DRM-free Find: Narrow your view to expand your horizons

How limiting the range of books you browse can sometimes uncover gems you would ordinarily miss.

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Since November 2017 I decided to only read books by women. This was after a peek at my Read list revealed the unbalanced gender breakdown of my reading material. You can find out more about it in my Balance in my Book Collection post, but the short version boils down to my book collection matching the 70:30 men to women author ratio that pervades the publishing world.

My stated goal is:

To only read books authored or edited by women until I achieve a 50:50 balance in my Read list by December 2018. I will then consistently maintain this balance.

This is progressing quite well, but has had an interesting and welcome side effect.

Self-limiting my reading

I've been buying only DRM-free e-books since about 2012 to ensure that I own them, and can read them on whatever device I choose.

This means my ability to purchase certain books is limited by whether or not the publisher or author chooses to apply DRM to it. Add to this the desire to only buy books by women authors, and the range of available titles is limited even further.

While it sounds like a complete nightmare, this method has actually helped me find a number of titles I have really enjoyed. You can find some other books that have stood out for me in my other DRM-free Find posts, but in this one, I'm going to concentrate on my more recent reads authored by women.

Dicoverability and choice are a huge issue in the e-book world. The Supermarket Model that Amazon uses means range is a key feature of its shop. For consumers, especially readers, this can heavily influence their actual ability to choose. You can find out more about the supermarket model and how it's applied to Amazon in this great article, Buying books from independent bookshops is better for readers, by Sakina Murdock.

By choosing to limit the books I can buy, my range has reduced and books that might ordinarily be swamped by their heavily-marketed counterparts are now more visible. Narrowing my view has expanded my horizons, as it were.

Devouring the series

I really enjoy fantasy and science-fiction titles, especially when they're part of a long series of books.

Good worldbuilding is one of my favourite aspects of fiction. When an author constructs a believable and deep setting, the story can just trundle along, as far as I care. Just show me the world and how it works.

Okay, that's not entirely true. A good story helps a great deal, of course. But good worldbuilding? Wow. I will read Every. Single. Book. In the series to ensure I get to see more of the world.

That's why the double limitation of choosing only DRM-free books, and only those by women has been a great thing for my reading. I would never have "gotten around to them" otherwise.

Here are a few of the true gems I've come across since starting my re-balancing act.

The Steerswoman by Rosemary Kirstein

OH. MY. GOD! Where has this series been all my life?

Cover of The Steerswoman novel by Rosemary Kirstein

If you ask, she must answer: no steerswoman may refuse a question, or reply with anything but the truth. All they know is shared freely, with any who ask. But when the steerswoman Rowan investigates a small, lovely, inexplicable object, she suddenly finds she must flee, fight for her life -- or worse, lie. Because one kind of knowledge has always been denied the the steerswomen: Magic.

I finished the first book, The Steerswoman, in a week. The next book, The Outskirter's Secret, in another week, and so on until I'd also finished The Lost Steersman and The Language of Power in short order.

The Steerswoman was originally published in 1989. When the rights reverted to the author, she self-published it, and the rest of the series, with Smashwords in 2014. The book had been languishing in my Smashwords wishlist for a while before I bought it. My goal of balancing my book collection eventually prompted me to buy it along with a few others in 2017.

You can see what I think of the series from my gushing recommendation. We have all been missing out on these amazing books. And I can't wait for the next one in the series.

The Split Worlds by Emma Newman

I started reading the Emma Newman's urban fantasy novels in 2014, after buying them from Angry Robot Publishing's DRM-free bookshop.

Cover of Between Two Thorns novel by Emma NewmanThe first book, Between Two Thorns is a great, fun read. Angry Robot was my go-to publisher as I started buying only DRM-free books, but when it was purchased by Watkins Media a few of its established authors took the opportunity to find another home. Emma Newman seemed to be one of these authors, and the Split Worlds series was left incomplete untilt he final two books, A Little Knowledge and All Good Things, were published by Diversion Books in the US.

Something is wrong in Aquae Sulis, Bath's secret mirror city.

The new season is starting and the Master of Ceremonies is missing. Max, an Arbiter of the Split Worlds Treaty, is assigned with the task of finding him with no one to help but a dislocated soul and a mad sorcerer.

There is a witness but his memories have been bound by magical chains only the enemy can break. A rebellious woman trying to escape her family may prove to be the ally Max needs.

But can she be trusted? And why does she want to give up eternal youth and the life of privilege she's been born into?

Diversion's e-books are DRM-free, giving me the opportunity to finally complete the Split Worlds series.

Babylon Steel by Gaie Sebold

I got hold of Babylon Steel from Rebellion Publishing in 2013. Another purchase from my early days of DRM-free book buying.

Babylon is not having a good week.  The Vessels of Purity are protesting against brothels, women in the trade are being attacked, it’s tax time, and there’s not enough money to pay the bill.  So when the mysterious Darask Fain offers her a job finding a missing girl, Babylon decides to take it.  But the missing girl is not what she seems, and neither is Darask Fain. In the meantime twomoon is approaching, and more than just a few night’s takings are at risk when Babylon’s hidden past reaches out to grab her by the throat.

Cover of Bablyon Steel novel by Gaie SeboldGaie Sebold has created such a rich universe of worlds and characters in her Babylon Steel novels, that you can't help finding something to enjoy. For me the two books have been a complete blast and I can't wait for the third... when it arrives.

Published in 2011, with the sequel, Dangerous Gifts following in 2013, the covers tell you a lot about the novels. They are FUN! That's not to say there's no emotion, pathos, danger and risk in them. Not at all. Narrated by the protagonist, the books address race, religion, community, friendship and family. All in equally mature terms. The fun comes from the humour of the main character herself, Babylon, and her world-weary view.

This is another book I wouldn't have started if I hadn't been determined to stick to my goal. That in itself says a lot about how I, at least, select my reading material, and why it's something I must change. I have become a huge fan of these series' and their authors, but I have allowed mysef to succumb to the marketing blitz of publishers and an industry who more often than not emphasise male authors over their female counterparts.

Luckily for me, the publishers of the above titles seem to recognise their obligations. But the larger issue needs addressing. Range can be a powerful draw for customers. Amazon currently lists 20,000,000 books for sale, and that's just in English. But how useful is that range when popular titles or popular authors always claim the top-spot? How do you actually find the unusual hidden gems? In reality, can you come across titles in a serendipitous way when the shopping model itself doesn't support discovery?

Consider limiting your own range once in a while.

Do youself a favour and take a closer look at the author breakdown in your own book collection. See if it needs addressing, and do something about it. If you don't, you're likely missing out on some real gems.


Find out more about under representation of women in science fiction and fantasy with Gender Identity and Sexuality in Fantasy and Science Fiction.

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