Sunday, 12 May 2013

The Computer Recommends…



So what’s your book about? Will I enjoy it?

Authors often get asked this question. What you really want to know is if my book sounds interesting enough for you to read - or, more bluntly, why should you buy it? Naturally authors want to tell you it’s just your thing, you’ll love it and should rush out and buy it immediately. In fact some authors tell everyone they meet exactly this, which is a good way to lose friends and alienate people.

The truth is no book in the world is loved by every reader. Each reader has their own tastes, which vary over time and according to mood, and while some books might please several different types of readers, you really can’t please all of the readers all of the time. That's the reason you see one-star reviews on best-selling books, and the reason publishers still publish titles that are not obvious best sellers.

Really, readers shouldn’t ask authors this question. We’re so busy getting lost in the enchanted mists of our own stories, we’ve barely time to notice all the other books by other writers, and when we do it's often in a competitive light that makes recommending them over our own books feel a bit like shooting ourselves in the foot - although we still do, if we read something particularly impressive, it just might have to impress an author a bit more than your average reader.

In the pre-digital age, serious readers might have asked their local independent bookseller (who had a wide knowledge of books and knew their customers' tastes) to recommend a title. But these friendly, knowledgeable local booksellers are vanishing fast. More likely you’ll be confronted with a pile of best-sellers at the front of your local bookselling chain, a cashier who knows little about any other book and even less about you, and who leaves you to your own devices to find other titles that you might enjoy. These lesser promoted titles might be spine-out on a back shelf of the shop, or more likely – if you're a keen reader – not there at all.

So today I’m going to go all digital on you, and pretend I'm a computer. Since amazon is recognised to have the best book-selling algorithms around, I've found a good way of discovering interesting titles is to look at their “also bought” lists. I take note of these when they spring up beside my own books, since I'm naturally interested in the other books my readers enjoy so I know what to write for them next! But as I sometimes write for a younger age group, I find these lists most useful for my own reading when they spring up next to a book I’ve read for my own pleasure and enjoyed enough to want to read more like it.

If you haven't come across it yet, this list can be found on the book’s product page on amazon's website. It’s called “Customers who bought this also bought…” so should be used with a bit of caution, since it doesn’t say “Customers who enjoyed this also enjoyed” (so far even amazon's algorithms can’t measure our enjoyment, but one day I expect they will!). Also, if a book has been on a promotion you’ll probably see a list of other books that have also been on promotion, since that kind of reader obviously puts price ahead of other things when deciding what to buy. But on the whole, especially if a title has been out for some time, this list is the computer’s answer to “Will I enjoy your book?”

Discounting more obvious recommendations by the same publisher and/or the same author, here are three examples of my books for different age groups and their “also boughts”:


Arthurian Saga (4 books) – Mary Stewart
Fire Spell – Laura Amy Schlitz
Justice for the Damned (Medieval Mystery) – Priscilla Royal
A Quest of Heroes (Sorcerer’s Ring) – Morgan Rice
The Assassin’s Curse – Cassandra Rose Clarke
Seraphina – Rachel Hartman
Gods and Warriors – Michelle Paver
Legends of Muirwood trilogy – Jeff Wheeler


Dragonfly – Julia Golding
Fairest (An Unfortunate Fairytale) – Chanda Hahn
Burn (Celestra series) – Addison Moore
Treespeaker – Katie W Stewart
Robin: Lady of Legend – R M ArceJaeger
A Place Beyond the Map – Samuel Thews
I am the Wolf – Joann H Buchanan
Water Witch – Thea Atkinson
The Path of the Priestess (Star Warrior series) – Anne Woodpecker


Burnt Shadows – Kamila Shamsie
One Dollar Horse - Lauren St John 
Secrecy – Rupert Thomson
The Heretics of De’Ath (Chronicles of Brother Hermitage) – Howard of Warwick
The Pilgrimage – Brian Fitts
The Wandering King – Stephen Marte
The Executioner’s Apprentice – Edward Chilvers
The Sword Master – I J Parker

I can't find an easy way to search for my books appearing on other people’s “also bought” lists (which might be a useful tool for authors and publishers, Amazon, if you’re reading this!), but the same obviously applies in reverse – if you’ve enjoyed any of the “also boughts” on the lists above, then you might also enjoy the book that generated the list where it appears.

So did the computer get it right? Have you been tempted to try any of the “also boughts” on the lists above?

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