Kanna Ophelia (kannaophelia) wrote,
Kanna Ophelia

some thoughts on buying books

Tracking the last fiction books I have bought, from most recent to least...

Reached (Matched vol. 3, Ally Condie)
Seven: a Lesbian Snow White (Jennifer Diemer)
Fugly (K. Z. Snow)
The Sekhmet Bed (Lavender Ironsides)
The Blemished (Sarah Dalton)
Cinderella and the Lady (K. T. Grant)
The Fox's Mask (Anna Grant)

So. That's three e-first or e-only commercial/trade small or micropress books and three entirely selfpublished books. And a single one from a Big Six (Four?) trade/commercial publisher - and only because I already had the first two books in the trilogy. That is a MASSIVE change in my purchasing habits from two years ago. And it doesn't even count all the free downloads (mostly limited time offers or "first book in series is free") and samples sitting on my ereader or my tablet - there's a lot, and if I enjoy them, I do go on and buy full books, sequels and other books from the authors. I never would have even looked at Spencer Baum's vampire books if his/her unrelated The Demon Queen and the Locksmith hadn't been a random/temporarily free download that became one of my favourite books of the year. (It's free again, I recommend you grab it.) These are only books I've spent actual money on lately.

It's not just price. It's not that I used to spend a lot on individual books anyway, although I was constantly buying them, at least not in a way that sent money to the author in any meaningful way. I was a remainder book store junky - do you mean I can get 8 books for ten quid? LET ME AT THEM. I don't really do that any more, though. So it's not just that Reached was $10 now the antitrade judgement has gone through and would have been even more without it and Sarah Dalton's book was 99 cents. Don't get me wrong, I love buying a book for less than a cup of coffee. But I was cheap anyway, unless it was a high priority book for some reason, mostly series or author loyalty related.

Here's the thing. People who are very pro Big Six/4 and anti alternatives (and let's make it clear, being published by the Big Six is still an awesome dream and a great path if you can pull it off) like to lament that with the rise of self-publishing and micro epresses, we all are reading the slushpile instead of being protected by gatekeepers and have no way to choose books with any quality. All they do is reveal that they have no actual idea of how ebooks are chosen and purchased.

I have bought far, far more duds, in print or ebook, from big publishers than from Smashwords or little epresses. The last books I was really, really upset that I'd wasted money on were "proper" books - generally expensively purchased. My other books? Not so much so. And there is a very big reason for this.


It takes me only a couple of sample pages and about two minutes, in general, to decide that a book on, say, Smashwords, is better off left on the slushpile. Some are truly awful, but really? I tend to abandon them pretty much as soon as opening the sample. The amount of time I spend looking at dreck that the author was delusional to put out there is actually very, very small.

On the other hand, if I'm reading a decently sized sample on Smashwords or somewhere and I get deeply drawn in, I generally hit "purchase" long before I reach the end of the sample. Small e-first presses tend to give generous samples, too - at least enough to judge the quality of the writing and editing. Some don't; I'm less likely to buy from them. (Small press editing issues: they are all technically as much trade publishers as, say, Penguin, but that is absolutely no guarantee of decent editing. Cinderella and the Lady desperately required better editing, but what the hell, I felt like reading lesbian fairy tale erotica and it was $5. Some selfpubbed authors actually do a much better job through their betas than some trade publishers. I still don't know what Malindo Lo's editor is paid for, apart from spellchecking.*) I don't judge books by covers, either - after all, specialist lesbian presses tend to have horrendous covers. It tells you nothing about the quality of the book, only about budget. I judge by a) concept and b) words.

The big publishers? Arrgh. Part of the reason I wasted so much money on a book about dealing with anxiety and depression in pregnancy is that the free sample consisted of an introduction by someone else telling me how amazing it was plus part of a first chapter saying the same - not enough to judge that it was nothing but bog-standard CBT workbook stuff (which is clinically demonstrated, as well as by my own experience, to make OCD related anxiety WORSE long term, unlike DBT) with a pregnancy theme inadequately pasted on. The Daisy Dalrymple books, or Sarah Water's latest? I just couldn't pick up enough info through flicking through a paperback copy to realise I'd hate them. Reading samples is by far my favourite method of deciding on book purchases.

It's not always true that big publishers fail at this, of course. I bought The Hunger Games because I ended up on Suzanne Collins' website through TV Tropes and there was a lengthy enough sample - ending right when Prim is chosen - to make me realise that Katniss was a hell of an interesting heroine. In general, though, the samples are too much front matter and not enough content to sell me.

And then there's the issue of if you can get books as ebooks at all... or in your region... or charging differentially dependent on region.

Then there's the issue of author payment. When I bought remaindered and second hand books, the author didn't see a cent AFAIK. Small epresses generally give generous royalties to balance out the tiny or nonexistent advances, and selfpubbing even more so. I will always try to buy from a small press site directly or from Smashwords to maximise what they get. I like the idea of my money, little as it is, going directly to the author. And it costs me the same as an Australian, no markup for not being from the US, unlike a lot of books with major releases.

Finally... I'm a lesbian. It is much, much easier to find the kind of book I want to read in the world of selfpubbing and small epresses, many of which have GLBT and, increasingly, YA GLBT imprints, which don't necessarily have the "gay characters written for straight readers" thing that seems needed to get an agent and publishing deal elsewhere.

There are small presses that just suck, too. Hello, most of the older and more established lesbian publishers, who charge a fortune for badly produced and unattractively written and edited paperbacks and ebooks priced higher than blockbusters. Or Girls Gone By, who tie up school story classic copyrights in overpriced paperback editions and refuse to release them as ebooks, leading to stupid secondary market prices. (Bettany Press, OTOH, do it right, if kind of expensively.) There are very, very many incompetent, scam or just useless small and micropresses, who seem to take author royalties and give them nothing in the way of editing or high quality cover art or distribution or marketing in return. And evils like iUniverse and Publish America. But there are also gems like Musa Publishing and Star Moon Press. And so, so many DIY authors believing in themselves and their writing.

I'll still buy Big 6-4 books, although mostly out of series or author loyalty. I'll buy the Jasper Fforde Shades of Grey prequel the day it comes out, for instance, even though I'm gutted that it is not the promised sequel. (I suspect he has no clue how to dig Jane and Eddy - haha, fellow Jane Eyre fan - out of their hole.) I'll buy loads of picture books for Ponyo - as well as some locally written selfpubbed books about diverse families. I think getting a big publishing contract with a huge marketing budget behind it is still the most fab thing ever. And libraries still mostly stock books from big publishers, and I love libraries.

It's hard to talk about this stuff without being accused of prematurely dancing on the grave of traditional publishing or believing everything Konrath says or whatever. I was just thinking about the huge change in my own buying habits, as someone who buys books a LOT, and the fact that I can't be the only one to completely reassess how and when they plonk down money for a book.

*Using Lo as an example because Huntress jumps first to mind as a book with serious issues that a good editor could have corrected. (Well, after Anne Rice, but Rice is a Very Special Case.) As several readers have noted, Lo jumps POV not only within scenes but within paragraphs and sometimes within sentences (either that, or they were just confusingly written, which also should have been picked up.) Any decent fanfic beta would have jumped on that; for a professional editor to repeatedly miss it is heinous. When the dual protagonists are not sufficiently distinguished in voice anyway, it creates a big problem. There were also a few sentences that did not say what they obviously meant to say. Also, I would have thought a professional editor would have suggested sorting out the problems with pacing; I'd go much easier on that in a self published author who couldn't afford professional editing, but it was published by Hatchette.
Tags: books, lesbian writers, publishing, reading, self pubbing, small presses
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