Help a Writer Out

In our discussion on the “Venti” sized paperbacks now adorning the shelves of a bookstore near you, many of y’all had some strong feelings about the new format. From how it fits on the shelf to how it fits in your bag, and how much bigger is the typeface, anyway, we’re picking the Venti apart. Some hate it outright, but there are some for whom the new size is an attempt to differentiate new publications from older rereleases. Others have big honking huge hardbacks that fit much easier in to the Venti paperback printing format.

In a recent comment, a relatively new author, whose books might not be familiar to some of you, asked for help from the Bitchery.

Nora Roberts wrote:

“So, is there anything anyone likes (or doesn’t absolutely hate) about this new size paperback style? Or is the consensus here it’s just annoying, crappy and inconvenient?

I can’t—or don’t want to—go into a lengthy explanation of why a cover ‘look’ won’t really work to distinguish (if it’s really necessary anyway) my original paperbacks from the reprints. Frankly, I don’t push my brain into this sort of direction often, or deeply. I’d rather be writing the book, and leaving those problems or concepts to people who think about that stuff all the time, and know more about it than I do. But when I’m asked to consider something like this, it’s helpful to get input from the people who buy the books.”

So, help a writer out – is there anything good about the Venti style? What can make a book stand out from its peers in the first place size-wise, and what recommendations would you as a reader have about a potential new format? What would be the best possible scenario – perhaps taking the best parts of a paperback and the best parts of the trade size? Bring it on, Bitchery!



Random Musings

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Kaite says:

    Well, the Venti sized books are the first ones you see on the shelf. I myself won’t buy them—they strain my wrists, which is odd because I had heard that they were designed to be easier for people with arthritis to hold—but if I see a title that looks interesting in that size, I’ll write down the title and try to find it in trade. Or hardback. I’ve got a stand for hardbacks, but the ventis don’t fit….

  2. 2
    Jenny says:

    I just don’t like being asked to spend more money, and the larger sized books are more expensive than their contemporary buddies on the shelve. I’d only buy one if I was desperate for a particular book ONLY being sold in Venti.

  3. 3
    azteclady says:

    I already contributed on the other thread but, yes: the Venti size is annoying, inconvenient, crappy *and* quite uncomfortable to hold up to read—instead of holding it open with one hand, I need both.

    On top of that, the fact that it’s more expensive completely destroys my monthly book buying budget.

    On the inconvenience issue, ie. shelving, I know I’m not the only one who has designed and built bookcases with the regular MM size in mind.

  4. 4
    SB Sarah says:

    Let me ask from another angle – if we prefer the MM size, does making a book “stand out” thus rest mostly on cover design?

  5. 5
    Lori Van Buren says:

    I don’t have a problem with the new size.  I kind of like it.  I have an easier time holding the book.  I also like the other size too.  Either or, it doesn’t matter to me.

  6. 6
    Dawn T says:

    Who came up with this idea? They look and feel awkward in size, and they don’t fit in my protective book cover, so I can haul my currect book along to work or class without having to worry about damaging it. I haven’t purchased any, just the size is enough to put me off, but I hear they are more expensive.
    My book budget is already so tight, pennies are screaming and crying. What makes publishers think I want to (or can) pay more for a slightly bigger paperback?

  7. 7
    Lori says:

    Hate them! Hate them! Hate them!  They are inconvenient.  Heavy to hold and I don’t find them easier to read even with my eyesight needing a lot of extra help these days.  They don’t fit on my shelves. They are too big to fit in my purse (and I always have an extra book in my purse regardless of how much extra weight it adds to a bad shoulder and back) and are just annoying.  If I am going to pay that much for an oversized paperback, I will go on and buy a trade paperback that reads more like a hardcover.  I will stick to either hardcover, trade paperback, or mass market.  I refuse to buy these things unless they are the only option available—like some of Christine Feehan’s new releases.  (By the way, as a Nora reader from the late 1970s—I fully appreciate the way you have marked your new releases so that we all know it’s a new Nora book and not a re-release—although, I love to go back and revisit my old friends, I can’t afford to keep buying them when I already have them on the shelf.)


  8. 8
    bibliophilebitch says:

    I think it’s possible I get to finally write it.
    “Size don’t matter”.  If a book is good, I’m going to buy it….the cheapest I can get it!  Venti or not. 
    If a book sucks I’m going to hand it off to the nearest second hand bookstore as quickly as possible.
    I buy a book based on the blurb on the back.  The picture is, well, usually irrelevent.

  9. 9
    Angie says:

    I too weighed in on the other thread that I don’t like the new format at all.  HATE it and HATE the price.

    But as to what would attract/distract me from purchasing a book it is difficult to say.  I know which authors I like and am more inclined to seek them out as opposed to standing in front a bookshelf and picking one based on size or cover design.  In fact for the past few years any new books I have purchased have not be random purchases, as I knew what I wanted when I went to the store. 

    That was not always the case however.  As a new reader years ago (I didn’t start reading romance novels until about 5 years ago) I would buy based on cover design.  If a cover caught my eye I would then read the description and make my decision then.  My very first romance purchase was “One Wish” by Linda Lael Miller because I adored the artwork on the cover.  I still have that book on my keeper shelf.  If I had been confronted with a “regular” size book at 7.99 and a “venti” at 9.99 I would have picked the regular. 

    If I had to rank my priorities in picking NEW books:

    1.  Story description.
    2.  Author
    3.  Cover Design
    4.  Cost
    5.  Size (would always pick mm over venti if a choice was available.)  I would also buy a hardback if I really wanted the book, but would seek out a mm if the book became a keeper.

    Not sure if that is any help at all.

  10. 10
    kate r says:

    They don’t do anything for me but I don’t hate them. Then again, I don’t buy them. I’m more likely to buy a mass market or even a trade pb.

    These days I almost always buy books based on recommendations or a writer I know and love. Any impulse buys are mass markets or ebooks.

    What do real book collectors think? I buy books for the content, not the object—so I’m not a true bibliophile. Heck, I even dog-ear the pages. (Sorry.)

  11. 11
    rebyj says:

    as a fan of Diane Gabaldon’s outlander series..what tempts me in regards to booksize is thickness..wiggle a 990 page paperback in front of my nose and i have visions of outlander glory.. days of immersement in another world..

    its not the length’s the GIRTH!! gimme normal and thick!!

  12. 12
    Karen says:

    This is probably going to be long and boring.  Apologies in advance.

    All other things being equal, I would not buy the venti size if the same book were available in any other format.  I’ve bought two of them—“Northern Lights” and Maeve Binchy’s “Nights of Rain and Stars.”  I bought “Northern Lights” because I had already read it in hardcover from the library, and I liked so much that I wanted a copy for myself (I would have preferred a massmarket size, but that wasn’t available).  I bought the Binchy because her books too are generally keepers.

    I grumbled about it, but since they were the only paper versions available, I didn’t have a choice.  But I’d only do this for a few authors.  Just as there are a few authors who I would always buy the hardcover book (Carl Hiaasen, Jennifer Crusie, JK Rowling), there are a few authors who I would pay more for an oversized paperback.

    I very likely would not buy a venti size book from a new author.

    In terms of how to decide what to buy, when I go to the bookstore, I have a fairly defined pattern. 

    1.  I first go through Romance, Sci Fi, and Mystery looking for new releases from my favorite authors, or the next book in whatever series I’m reading (i.e., I’m looking for Eloisa James, Naomi Novik, Jaqueline Carey, Leslie Glass, Elizabeth Bevarly, Merce3des Lackey, Susan Mallery, Katherine Shay).

    2.  Then I go back to the sections and walk through, pulling out the books that look interesting.  In terms of romance, I usually only read regencies or contemporary, so yes I do look at the covers to see if the genre is right (so if there’s a chick in a medieval dress and a guy with a sword, then I’ll put the book back.  Oh, unless I’m in sci fi/fantasy, then the opposite is true.  I like the fantasy sword and sorcerer type books).

    3.  If the book appears to be in my genre, then I’ll read the back cover blurb.  If it looks like it might be interesting, I’ll add it to my stack.  Once I have an armload of books, I’ll take them to a chair and start reading.  If the book hasn’t hooked me by the end of the first chapter or so, then I won’t buy it. 

    So basically, to me, the cover art only matters to the extent that it can tell me what the time period the book is set in.  If there’s some kind of generic flower cover with no clue, then I’ll read the cover blurb for more info.  What’s really going to get the book into my hands for closer inspection is the cover blurb on the back.  I’m not going to actually buy the book unless I like the first chapter.

  13. 13
    SB Sarah says:

    “I very likely would not buy a venti size book from a new author.”

    That’s probably the most telling statement – readers who are already dedicated customers of an author’s books will likely pay for the venti size, but that extra $$ might put the investment into “too high” territory for a reader looking at a new author.

  14. 14
    lovelysalome says:

    I primarily get my books from the library because my budget does not allow for many extraneous purchases.  That means if I am going to splurge on a fun paperback once in a while, I get it as cheaply as I can.  A $10 venti would force me to talk myself out of the purchase.  And the size does not fit conveniently in my girls’ diaper bag, etc.  Inconvenient.  If I was really keen on a title or author, I would just wait to get it at the library or ask for it as a gift, grudgingly.

  15. 15
    Bonnie says:

    With the rising cost of books (probably increased cost of paper world-wide, but also general publisher greediness IMO …), the local library is my new BEST friend.

    A rare few auto-buy authors will be purchased in hardcover (but only when I find them at a discounted price on-line or elsewhere). The rest of new-to-me and so-so authors are borrowed from the library. If I reeeeally like the book after that, I search for it at the local UBS or again online, at a discounted price.

    So far I have NOT purchased any of the new venti-sized books. I tried holding one in a bookstore one time, and my hands cramped almost immediately! I have a touch of carpal tunnel in both wrists, and they were definitely too unwieldy for me.

    The days of spontaneous purchasing while standing in line at the drugstore ARE OVER. Do you hear me, Book Publishing Bigwig?? NO matter how much you repackage your books in all sorts of new & imaginative ways, you are pricing me out of your market. For as much as I adore reading and need it as much as the air I breathe, I also need to put gas in my tank, food on the table and pay my rent.

    The only thing I buy at the local big-box bookstore chain anymore is a Starbucks coffee, and don’t *even* get me started on *their* prices …

  16. 16
    Nonny says:

    I can’t stand the “venti” sized books.

    It’s funny how they’re marketed as being “better” for people with arthritis or other degenerative conditions. I have recurring tendonitis in my wrists. Hardbacks are easier on my wrists than these things. At least with a hardback, I can curl up on the couch, plop the book in my lap, rest it on my knees, and turn the pages. Same with a trade paperback.

    … I can’t do the same with these bastard stepchildren.

    As I understand, they’re also supposed to be easier for people who have bad eyesight to read, because of the text size and spacing. At the same point, if your eyes are bad enough you can’t read a mass market novel, buying in ebook format is probably your best option. (As a lot of books these days are also being released as ebooks. And since it’s, so far, only big name authors that are being released in this size, you’ve got a damn good chance of finding em in other formats.)

    I really have no idea what the publishing industry was thinking when they decided on this screwed up format. To date, I *HAVEN’T* heard *ANYONE* say they love the new format. I’ve heard a lot of bitching and a lot of “eh, it’s okay, but I prefer MM.”

    Personally, I can’t help but feel that it’s one more way to screw over the customer, making them pay more for a book than they would have otherwise. If they intend to release the venti-sized books in mass market later, then it wouldn’t be so bad, but I’ve heard talk around the net that some publishers want to switch over to this format, period. If they’re doing that, well, that’ll be one less person buying their books.

    Yes. I dislke the size that much.

  17. 17
    Deborah says:

    Not to put too fine a point on the subject, but the Venti’s frankly suck.

    What is this?  Somebody just got their shiney new MBA and is trying to make a name for themselves by changing something …. anything …. just for the sake of saying, “Heyyyy, look what *I* did!!!”

    Reminds me of the supermarkets moving all the products around to force you to spend more money.  It’s annoying and tends to make me buy less not more.  Same with these Venti books.

    It’s all just a marketing ploy … a not very good one.  They need to quit screwing around with what was already working just fine.  And especially, don’t try to charge me more money for their great experiment.

    There are very few authors I can’t live without buying.  I can always get them at the library or wait for the publishing industry to get it’s head unwedged and put it out in ‘proper sized pbs’.

  18. 18
    azteclady says:

    SB Sarah, at this point I won’t buy even an auto-buy author in Venti size unless it is at the used book store.

    Those extra $2 plus awkward reading? Sorry, no go for me—even if the book is not available in any other format. That’s how bad it is, for me.

    Like Bonnie said, it’s not that I read less, it’s that I can’t afford the same number of new books a month as it is.

  19. 19
    Mirm says:

    Personally, I despise the Vendi size publishers “decided” were a better fit for us.  As yet, I haven’t purchased any and unless I can get it via a UBS, I don’t have any plans to either.  The size is extremely awkward, the print doesn’t seem to be any bigger/better for those of us needing it and I simply can’t justify paying the extra $$ for a book that isn’t comfortable to read.  Especially when money is getting tighter for everything else these days. 

    I really hope publishers are taking note and rethink this change. 


  20. 20
    SandyC says:

    This is long and rambling!

    I prefer MM over Venti, mostly for the price, and also because it seems that every new “chick lit” book comes out in this Venti format, and I’m tired of those for the most part.

    Obviously, you get more bang for your buck with MMs. I buy probably 20 books a month. The difference in total price between MMs and Ventis is significant – $100 more per month!  That’s a lot of money on my budget.

    I choose which books to buy after reading the back blurb and the inside excerpt.  If I’m not sure, I’ll start reading the first chapter. I do have a few “auto buy” authors, and only two “auto buys in hardback” – Suz Brockmann and Janet Evanovich (Stephanie Plum only).

    To get around the “is this a new book or a repackaged one originally released 20 years ago” dilemma, I’ve discovered an amazing thing – the copyright page!  If it doesn’t say 2006, I don’t buy it. I’ve made the mistake before of not checking, and end up with a book I’ve already read before, which is extremely disappointing.

    Covers or size don’t get me to pick up a book.  I usually troll the romance aisles, and pick out books to further investigate by either the title or a familiar author.

    Getting back to the original question, I prefer MMs (fit easier in purse, price is better, etc.).

  21. 21
    Robin says:

    Let me ask from another angle – if we prefer the MM size, does making a book “stand out” thus rest mostly on cover design?

    It seems to me there are several issues tucked into this question.  If you are simply trying to get someone to pick up a book—a reader who is new to the genre to the author, whatever—then three things immediately face the reader:  cover design (including back cover and blurbs), book size, and spine.  But if you want someone to *purchase* a book they might not otherwise, then, IMO, you have introduced a new set of considerations to the mix.

    Even though those who dislike the Venti format (and I am one of them, mostly because they are SO awkward to hold and read) mention price quite often, I think almost all of the comments in this thread suggest that the real concern is *value,* in which cost is factored but not necessarily supreme.  When you ask the question, ‘what are you getting for your money with the new Ventis,’ you’re not getting many cheery answers, and most people can site several reasons they dislike the format. 

    IMO, it takes far less creativity to design a book that’s larger than one that stands out in other ways.  But still, I think value is something that has a number of components to it.  If someone would put the energy into actually designing Venti books that ARE, indeed, more comfortable to read, the value might be higher, and the two dollars less determinative in the decision to purchase.  Number of pages (I will not buy MJD’s new books in hardback anymore, because they’re just too short for the price), paper quality, binding quality, overall look, etc., can contribute to value.  Outside of that, though, I think cover design is an area which has been undershot by a lot of publishers.  I have no doubt that people work hard on designing and executing covers, but I think the overall approach to cover art and design yields too many extremes (garish to boring), and also, ironically, tremendous homogeneity.

    As someone who buys, collects, and hoards books without remorse or restraint, I can offer that if you want me to notice a book among a sea of others, that starts with cover design, and if you want me to buy a book I wasn’t set on, you have to give me value.

  22. 22
    Robin says:

    The only thing I buy at the local big-box bookstore chain anymore is a Starbucks coffee, and don’t *even* get me started on *their* prices …

    I’m not a big fan of their coffee (except the peppermint mocha at X-Mas and the Cinnamon Dolce Latte that I already figured out how to make at home to taste just like Starbucks), but OMG their Green Tea Latte and Green Tea Frappucino—YUM!  Those drinks constiute my latest addiction—in Venti, of course.

  23. 23
    April says:

    I have a theory or two why the publishers may be marketing this new size as “easier to read.” I used to work in magazines and catalogs, and the conventional wisdom is that it’s easier to read big blocks of text in narrow columns—that’s why newspapers and magazines are done in columns.

    The only problem is that by adding to the height of the book and keeping the width the same, they don’t actually change the width of that single column on those book pages. But I think that was their reasoning behind it.

    Also, adding to the height without changing the width changes the aspect ratio, which (even without changes in paper quality) makes the book ergonomically HARDER to hold with one hand. They would have been better off increasing the width and maintaining the height, for a more square size, if they wanted to make it easier to hold. It would give the fingers and thumb more room to spread and more surface to hold nearer the wrist. But if they did that, then the columns of text would be wider, which of course, is harder to read. They’d have to put two columns of text on each page, like in a magazine, to balance the easier to hold wider pages.

    So, really, they have done the complete opposite to make the books easier to read. I think perhaps the mass market size has been around so long precisely because it works so well for everyone. It’s almost the “golden rectangle” of book sizes.

  24. 24
    Beth says:

    I’ve seen them but never bought them, and I won’t. Frankly, I can’t help seeing it as just one more way for publishers to screw me out of more money. Might be an irrational reaction, but there you have it.

    Unknown (to me) and un-worshipped (by me) authors just don’t rate high enough for me to go above the standard mass market price. Excepting a very very few authors, every book is a risk I take – putting down my money (a paperback is the equivalent to a decent lunch) in exchange for what I HOPE won’t completely suck. Sad but true, as I recently bitched about: I expect most of them to suck. I’m not paying a penny more than I have to for my disappointments.

    Not that I’m, like, bitter about it or anything.

  25. 25
    Tonda says:

    I think almost all of the comments in this thread suggest that the real concern is *value,* in which cost is factored but not necessarily supreme.

    Value, schmalue IMO. It’s about form following function, and the Venti-size just doesn’t cut it. The ratio of height to length is awkward. The print extends too close to the edge of the page (a real peeve of mine). The doesn’t fall open easily (as a HB or TB does). The ones I’ve picked up (but never purchased) felt top heavy and hard to keep open. I can’t imagine struggling with the thing the whole time I’m reading. I’m REALLY hoping the publishing industry will see the light on this one and kill the upper back.

  26. 26
    Robin says:

    The only problem is that by adding to the height of the book and keeping the width the same, they don’t actually change the width of that single column on those book pages. But I think that was their reasoning behind it.

    I just finished reading Lani Diane Rich’s “ex and the single girl,” and I don’t know what the dimensions are on this book, but it was VERY comfortable to hold and read.  It is flexible but not floppy, with pages that open nearly to the spine without looking like they are going to start falling out.  The quality of the paper isn’t nearly as bad as that of the last few Kensington/Brava trade size books I’ve bought, AND, best of all, this book was the BOMB in terms of proofing and copy editing!  OMG what a joy it was to read clean copy and competent prose.  Even if I hated this book—which I didn’t—I would still see it as a good value.

  27. 27
    Kerry says:

    Going back to the fitting on bookshelves issue, for me – as for many others I’m sure – bookshelf space is always at a premium.  That means that any empty space above a row of books on a particular shelf gets filled with more books stacked horizonatally.

    With the odd “venti” book thrown into the mix, that row stops being flat and any books I place above them end up sitting on an angle.  Pile up a few and they start to slide.

    I’ve bought one venti book and I don’t remember finding the reading experience particularly different.  But it still bugs me every time I see it on the shelf marring my nice straight line.

    The bottom line for me is the cost.  Sure, I like a pretty cover, but cost will be the deciding factor.  I’m buying in New Zealand dollars, which means that the difference is a lot more significant than $2.  The books I read also don’t necessarily go into our libraries (New Zealand is locked into the British publishing market rather than the US one, so I have to buy most of my books in specialty import shops).  This leaves me stuck between a rock and a hard place.  Either pay more or don’t get to read the book at all.

    I’m starting to buy more ebooks if they are available to get around this.  If a new author I want to try is available in ebooks, that’s the only way I can afford to take the “risk” to try something new.  Or to buy up back catalogue.

    I personally think this new size is all about price and profit and if publishers aren’t careful, they’re going to price themselves out of the market.  Which will be a very, very, very sad and bad thing.  Think of all those book junkies not getting their fix – there’ll be mayhem in the streets.

  28. 28
    J-me says:

    Speaking as someone who worked in a bookstore when ventis first came out, they seemed to turn off more customers that actually inspire them to purchase them.  While the test is further apart, the font is the same as MM’s and ,in an industry that has used the MM size for lords only know how many years, the size is just plain inconvient.

    As to what people look for when buying books, I’ve actually noticed that the plainer the cover, the better the book sells. Chick-lit has those annoyingly bright colors and clipart people, horror has skulls and bats and all sortsa halloween decorations, mysteries have cats and cookies, etc…  People are more likely to reach for a book that has a simplistic cover with a quote from an author that they already know than a cover with a half naked female.  An example is the repubs of Laurel K Hamilton.  They became much easier to sell when they got rid of the dimestore horror covers.  Another is Joanna Lindsey.  Since her covers have all become pretty pastels instead of naked man-titties, much easier to handsell. 

    When it comes to fiction genres, it’s all about the embarrassment/type-casting factor when it comes to the sale.

  29. 29
    Cynthia says:

    The only positive that I’ve found is that when I enter the romance section at the book store, my eye is first drawn to the venti sized paperbacks. Since many of my favorite authors now seem to have books in that size, I check that subsection regularily to see if they have the latest Nora Roberts, Linda Howard, etc. If the book I want is there, I’ll buy it.

    I don’t particularily care for the size, but I don’t have any huge negatives against it, either. The best thing I can say about it is that the venti books do stand out from the rest and typically, that subsection will contain the newest releases of my favorite authors. I wouldn’t be surprised if pub marketing groups are seeing higher sales. Differentiation is a typical marketing strategy.

    Personally, I hope this is not an ongoing trend. I like to have my books match in size on my bookshelves, just as many of the smart bitches here do. LOL, although I must admit I now have a section of all venti books just because I’ve bought so many of them.

  30. 30
    Kiku says:

    J-me is right – I worked at a bookstore for a few years – the Ventis are hard to shelve (have to put them with the hardcovers, ‘cause they won’t fit on the mm shelves), an awkward size, and there are no covers or sleeves to fit them. Also – the plainer the cover, the better – especially with romance. I mostly read historicals and paranormals, where the cover art can get . . . pretty damned bad.
    {If I see one more regency deb wearing that godawful fuschia, ca. 1972 prom monstrosity . . . as far as I can tell, Violet Bridgerton was saving money by using and reusing this hand-me-down schmatta for any occasion where one of her daughters (or sons) was involved in some topless garden-nooky.}

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