Friday, February 6, 2015

Checking Off Boxes

A month or so ago, I came up with the idea of reprinting my first novel, The Not Exactly Scarlet Pimpernel, in a smaller trim size. Trade paperbacks are typically 5.25 by 8 inches, or at most 5.5 by 8 inches. But CreateSpace, which Five Directions Press uses for our paperbacks, has a particular affection for 6 by 9 inches, the size of a typical academic journal issue. I don’t know why, but I guess that this preference has more to do with the efficient use of paper than with the standards of the printing industry—although it’s true that 6 by 9 books are becoming steadily more common as the number of self-published and indie-press-published books issued through CreateSpace grows. But I figured that out only later: because Not Exactly Scarlet Pimpernel was my first journey into the online world of print-on-demand, I picked the option pushed by CreateSpace despite my inner sense that it would be too large.

Now, in practice there is nothing particularly wrong with the 6 by 9 inch size: the reading experience resembles that for a hard-cover book without the extra weight. Still, the usual trade paperback size looks better, in my view. I need the larger size for the Legends novels, which are long enough that a smaller size would force me to price the books higher than I’d like, but The Not Exactly Scarlet Pimpernel runs under 300 pages. Why not make myself happy, since the costs in time and money for converting an already edited and published title are small? I had already published Desert Flower and Kingdom of the Shades in the 5.25 by 8 inch format, so the new Not Exactly Scarlet Pimpernel would not even stand out like a sore thumb on my bookshelves.

All was going well until I had to specify the BISAC code for the book. This trips me up every time, because my novels rarely fit neatly into single subject headings, but the others can be identified primarily as historical fiction or science fiction romance, even if they don’t have enough characters tearing each other’s clothes off to satisfy a large segment of today’s romance readership. But The Not Exactly Scarlet Pimpernel is truly betwixt and between.

The point of BISAC, which stands for Book Industry Subject and Category headings, is to tell the owners of physical bookstores where to file a particular book. Mysteries go in the Mystery section, even if they include a romance; romances in the Romance section whether they take place centuries ago or centuries from now, and so on. In a post-brick-and-mortar world, the categories become the basis of the rating system used by online bookstores. If you have a neatly enough defined book, you can become no. 1 in the category of “science fiction romances featuring oysters” or some such thing. Obviously, the larger the category, the more books fit into it and the harder a given author has to fight for a top spot.

Fortunately, I don’t worry much about rankings. Even so, The Not Exactly Scarlet Pimpernel gives me fits whenever I have to pick a BISAC for it. Is it historical fiction? Not really: it begins in the present, and its past comes from a novel, reproduced in a computer simulation. Is it time travel? Not exactly: the characters don’t leave the present; they just think they have. Is it romance? Absolutely—in fact, a double romance. But it is very “sweet” (i.e., low heat) by today’s standards, which explains why I avoided the romance category for the first couple of years. Is it science fiction? No: although we don’t have this technology yet and may not for some time, it’s on the horizon, and no alien planets or dystopian futures play any part in the plot. Is it a techno-thriller or an action adventure tale? To some degree, but people who love classic examples of such books probably won’t like this one, and readers who would love it are unlikely to seek it out under that classification. Besides, the technology is a means, not an end. The book is about the contrast between past and present ways of looking at the world, especially for women. It is, in fact, a classic historical adventure romance with a modern twist—not unlike its inspiration, Baroness Orczy’s The Scarlet Pimpernel (1905). But BISAC has no category for that.

In the end, I picked Fiction > Romance > Time Travel and changed the first edition (that is, the same text in a larger print format), which I had previously listed as Fiction > Historical, to match. (I don’t want even a detail as small as a BISAC category to confuse the computers into thinking these are two different novels, not two editions of the same book.) It’s not a perfect fit, but it seems closer than the alternatives. With luck, the “hot romance” readers won’t be too disappointed.

Meanwhile, you guys are the first to see the new, spiffed-up cover. When I went back to Wikimedia Commons to look for a credit line to go with the rapier hilt I originally used, I couldn’t find it. So I bought this new one from Shutterstock. It took a bit of tweaking to get the right angle, the right size, and so on—and I still rather miss the old rapier, with its gorgeous curves—but after three or four rounds of editing, I’ve decided I like it. Hope you agree!


The new, smaller Not Exactly Scarlet Pimpernel should be released by the end of February. Until then, the 6 by 9 inch book will remain on sale. And if anyone ever decides to expand the BISAC list, you can bet they will have my vote!

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