One of the few times I buy paper books is when I do a signing at a bookstore. I figure it’s the least I can do. That’s how I wound up with the hardback version of At Home, by Bill Bryson. It’s a great whacking lump of a book, so good that I bought my parents the Kindle version on our shared account.
Yesterday I was reading while eating, which is when I do 90% of my reading, and this monster book wouldn’t stay open on the table unless I held it with one hand. So tedious. So although the paper version was RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME, I went upstairs, got my Kindle, downloaded the ebook version, and read that.
To tell the truth, I don’t even like to go into bookstores anymore. Looking at all that paper that has to be stored on your shelf, knowing that many of those books will be returned to the publisher and pulped… Honestly, it makes me all twitchy. What would I take with me on a desert island? My phone and some sort of magic cell connection. I don’t want to travel by horseback (ooh, the smell and feel of horses!), I don’t want to churn my own butter, and I don’t want a paper book.
If you’re a Facebook friend, you may have noticed me sharing a lot of posts by Must Read Mysteries. That’s because it’s a great source for ebook mysteries that are reasonably priced or free. Eventually, I got curious — who was behind Must Read Mysteries, how did they find all these great books, and what was the motivation behind this great service? So I sent a message. Here are the answers.
Who are you?
While on the internet I am a man of mystery, at home I am a husband, father of 4 children ranging in age from 2 to 16, and a life long reader of mysteries, especially hard boiled ones. My wife Stephanie, another mystery lover, also contributes to the page, particularly when it comes to the cozy mysteries.
How did you get into this?
One of our favorite things to do is to go to library book sales and find new mysteries to try and fill in some of the holes in our collection. Unfortunately we ended up with a small house bursting at the seams with 4 kids and thousands of books. So we bought a Kindle and started to supplement the income from our real jobs by selling old pulp paperbacks and lots of mysteries on eBay grouped by author, series, and theme. As eBay became less and less seller friendly (making the feedback system meaningless by not allowing sellers to leave negative feedback for buyers even when they did not pay, taking a 9% cut on the cost of shipping) we created our own site, mustreadmysteries.ecrater.com, to sell the used books. To try to drive traffic to it we created the Facebook page and slowly started building a following. Then last summer we were away from home for an extended period of time, and in order to keep the page active I started putting up Amazon links to mysteries I enjoyed or were bargains. It seemed to generate traffic, and Stephanie enlightened me that if I was going to throw up links that we might as well become an Amazon associate and make a few pennies when people actually bought the books. As a bonus it is fun to share the freebies we find with the people following the page. It is a bit like a treasure hunt. So that is what we did and that is how the page came to be what it is today. The income from the links gives us just enough money to feed our mystery reading habits, and now we have a Kindle that is as stuffed with books as our house used to be.
How you find all the books (unless that’s a trade secret)?
There are several ways, but the starting point is using Amazon’s rather robust and varied search and recommendation mechanisms. I also follow several blogs and keep an eye on favorite author’s pages to see when they have sales. More recently authors have started emailing or messaging me to alert me when they have a promotion coming up. I also have been getting ARCs and gifted Kindle books so that we can do reviews. We have been able to get to most of those, but do not guarantee a positive review.
What feedback have you gotten from fans?
The most common feedback is people thanking us for alerting them to books or series that they were not aware of. There are also several recommendations that keep popping up: 1) start doing B&N links for the Nook, 2) start a page focusing on science fiction/fantasy/paranormal books, and 3) start a blog with more detailed reviews, musings, recommendations, and perhaps having authors guest post about some of their favorite books from other authors. Those are good ideas that we will try to incorporate as time permits. We welcome feedback from the community because it helps us find new things that might be of interest to others and help us stay responsive to rapidly changing trends.
What are your opinions on the future of publishing?
The industry is changing rapidly and my opinions tend to change too. In general I am pretty much in the JA Konrath/Barry Eisler camp that the traditional publishing route does not make sense financially for many (though certainly not all) authors. I have found eye opening some of the very open financial pieces written by Konrath compared to similar pieces by a traditionally published authors like Jennifer Stanley/Ellery Adams. The big question now is what the impact of the KDP select plan where authors can have their book be free for 5 days out of 90 at Amazon. Are people going to expect to get everything free and hold off on making purchases? Might they end up with so many books on their Kindles that they stop buying? Libby Fischer Hellmann had an interesting blog post about this recently.
One thing I really like about ebooks is the way it is making short stories and novellas available that might not have otherwise seen the light of day. I know this is particularly true for the more hardboiled crime fiction. I have been having a bunch of fun reading through the shorter pieces from Nigel Bird, Ray Banks, Keith Rawson, Heath Lowrance, James Reasoner, Edward Grainger/David Cranmer, Patti Abbott, Thomas Pluck etc.
Another thing I think about is the change to the used book market. When we first started promoting lots of used books on the Facebook page, there were complaints from several authors that they would not be making royalties on the sales of used books. I think that used books are a great way of introducing readers to authors that they will later buy new, much like a library is, but as ebooks become more dominant this dynamic is going to change, and it should change in a way that authors are going to earn more royalties off of their back list, especially when the rights revert to them. Right now most back list ebook titles are priced too high, and people looking for inexpensive titles might still buy used books. But as prices go down and e-readers more popular people will buy the inexpensive e-books instead, which should mean more royalties for authors.
(After I read all that, I had another question.)
Do the kids participate in the business in any way? And do you think it makes them aware of the possibilities of entrepreneurship?
My oldest daughter (16) has contributed a couple of recommendations (Dave Zeltersman’s Julius Katz mysteries for one) and is thinking of doing a similar page for music. So it has definite made her aware of the possibilities. If we do branch out with Sci Fi/Fantasy/Paranormal she would help with that. The 7 year old is a big reader (“How To Train Your Dragon” is current favorite) and the little ones (5 and 2) love having books and being read 2. The 7 year old has the kindle app loaded on his tablet, but it has to compete for time with Angry Birds.