Independent Writing from an Independent Mind

Open discussion about writing and reading

Tag Archives: reader

Do you want a free non-fiction (and even fiction!) research tip?: Use Google Books!

Google BooksAre you a writer who lives remotely from any major research library? Do you have work to do that requires books that you cannot get hold of easily? I have something to put in front of your nose then:

Make use of Google Books!

I discovered this as a very handy tool for some of the writing projects that I have on. First of all, you have to realize that I live in Bangkok, Thailand, so I am not only remote from any major English language library but I also travel an awful lot during the year so what research that I have to do obviously has to involve searching on the web. And starting on the web is not the lazy way, it is the smart way. At the same time, we all have known the arguments about using, and worse yet, citing Wikipedia (though I would recommend using Wikipedia for ideas and background knowledge). Virtually any other site on the internet cannot give you primary sources. Google Books, though, quite often can get you information that you need if you know how to search properly. This is especially true if you are doing historical research. The resources found inside Google Books are very good for finding great autobiographies / biographies, works from the time period, copies of rare works and first run prints, etc. And quite often Google books is better than Project Gutenberg as well since the works in Google books generally are simply facsimile copies of the original source. Sometimes the Gutenberg book is not. Also, for citations the pagination is more likely to be correct on Google Books due to the formatting in Gutenberg, though the HTML versions of the Gutenberg books tend to be fairly accurate. You will also need to consider that though the Gutenberg Project is working very hard at fixing misprints, misspellings and the like, you only seem to have these in the Google Books works if the original is in bad shape. However, you can generally still make out the text.

Is this perfect? Absolutely not. Where Google Books falls down when doing research is when you come to works that are not yet in the public domain and are still on sale. Most, if not all, of these books have parts of the book or even the majority of the book blocked out so you cannot reach the entire publication online or in a reader. But this isn’t necessarily always bad though. There are times when it is better to buy the book or at least check it out of the library. And I am not a shortcut kind of guy when I research. I want the entire relevant text there so I work at having it all at my fingertips. If I can’t do this with a Google Books book then I try to purchase the book outright. (I do this because I don’t have access to a major research library, remember? You might be able to get away without purchasing these books where you live.)

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think that doing all of your research in Google Books is a great thing. True research is much more detailed and involved than that. You have to follow up every source that is relevant to your project, and even some that turn out not to be. I do however believe that Google Books (and Project Gutenberg, for that matter) are great resources that are available on the web now that obviously weren’t there before. And I bet you non-fiction and historical fiction writers can definitely think of projects that you could use Google Books at least as a starting point before you vistit that big research library.

Let me know what you think!

I took Benny Lewis’s advice and got the Kindle Keyboard 3G

Like so many others I never wanted to “give up” on books but I have been thinking more and more about it since getting my iPhone. I fell in love with the iBooks application and within a few weeks I was convinced to the new Kindle Fire which is coming out soon but when I was in New Orleans recently I had lunch with Benny Lewis who convinced me that the Kindle Keyboard 3G is a damned good way to go. Oddly enough, talk about law of attraction, a week later I was visiting my aunt in Springhill, Arkansas, and my cousin, Nick Hammond, told me that he won this exact model but he doesn’t read much so he never even opened the box. I couldn’t believe my luck! I asked him what he’d sell it to me for and he said fifty bucks. Fifty bucks? Done deal! I was just hoping that he didn’t re-think it and back out. Actually, he told me that several people had offered him money for the Kindle but none ever came through on it. Not me. As soon as Nick said fifty bucks my hand was in my back pocket reaching for my wallet.

Now I am looking for ways to get books that I already have into the Kindle. Believe me, you will be sure to hear more about this Kindle experience in the future. So stay tuned…

Why I as an Author do Book Reviews

As many authors and readers already well know I have been a book reviewer for for a few years now and I also write reviews for many international publications.  Though my reviews have had thousands of readers around the world I still have had one or two people, including fellow authors, refer to my book reviewing as a “hobby” of mine.  But in fact I don’t and have never before considered my reviewing books as a pastime.  The reviews I produce are as much for my growth as a writer and author as they are to help the potential reader made an informed decision about a book.

Why do I say that?

Simply put I use the review process as my own exercise for improvement in the craft of authoring books.  And I recommend to any author who could commit the time and effort to get into reviewing as well.  Here’s a list of the four main reasons I am so into reviewing other authors’ books:

1) I grow technically as a writer – When I review another author’s work I am constantly learning from their style, the structure of their product as well as their editing and content.  I compare this to works that I have produced in the past and also see which ideas that might work on projects that I will undertake or are currently working on.

2) I grow as an author in the broader sense – There is so much to learn about the themes presented and how authors get their message across.  This is very important because you not only have to find a voice when you write but you must also have something to say in the first place, otherwise you are you are simply rehash and not interesting.  Then what’s the point of writing at all?  This is all about learning how other authors find their own message and deliver it in a way that is unique to their style and personality.

3)  I grow intellectually and personally – I learn the lessons of the books I am reviewing and internalize these lessons.  I look for the parallels in my life and seek the wisdom in the writing.  I want to know exactly the point, the raison d’être, the author had in writing the book and how the book can make its own change in the world.  I always try to pinpoint the connections I have found with my own life or the lessons I have learned and make these examples available to the book’s potential reader as well.  And these lessons aren’t only found in non-fiction books either.  Even fictional books that many would consider that are just for entertainment purposes have these lessons.

4) I promote the art of writing – There are so many books published out there annually, I have heard between 200,000 to 250,000 new titles every year, that it is incredibly difficult for the worthy books to be sorted and found in this huge pile.  This means that it is very hard for authors, especially new authors, to find their audience and be heard.  I consider it my duty as a reviewer to try to help the curious reader to know what they should expect from the books that I review and I try to make sure that deserving authors will find more of a readership through my efforts.

Though books are readily available in today’s world, many readers everywhere take that availability for granted.  But to someone who has written a book, we “know it don’t come easy,” to paraphrase Ringo Starr.  Authors spend a good part of their lives in researching their books, making business plans, outlining the scripts, doing the actual writing, editing, publishing, etc., and quite honestly much of the time it is a thankless job.  A well written, solid review is my way of saying thank you to all the other authors out there who have written the books that have made me what I am today.  This is why I would like other authors to consider writing reviews every now and then.

Where can authors post their reviews?  Of course, many places, but just a few:  Their local newspaper, a literary magazine,, Barnes & Noble,, their own blog, an online book club (Shelfari, GoodReads, WeRead, LibraryThing, etc.) or on some other form of social media such as Facebook,, etc.

Honestly, if you are a writer doing a few reviews here and there is an excellent way to pay it forward.  Get the conversation started… Remember, what goes around comes around!