Friday, 15 April 2016

How a travelling book blogger finds her books

I first wrote this article as a guest post for Bookish Serendipity back in September last year. Since then, I have found other free and cheap-book avenues so thought I could republish an updated version here. Individual book links go to my blogged reviews, other links go to the sites being described.

Much as I believe in supporting authors and publishers financially, limited current income means I had to find ways to cut my book bill. A voracious reader, I’ve devoured over 180 books in 2015. At new paperback prices, that equates to several weeks’ worth of campsite fees! Plus, of course, a caravan is a small space. I can store maybe a dozen books at any one time and, once they have been read, I can’t keep them which leads me to my first book source: swapping.

59 Seconds by Richard Wiseman 
Have you heard of Bookcrossing? The idea of this website is to encourage the leaving of books in public places for others to find and read for free. It is very popular in Germany and the USA and has participants in countries across the world. I check for Bookcrossing cafes before we visit a town and generally carry a finished paperback for opportunistic swapping. Independent quirky coffeeshops are the most likely venues for a bookswap box or shelf and if your favourite doesn’t indulge, why not suggest it? I love that Spanish and French campsites often have whole book exchange rooms with titles in various languages. The practice seems less common in the UK although we stayed at a couple of small campsites with bookswaps. As a lover of literary niche reads, I don’t always find anything tempting, but do enjoy the anticipation.

For a small price charity shops can be rewarding places to swap books, especially in university towns. For a fiver, I might gather up a good haul and the volunteers are always pleased to receive donated books. I find this is a great way to cheaply get hold of the wildly successful books of two years ago after their hype has faded away so my expectations are less affected by PR hysteria. OXFAM bookshops tend to have the best selection and are staffed by fellow bookworms with whom to discuss choices, but their average prices are higher.

We do buy new books, primarily as spacesaving ebooks because receiving post is fraught with potential missed connections. We both have Kindles and Amazon accounts so we take advantage of the Family Household setting. Two adults can link accounts thereby sharing each other’s Kindle purchases. Previously we could have simply borrowed each other’s Kindles, but I am surprisingly territorial about my Fire and (apparently) ‘always on Twitter’, so the logistics rarely worked out. While we are talking Amazon, it is worth keeping an eye on the Daily Deal pages. I haven’t signed up to the daily email, because I know I would be tempted too often, but I check the pages and my Wishlist regularly in case an eyecatching title has dropped to 99p or is even on a Free promotion. And, if you splashed out on Amazon Prime, don’t forget your free book each month.

Three Deaths of Magdalene Lynton
 by Katherine Hayton
The Amazon publishing offshoot KindleScout is an interesting opportunity for indie authors and the readers who support them. Authors put a synopsis and excerpt from their book onto the site for thirty days while also encouraging their fans to nominate said book. At the end of the period, the book with the most nominations will be published and anyone who nominated it receives a free ebook copy as a thank you. I have only been registered on KindleScout for a few months, but have already nominated two successful novels.

Classic books are widely offered as free versions on Amazon, but I avoid these because the transcription is frequently dire. Instead, I use the great resource that is ForgottenBooks. Essentially, this site photocopies out-of-copyright books, page by page, onto pdf. Sometimes the print is at a skewed angle, but I get to read the original book. For a £5.99 monthly fee, members can read any of their thousands of books or, for patient cheapskates, I suggest signing up to the daily email. One book each day is offered as a free download. Many are dry factual tomes that might float your boat – or would at least explain exactly how to go about doing so – but ForgottenBooks also offers antique novels, short story collections and poetry.

Audiobook fans are well provided for on the cheap by AudioSYNC and Audible. AudioSYNC is an annual summer programme of free audiobook downloads with two selected titles a week intended for Young Adult listeners and the 2016 season is due to start soon so make sure you are signed up. The book choices are perfectly appropriate for adult listeners too and include classics, contemporary fiction, biographies, audioplays and poetry. Not all titles are downloadable outside the USA for copyright reasons which can be irritating, but I still ended up with a good dozen audiobooks this summer.

The Ark Before Noah by Dr Irving Finkel 
Audible offers a reasonable £7.99 a month membership which allows one audiobook download a month, but we can do better than that! If you pay for a year up front, the fee is just £69.99 for twelve credits, and if you then wait for the regular two-for-one-credit promotions, you can double up to twenty-four books. Plus Audible usually give away a free short ghost story to members at Hallowe’en and at Christmas. Last year I actually paused my membership for several months because I had more books than I can listen to.

Blogging my own book reviews has brought me to the attention of independent authors and small publishing houses. I am delighted that they have begun contacting me, usually on Twitter or via Goodreads, offering their books for me to read in return for an honest review. The internet and ebook publishing are ideally suited for this purpose as books can be safely emailed across the world in seconds. Admittedly a few efforts have been truly unreadable, but others were absolute gems that I happily helped to promote and might never have discovered otherwise. I have learned to check out synopses and other reviews to help me identify compatible reads before saying yes.

Blue Talk And Love by
Mecca Jamilah Sullivan
A prime site for earning books by reviewing them is NetGalley which I discovered through exploring other book review blogs. The site acts as a middleman between publishers and readers and offers pre-publication digital copies of new books. Any reader with a public outlet for their reviews is eligible to join and the array of titles available to request is overwhelming! My own kid-in-a-sweetshop gluttony when I first signed up meant it took a while to get my book to review ratio up to the recommended 80% and I still have to try hard to exercise restraint. Publishers now see that I reliably review which makes them more likely to approve my requests for their books. It is dangerously easy to become inundated.

Those same publishers may offer free books through their own websites, Facebook pages or Twitter feeds, either as giveaway promotions or as rewards for actions such as newsletter signups. It is always worth a quick click to find out. Independent authors also use this tactic and a high proportion are starting to offer a short story or novella as a free taster of their work to readers.

Manukau Bluebirds by Tin Larrick 
If you enjoy discovering independent authors, Smashwords is another middleman website that might be of interest. Here, indie authors offer paid for and free copies of their books through a central portal meaning that readers don’t need to trawl many websites to strike gold. I have had mixed luck on Smashwords so only tend to visit rarely. Another similar venue is Wattpad, but here the books are being written almost as you watch. Writers upload a chapter at a time and readers are encouraged to comment, constructively criticise and get involved with the writing process. Personally I like to read from cover to cover, preferably in a non-stop prose-induced stupor, so Wattpad didn’t suit me, but other readers and writers are hooked.

Finally, I want to put forward Other Book Bloggers as a fabulous book source. Many run giveaways of new books or of giftcards and I was lucky to win a trio of novels last year. Of course I haven’t got them yet because we need to drift close to our home base to pick up our post. However, I love entering competitions and the rafflecopter widget is a wonderful invention! Blogged recommendations are a mainstay of my To Be Read list and I always give more weight to a respected blog review than to cover quotes.

I hope you liked reading my ideas and found new book sources from this post. I am always keen to discover more bookish opportunities so please do comment with your favourite sources.

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