This weekend, I asked in both a post here and at Romance Divas for recommendations of books from small press. I didn’t limit by genre, but I did specify that people couldn’t recommend their own book, they had to have read the book (no recommending your friend’s book just because :P) and that it had to be over 12,000 words. No genre restrictions, since I’ll read pretty much anything. Maybe it was the holiday weekend, but this seemed to be harder than I thought it would be (with the number of people on Romance Divas who write and read small press, I expected more recommendations from there, actually).

I ended up buying about 11 books, ranging in genre and from 8 different small presses.

It was interesting, though, the things I learned about buying/reading small press as a result of this.

1) Distribution is important. I ruled out any press/book that I couldn’t buy at an online bookstore (I didn’t want to enter my credit card number 7 times, so I didn’t want to shop direct from publishers this time, though I often do for certain presses). So any publisher/book that wasn’t available at Fictionwise, AllRomanceEbooks or BooksOnBoard I didn’t even consider. I think one stop shopping is important because most customers are not going to be like me, and hunt 3 different places for all the books they want. They’re going to buy what’s available where it’s convenient for them. Also, a publisher without distribution isn’t catching the “browsers” at the online bookstores.

2) Price to word count is also important. There were a few books that I would have bought based on the blurb, but when I checked the word count versus the price, I quickly changed my mind. I’m sorry, but $5-$6 for a 25-30k book is obscene. To give you an idea, a book that length is about half the length of a normal Harlequin Desire or Presents (category). Half.

3) Word count matters. I found that I very much appreciated Fictionwise putting the exact word count on the books. Most small presses have a word count range for each book, some a large spread, so you don’t know if you’re buying and getting the low end of 30k or the high end of 60k at that price. I based a lot of my purchasing decisions on Fictionwise’s provided word count. It made for easier shopping and I appreciated that.

4) Sales sell books (at least to me). I ended up doing almost all of my shopping at Fictionwise because of their great anniversary sale. I bought more than I would have otherwise, but the psychology of it also hit me, because when I went to look at other sites, I found myself more reluctant to buy a “full price” book.

The reading experience. At the end of the weekend, I had read 7 books from 6 different presses (still have two presses unread from my weekend purchases):

1) I appreciate good metadata. I put all of my books into Calibre for two reasons: Cataloging and transfer to my Sony. Since most of the books came from Fictionwise, and were multi-format, I believe that means that Fictionwise actually formatted them. And Fictionwise doesn’t have the best metadata. It’s okay, but not great. I know I work for Samhain, but I have to tell you, the metadata kicked ass when I put the books into Calibre. (Yes, Samhain was one of the presses I read this weekend). The Samhain metadata includes title, author name, publisher, release date AND the book blurb. It was beautiful. Now, to be fair, since I didn’t buy direct from the other publishers, I don’t know what their own metadata is like, but for a digital book, metadata is important!

2) The blurb at the front of the book (after the cover) is convenient. Once I’d put the 11 books on my Sony, I didn’t necessarily remember what each was about and I appreciated those publishers who put the blurb at the front of the book. It made it easy for me to decide if that was the book I wanted to read right then.

3) Editing matters. And not all small presses are created equal in editing. I am not critical of small errors that slip in. Boy, wouldn’t that be hypocritical? And I have actually gotten pretty good at turning my internal editor off when needed for pleasure reading. But there were some books where it wasn’t possible to do that and I found myself thinking that I would be reluctant to buy 1) from that press again and 2) that author again. Editing matters and small press needs to do better than traditional press at this, unfortunately, because we come under greater scrutiny. People expect small press epublished books to be badly edited and that’s unfortunate for all of us!

4) A good premise can’t trump bad editing/execution. For me, at least, and I think maybe other readers, I realized that though I appreciated the idea of the story/plot, even the freshness of a good premise was overcome by poor editing and execution. Awkward dialogue, stilted narrative, inconsistent plot threads…those things matter.

5) Explicit words and descriptions don’t make a scene sexy. The eroticism of a scene depends on more than the words/acts the author uses and has her characters engaging in. It depends on the intimacy of the setting, the sensuality of the moment and the connection the characters have to each other, and I have to them. Some authors have an amazing talent writing this.

6) I appreciate small press for its diversity. One thing about the recommendations I got and the books I read, is that they were diverse, not just in genre, but also in length. It was nice to be able to choose a shorter book to read just before bed, but a longer book to indulge in during the day, and to be able to get everything from a m/m/f BDSM romance to sweet contemporary.

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