On a Quest for a Good Book

About a year ago I decided to limit my reading diet to self-published books. Not forever, just until I found some new favorite authors to follow. I really want to support the self-published community as much as possible and figured I’d have a strong list of auto-buys by now. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened.

I know there are fabulous self-published authors out there because I have found some, and I must say I’ve been doing my picking based solely on blurbs, reviews and sample pages. I figured that would be enough to help me gauge my enjoyment and justify an investment of reading time.

Here’s where I went wrong: I should have asked for recommendations. I have discovered that most reviews are unreliable, both the good ones and the not-so complimentary ones. But I’m stubborn. I wanted to make my choices based on objective sources. Lesson learned.

Why have I had such a difficult time finishing these books? It’s mostly my bad luck, but I did discover structural problems in the majority of the stories I deleted from my Kindle after reading only a few chapters. Of the books I selected, the writing was fine, grammar good, voice passable, but plot and character suffered from a lack of practiced craft and developmental editing. They read like manuscripts that passed muster with a critique group, but not an editor.

They started out great or I never would have bought them. The sample pages caught my interest, the premise captivated me, so the beginnings of these books rocked. But I stopped reading somewhere between 20% and 30% of the way in. Maybe they suffered from contestitis, where the author had made edits and polished the beginning pages based on contest feedback. The rest of the story never received the same attention.

We talk a lot in RMFW about strong beginnings, effective hooks, introducing interesting characters, establishing stakes and obstacles… but it shouldn’t stop there. The strength you start with needs to carry through the rest of the book.

The problems I encountered were:

Bland characters – Characters who start out strong, then lose their purpose, or lack motivation, or just don’t care enough about the goal they had to begin with.

No tension – The story’s tension leaks out like a slowly deflating balloon. Time is spent exploring secondary plotlines instead of the main one, and the problems faced at the beginning are put on hold. Not good. Not good at all.

Disappearing characters or too many characters – It’s hard to focus on a main character when everyone in the story begins to have equal billing. Or when the most interesting person gets killed off or drops out completely, I lose interest in reading any more.

Likable characters become unlikable – It really upset me when a character I cared about seduced her stepfather about a quarter of the way into the book. I’d thought he was a nice guy, too. He’d raised her, for crap sake. They both turned out to be turds. Ugh. Those are hours I’ll never get back. I didn’t start reading another book for a couple of weeks after that.

Confusion – Mysteries I like. No, mysteries I love. But I don’t like it when things stop making sense. Confusion annoys me.

Meandering plot – Starts out heading in one direction then veers off in another for no apparent reason.

Exposition overload – I’m really tolerant of backstory, and probably enjoy reading it more than most people do, but even I have my limits.

Too many pretty sunsets – Or sunrises, or beaches, or gardens, or forests… You get the picture, which is the problem. Too many pictures. I adore good description and even teach a class on it, but too much kills the pace and saps life from your story.

Repetition – Same scene, different setting. Again. And again. It helps to change things up now and then.

Chaotic choreography – Action is a very good thing to have in your story, but it needs to be handled with a practiced hand. Fights, tangled lovers, car chases… When a lot is happening all at once, it should be clear in the reader’s mind what’s going on.

Call me picky—because I am—but I really wanted to love these books. I’m looking for an enjoyable reading experience and my goal is to find some great self-published books to fill that need.

Do you know of any self-published books you think I’d enjoy? If so, please leave the title and name of the author in a comment here. Thank you!


Karen DuvallKaren Duvall is an award-winning author with 4 published novels and 2 novellas. Harlequin Luna published her Knight’s Curse series last year, and her post apocalyptic novella, Sun Storm, was released in Luna’s ‘Til The World Ends anthology in January 2013.

Karen lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and four incredibly spoiled pets. She is currently working on a new contemporary fantasy romance series.


Karen Duvall
Karen Duvall is an award-winning author with 5 published novels and 2 novellas. Harlequin Luna published her Knight’s Curse series in 2011 and 2012, and her post apocalyptic novella, Sun Storm, was released in Luna’s ‘Til The World Ends anthology in January 2013.

Karen lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and four incredibly spoiled pets. Writing under the pen name Cory Dale, she released the first book in a new urban fantasy series, Demon Fare, in December 2014. More about Karen on her website & GoodReads.

28 thoughts on “On a Quest for a Good Book

  1. I wander back and forth between reading traditionally published and self-published books, Karen. The first favorite self-pubbed book that pops into my mind is a collection of short stories from Richard Keller called “Coffee Cup Tales: Stories Inspired by Overheard Conversations at the Coffee Shop.” Are you looking for any specific genre? Any non-fiction? I have a little bit of everything on my Kindle plus quite a few self-pubbed books in my ready-to-read stacks.

  2. I will go so far as to recommend my own book, The Legend of Burroughs’ Rangers. A post apocalyptic story of community and growth in the aftermath, rather than the dystopian alternative.
    The Legend of Burroughs’ Ranger by JA Bland

  3. Karen, I’m a self published author. I wrote a novel that could be called, ‘Addiction Fiction,’ or a ‘Recovery Novel.’ It is my fictional account of my 15 years of drinking and my now 18 years sober. My novel, Promoting my Novel, “Blackout Reveries: L.A. Reveries.” teaches, in a story, the cause of addiction. Generally speaking, it lays out the fact that alcoholics drink to mute or douse resentments, resentments form because of denial, which leads to blindness of the resentments, a past or present trauma or deprivation that is denied or ‘stuffed’ or muted cannot be reconciled because to the addict it didn’t happen. So one can’t forgive or cope with something that didn’t happen, therefore-more drink, or substance or acting out. It’s a vicious and very deadly cycle. The main character discovers or is taught these human principles by his 12 step sponsor who is the ghost of Jack Kerouac and his spiritual advisor who is a 50 ton humpback whale living off the coast of Los Angeles. He communicates which ‘Rachel’ the whale by telepathy and actually meets her while surfing a number of times. My novel is highly recommended by all who have read it. Most of all my AA sponsor who called me crying in the middle of the night praising it and telling me it changed his life numerous times over. I have included links to the Amazon site where it can be bought and my youtube blurb. http://www.amazon.com/Blackou…/dp/1453679952/ref=sr_1_4… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VbaGv3vMCys

  4. Thanks, Pat! I’ll check out the sample pages of Coffee Cup at Amazon. I read all genres and select books based on what I’m in the mood for at the time. I like nonfiction, too. Hell, I read the backs of cereal boxes. )

  5. In the best cases, self-publishing enables readers to enjoy top-quality books that do not fit into the Big Five’s “salable formulas”, in other words, the kind of books that would have been “lost” (or substantially changed) before the advent of self-publishing.

    “Summoned”, by Rainy Kaye, a stunning re-invention of Jinn folklore that may be too provocative to fit into the Big Five’s marketing box, but thanks to self-publishing, readers get to enjoy it without compromise.

    • Yep, Daven, I agree, which is why I set out on this quest to begin with. But there are weeds among the flowers and I’m wading through them. I’ll check out Summoned. It sounds right up my alley. 🙂

      • More like isolated flowers in a field of weeds, but a field that lets those flowers bloom in full! 🙂
        “Summoned” is a USA Today best-seller, and Rainy is represented by the TZLA literacy agency. 🙂

  6. I, too, would like to offer my own novel as a suggestion. It was released last month, and the feedback thus far has been nothing short of wonderful. If you take the opportunity to read Secrets of Erhynvale: Children of the Eclipse, by author Amara Starling, I truly hope you enjoy it.

  7. I’ll offer my debut novel, BLACK, which I like to call a political thriller – with “bite”, as it’s about vampires. I got a lot of great feedback from agents, but they couldn’t sell it; and I got picked up by a small press, who then changed their publishing model to all romances, which I don’t write. So I went indie, and it’s been great so far!

    I’m trying to think of a self-pubbed title I’ve really loved, and unfortunately, I can’t. I’ll be watching these replies to fill out my own reading list.

  8. Feel free to look at my book (shameless self-plug!), Throttling the Bard if you’re interested in a humorous adventure.
    Or even Julie Kazimer’s humorous take on fairy tales.

  9. Very interesting post, Karen. Developmental editing is SO important for heading off the kinds of problems you mention. That said, my CP Carolyn Crane won the RITA this year for her self-published romantic suspense, OFF THE EDGE. I happen to know how much editing work went into it. 🙂 Very proud of her!

  10. Try my “Damned Yankee,” a novel about a Bostonian and a South Carolina cotton heiress, whose marriage faces challenges as the Civil War threatens their family, their livelihood, and their own pre-war beliefs.

  11. “I wanted to make my choices based on objective sources.”

    The problem with art is that it’s all subjective. There are not objective sources. Sturgeon’s Law is unilateral and we each have to apply it for ourselves.

    Once you find _one_ you like, you can follow the “also boughts” to find others. It’s not completely reliable because subjective.

    Cover and blurb are the best indicators. If the blurb can’t grab you, chances are the first page won’t either.

    My advice is “sample, sample, sample.”

    My own browsing is strictly in self-published genre fiction. My selection rule is three fold.

    1. Cover has to be “not terrible.” Even the Bigs have some terrible covers so self-pubs can get a bye on that if the cover attracts my attention enough to begin with.

    2. Blurb. If the blurb tells me how exciting the story is, or how many reviews it got, or anything other than what the book is about, I move on to the next book.

    3. Sample. If I can get to the “Buy Me” link at the end of the sample without moving on to the next book, I’m generally going to buy it. There have been a few cases where I got there and said, “No. I really don’t care what happens next.” Mostly, it’s a reliable guide.

    I’m a fan of

    Debora Geary. Her Modern Witch series is contemporary fantasy. You might find it unappealing because she uses several rituals and metaphors on a regular basis. Not magic rituals, but the rituals of the every day. I find her characters appealing, her plots tight, and her imagery striking a nice balance between white room and purple curtains.

    Brand Gamblin. He’s got a “neo-Victorian” piece that I enjoyed greatly – The Hidden Institute. It’s alternate history with a steamy-punky flavor. It serves as an anchor for a series which he’s still working on. Again – good characters, lively plotting, and a wry wit carry these stories forward for me.

    Edward W. Robertson has only recently made it into my TBR and I regret the delay. His current series – Outlaw Stars – has two books. It’s science fiction techno thriller. Tight plots, complex development. Great universe building.

    I also like a couple of YA authors who don’t get enough attention.

    Cidney Swanson has a YA sf series – first book Saving Mars – that keeps pulling me along for the ride. Excellent world building and characters you think you may have met. They’re painted a bit larger than life for the audience, but still charming.

    L J Cohen’s Derelict is another that’s – technically – YA but I enjoyed it a great deal.

    Like romance? Try Jana de Leon’s Trouble in Mudbug.

    JMO. YMMV.

    • Thanks for a great lineup of authors, Nathan. I’m sneaking in here and putting these titles on my own list.

      And by the way, Karen, Nathan is a very prolific writer who publishes his own titles. I’ve heard through the grapevine that he’s a very good writer, so I have a couple of his titles on my Kindle, waiting patiently for me to find some more reading time.

    • Classy recommendation, Chris.

      I’m sure I don’t need to mention, Karen, that Chris is the same guy who writes as C.J. Pitchford and publishes as Chris Pitchford Publishing. His book is The Agility of Clouds, also on my TBR list.

  12. “The Magic of Jhas” by Merelee Knott. It’s a fun, coming-of-age / clash of cultures novel with a touch of fantasy. It just came out this fall. It’s available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle formats.

  13. Thanks, everyone, for your recommendations! I’m making a list and have checked a few of them already. To those who are recommending their own books, please go back and reread my reasons for not finishing a book. Just sayin’…

  14. I go back and forth also between big name authors and small press or indie. Sometimes both fail or both are fantastic.

    I have conventionally published poetry, nonfiction, and short fiction, but I brought my first novel out of mothballs and indie-pubbed it. If you like metaphysical sci-fi with a twist of politics and romance, you might enjoy Heart of Desire: 11.11.11 Redux. http://katerwriter.tripod.com/id4.htm

  15. Does “self-published” include publishing the works of your late pal? Running Meter Press is a collaboration between myself and my friend Mike Keefe — and we are publishing the works of our mutual friend Gary Reilly, who passed away in 2011. The sixth novel in his Asphalt Warrior series comes out next month — “Dark Night of the Soul” — and of the first five we had two Colorado Book Award finalists. All were on the local best-seller list. Last summer, we published the first of Gary’s novels based on his Vietnam experiences, “The Enlisted Men’s Club.” It has done very well so far. We believe in going top-drawer with editing and have done so but Gary’s works were left in remarkably clean shape–nearly ready to edit. Nearly. After November’s next book comes out, we still have 18 novels to go in a wide variety of genres. Good luck on your search Karen and I’m sure you’ll report back on what you found. More: http://www.theasphaltwarrior.com

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