do that?  Where do we start the search?

I like going to used bookstores, even though I love new books and their pristine, uncracked pages.  But used bookstores act like a grandparent handing down books they enjoyed 20, 30, 50 or 80 years ago. If you want to see what’s stood the test of at least one generation, visit your antiquarian shop in the area.

Books are typically arranged in a store by format, genre, sometimes price, and, if a best-seller.  At a used bookstore there’s more of a mixed-bag approach to how things are displayed.

As an author you can see why book marketing and publicity is so, so important.  You not only are competing for attention with other products, content providers, and the distractions or demands of life, but with all books that have ever been published and now have become available.  Books want a home, to be adopted by someone who will enjoy them.  How will you help your book find a good home?

There are over one billion people who speak English on the planet.  Find them and tell them about your book.  Show them why they need it or should desire it.  Making them aware it exists is the real battle.  Once discovered, the book must sell itself.  And if it’s good or useful, word-of-mouth shall spread.  If not, into obscurity you go.

There may be 20 million books out there but the truth is there are only maybe a thousand different types of book out there.  Yes, the archetypes.  Look at the plot lines that come up over and over --  good vs. evil, human perfection, moral conflicts, wandering lovers, superhero powers, searching for God, the pursuit of riches, the value of family, the underdog who prevails, etc.  So many millions of books are just different takes on the same story.  The same is true with non-fiction.  There are only so many ways to make money, save a relationship, raise a child, improve government, cook a healthy meal, or learn how to lose weight. So how do we find the best, most relevant, most accurate books?

Readers will find that it’s rare that a book becomes a one-stop, sole-resource point of action.  No matter how good a novel is, you move on to another one.  And no matter how informative a book is, you benefit by consulting more than one book on a given subject.  Perhaps the way to finding the right book is to keep looking, and to never end the search.

Every book, no matter how old, has something to offer you.  By consulting thousands or even tens of thousands of books, you will grow in knowledge, creativity, and ability.  Some books are must-reads and are superior to others but the vast majority have something worthwhile to offer the hungry reader who seeks them out or stumbles upon them.

If you read 1% of all books – 200,000 -- you would be incredible.  If you read 1% of 1% -- 2,000 books – you would still be quite exceptional.  Whichever ones you consume, appreciate them for what they are, and never feel satiated or act as if your library of knowledge is complete. There’s a new truth awaiting your discovery on the other side of the page.

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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2016

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