Wednesday, December 17, 2008

I lost the paperback conversation.

You guys remember this whole string about whether a debut novel should be a hardcover or a paperback in this climate. Although I didn't realize it at the time, rereading my post makes me see that I was really, really hoping for the blessing to go ahead with a paperback original on this beloved debut novel I'm working on.

Alas, I was overruled today. I wasn't surprised, but I was a little frustrated. I know that I as a reader and, apparently, most other hobby readers like I am tend to buy mostly paperback originals. But what I can't overwhelm is the fact that the profit-to-cost ratio on hardcovers is, for the publishing company (and, after a fashion, the author) three times as high as it is for a paperback. What that means is that in order to be able to afford our first print run at all, we would have to be able to have good faith that we could sell at least three times as many paperbacks in the same time period as we would hardcovers. And unfortunately there are no safe numbers right now; there are no guarantees.

So the hardcover is actually the less risky path; as long as you're anticipating a solid library sell-in ("solid" being about 1,500 or 2,000 copies), you've broken even on your hardcover, even if it totally flops in trade sales. But, sadly, flopping in trade sales (if that happens) will still hurt the lifespan of the book, regardless of how many copies libraries took.

Solution? Cross all fingers and hope for miracles. By "miracles" I mean "well-timed publicity hits that might, please gods, land during the first four weeks the book is on the shelves."

Thanks, everyone, for the feedback.

22 comments:

Ann Victor said...

Never mind Moon Rat! You fought the good fight and no-one can ask more of you! :):)

angelle said...

hm. i never thought about that before. interesting...

i like having hardbacks of books i really like. or. i always get sucked into buying the hardback at readings at barnes so i can get it signed. which is EXACTLY WHAT THEY WANT!!!!!!!!!!

Charles Gramlich said...

well, I hope it works out anyway.

writtenwyrdd said...

I rarely buy hardbacks, but I understand the economic needs. I think that the increase of releases to trade paperbacks would mean a greater profit over standard sized ones, but I guess not.

Usman said...

Hmmmm...never knew the economics of hardbacks.
So you cover the cost of printing a hardback with 2000 copies approx.

But wouldn't more paperbacks at lower prices cover or reduce the risk of advances paid to the author?
What are the stats on that?

Laura Benedict said...

I've had quite a few readers tell me lately that they will still shell out the money for a hardcover because they 1) like the prestige/feel of a hardcover and 2) don't want to wait for the paperback. This is very heartening and I'm glad, now, to know the publishing economics of it. Thanks.

It takes the sting out of those multi-author signings where the writer with the 3-paperback backlist sitting beside me outsells me 5 to 1. Almost.

Pamala Knight said...

Thanks for shedding more light on the industry and the dynamics behind some of the decisions. I like hardcover books and usually shell out the money rather than waiting for the paperback. But I thought your argument for the softcover was both eloquent, and sensible.

I hope your author gets a benefit from the hardcover issue and that way everyone wins, really.

JES said...

Well, you're right -- that's pretty much the bet that publishers lay when they opt to go the hardback route. It makes sense, to a point...

Just out of curiosity, does that "profit-to-cost ratio" consider AFTER-the-print-run costs as well as those involved in producing the book in the first place? To take the most obvious example -- and assuming you do not work for *cough* HarperStudio and the book will not be retailed exclusively through *coughcough* Borders -- does THAT bet rely on a second bet (volume of returns) in order to work out?

As always when you talk about such stuff, I admire the... umm... [rushes off to dictionary.com] the equanimity with which you handle reversals. No wonder you're so freaking happy most of the time. :)

Marie said...

If it's the book I'm thinking of, I can see why you wanted it to come out in paperback--but I can really see why it makes sense for it to come out in hardcover. I think it's a good decision--yes, even in this climate.

What I love about all this, though, is that it demonstrates again how much you care about your authors and want the best for them and for their work to reach as many people as possible.

dawtheminstrel said...

Interesting numbers. How do libraries decide which books to buy? Are those "solid" numbers typical or unusual?

Ello said...

Oh don't worry Moonie, it will work out, you'll see!

Anonymous said...

Moon Rat: In essence what is all boils down to is promotion. Get it out there in front of people. Whatever it takes to do that. An author writes their book and it gets published...the hard work doesn't end there...now you have to figuratively put it in the hands of people and get them to buy the darn thing. It never ends. But those authors who can get out from behind their wordprocessors and promote...they got a leg up on those authors who are shy and don't leave the house except to buy groceries.

Crimogenic said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Crimogenic said...

Moonie, you gave it the good ol' college try. Hopefully it'll work out in the end. Books are hard work in each stage (writing, editing, publishing and marketing) But we love them and that's why all of us at the different stages of creating/selling books will push on.

Corked Wine and Cigarettes said...

Hey Moonie,

Has there ever been a model for going out with both at the same time? Sort of like what DVD does with special editions. I know it would be difficult with debuts, but it might be an alternative. Offer, perhaps, extra content in the hardcover - author interview, alt cover.

-Stephen Duncan

WendyCinNYC said...

Thanks for explaining the economics behind hard cover vs. paperback. I've been wondering about this for a long time.

Christy Raedeke said...

Like WendyCyn, I also appreciate the simple explanations you provide for these seemingly mysterious publishing decisions!

I often buy hardcover because I am not patient enough to wait. Find a way to let your fan base know about this book. I can't be the only one who is dying to read something you edited!

Jill Wheeler said...

Then I'm off to buy me some hardbacks.

ORION said...

Aloha Moonrat!
Wishing you a great holiday season!
Mele Kalikimaka
&
much aloha
ORION aka
Patricia Wood

Kristin Dodge said...

Well, poop. That has to be frustrating for you, but it's also clarifying the industry to the non-insiders on the board.

Two thousand books may not sound like a lot, but sit there as people ask you where the bathroom is in Barnes and Noble while you try to sell/sign.

Word verification says, "thropp," which I've been doing today, thanks to a nasty flu bug. Truly inspirational, these things.

Absolute Vanilla (and Atyllah) said...

You did what you could, Moonie and all kudos to your for trying.

It's a really interesting situation because as a layperson, I immediately think as much as I would love to only own hardbacks, they're just too expensive. There are some books that I will simply not buy in hardback, preferring to wait until the paperback comes out. Books that are precious to me, I'll buy in hardback.
It's an interesting profit to cost situation and I guess needs must in today's economic climate.

Carleen Brice said...

This really surprised me--I assumed trade paper originals were more finally advantageous. Then why do publishers publish paperback originals ever?