Thursday, December 11, 2008

to cloth or not to cloth? (or, the age-old paperback original conundrum)

I have a tricky decision to make, and I have to make it soon.

In an upcoming catalog, I'll be listing a debut novel I have quietly and ecstatically been working on for almost two years. We've done tons of re-writing and fine-tuning and the thing rocks.

Normally in the past (at least at my company), no questions would be asked--the novel would have debuted as a hardcover, with the plan to convert to paperback after a year of sales (unless things really took off). But there's compression in the industry all around us--consumers are buying fewer books, the chains are stocking fewer books, and everyone is tightening their belts in general. In this strange and rapidly evolving book climate, should we maybe be considering skipping the hardcover altogether?

I've been fretting about this a lot, because I want the best for my author. I want to believe she has strong backlist potential and this book will be a classic or a bestseller or both. But alas, I can't actually inflict my opinion on anyone--I can only be really enthusiastic and hope other people will find my enthusiasm catching. But is enthusiasm enough to sell a hardcover book?

In an interesting coincidence that I think can only happen when you're at your most confused and lost, I was quietly panicking about this cataloging decision a couple of weeks ago on my way to a book people event. The book I was reading at that moment--I was about halfway through--was Alice Mattison's Nothing Is Quite Forgotten in Brooklyn, which a friend at Harper had recommended to me. I'd never read anything by Alice before, but was enjoying what I'd read so far.

When I got to the event, I looked around the room for a familiar face. I only saw one, but I couldn't pin how I knew her. Then I realized I'd been staring at her picture in the author bio of the book I was just reading. I walked up to her and said, "Sorry, but are you Alice?"

"I am," she said.

"I'm half a fan," I told her. I pulled out my very coincidental book and showed her how far I'd gotten.

"Don't decide you're a fan until you've read the whole thing," she warned me. "The second half might all be downhill." I liked her immediately. (I loved the second half, by the way--my review is here if you're curious.)

Poor Alice, who was at the event with a number of other writers to talk about other issues, was really kind and let me bend her ear for a long, long time with my worries about the paperback or hardcover problem. Nothing Is Quite Forgotten in Brooklyn was published by HarperPerennial as a trade paper original, despite (or unrelated to) the fact that Alice's previous book, The Book Borrower, was a bestseller. But her paperback original debut couldn't have been timed better--her book hit shelves in September 2008, one of the darkest months in publishing history, ever. How many people picked up her paperback that would never have sprung for a hardcover? (I, for one. Not that I'm sure I should count. But since I liked Nothing Is Quite Forgotten in Brooklyn so much, I've also now bought two of her other books.) Her publication story was kind of perfect for me at that moment.

Unfortunately, I can't see into the future, and there are a number of concerns and allegiances at stake no matter which way we end up deciding to go. So let's lay out some of the issues in point and counterpoint.

*Frequently, authors are upset by the idea that their books aren't going into hardcover. It just doesn't look or feel as nice. Then, their agents get upset because they think you're not giving the author star treatment. This becomes a serious author relations issue. Everyone WANTS their book to be a hardcover, after all.
Alas: Not everyone wants to BUY a hardcover book. I, for one, only buy a hardcover when I'm supporting a friend who's been published. When buying books for myself, it's always, always paperback, always (after all, I make $0.50 a week).

I asked Alice Mattison whether she was pleased or upset when she first learned that Nothing Is Quite Forgotten in Brooklyn was going to be a paperback original. "I was upset," she told me.* "I hadn't known about this kind of publication and it seemed not quite legitimate. When my agent first told me about the offer, I was afraid there would be no reviews and no library sales. Right from the start, though, I had to admit that I myself buy few hardcover books, and that I often read intriguing reviews and think, 'Gotta get that--when it comes out in paperback.'" I know what she means--I feel the same way about most books, if I'm being honest. Sadly, in our current climate, a lot of books won't even be made into paperbacks if they flounder as hardcovers; your day may never come.

"When my last few hardcover books came out," Alice continued, "I noticed that after a reading, audience members were more likely to buy a paperback or two than the new book, which was much more expensive. After I'd thought about it, I began to feel hopeful about a paperback original. At the start of my career I had hardcover books with poor sales that never made it to paperback, and that was infinitely more frustrating, I assure you."

*But what about the opportunity cost? If the book breaks out, you would be giving up thousands (or more) dollars in hardcover sales. Think of Kite Runner and how long that was in hardcover!!!
Alas: no one can MAKE a book break out. They can only pray. And unfortunately, in this economic climate I'm not sure how hard you'd have to pray to even have a shot.

Furthermore, bookstores (especially the national accounts) have what they call a model. Basically, they make a "model" number that they'll carry of your book, based on how many copies you've already sold. Oh, you're a debut novelist and you haven't sold anything? Yeah, they'll take a really, really small number (and a much smaller number of your hardcover than of your paperback original). This is a self-perpetuating downward spiral, unfortunately--if your book has a limited presence in bookstores, it's going to catch fewer eyes, and it's going to sell fewer copies. So maybe, just maybe, would it be better to have, say, three paperbacks present in a store than one hardcover, turned spine out?

And yet further problems. That "model" that the chains make of your book--your paperback model next year would be based off your hardcover performance this year. In this climate, when no one's buying books, never mind hardcover books. If your book only sells 500 copies in hardcover, they might actually decline to even carry it in paperback. Then that might be the end of your career.

For Alice, the paperback original experiment couldn't have been timed better. "Since my book came out just as the economy crashed, I 'm delighted that it's a paperback original, and I make sure to tell everybody," she said. "It has certainly sold better than it would have in hardcover, and I'm grateful that I don't have to try and push a hardcover book right now."

*From the publisher's perspective, though, the bottom line isn't met by retail sales; it's often met by library sales. Library sales are nearly three times as profitable in hardcover as in paperback, and normally we count on library sales to pay for the print run and the ongoing backlist-ability. How much money are we giving up with a pb original? And will libraries even want it?
Alas: libraries, too, are striking their budgets. And honestly fiction is never their favorite choice. Will the library sales alone be enough to make up for all the copies you won't sell into the stores because you're not in paperback? But on the other hand, if you can't count on a hardcover library sale, can your publishing company even afford to print your book? Yikes, conundrum.

Although some of her other misgivings about the paperback original v. hardcover tradeoff have been allayed, Alice Mattison admits that she's still not sure how the library sale has gone for Nothing Is Quite Forgotten in Brooklyn. But even if we knew, would we be able to pinpoint whether or not retail sales made up for it? It's hard to say. My mind conks out at that level of data.

*The age-old review concern--historically, it's been said (has it been proved?) that paperback originals get less (or little, or no) press attention compared to cloth debuts. After all, if a book is a paperback debut, it basically looks like the publishing company isn't taking it seriously. And if your book gets no review attention, it doesn't matter how cheap it is, no one will find it, right?
I conferred with my publicist on this--she says it doesn't actually matter, although there will always be people who revive this argument no matter how much you try to kick it to death. HarperPerennial (Alice's publisher), for example, debuts tons of paperback originals, and they still get major review coverage.

Alice admits that she was worried about what would happen with her review coverage on this book, and she's a perfect test-case. She's a bestselling author who has previously been heavily reviewed in all the big venues; if she didn't get coverage, we'd know for sure that paperback originals are mistreated. But it didn't work out that way. "The New York Times Book Review reviewed the book two days before publication, so that was decidedly pleasant," Alice told me. "There have been other reviews, one of which was syndicated and picked up by newspapers across the country. In all there have not been as many reviews as my earlier books have sometimes received, but I keep hearing about book editors laid off, book sections in newspapers cut. My guess is that if in the end there are fewer reviews altogether, it won't be because it's a paperback original but for a combination of other reasons."

As it is, we don't really have substantive proof that paperback originals, especially debuts, are NOT mistreated, though. One example I might offer to make us feel a little more optimistic is Sloane Crosley's I Was Told There'd Be Cake, which has sold at least 85,000 copies in trade paperback original since August 2008, and which has been reviewed every which where. Of course, hers was a collection of literary essays and not a novel. But a literary debut nonetheless. Would I have bought her book if it had been a hardcover? Unlikely.

In terms of my author, I can't actually make this decision. Ultimately, it falls on Robert the Publisher. Inside, I have a nagging feeling that the thing that's best for the author, for the longevity of her career and for her breakout potential, is a paperback original. I maybe-not-so-secretly believe that all publishing is or should be moving in a paperback (and electronic!) direction (after all, I repeat, I never buy hardcover books for myself!). But Robert needs to make his bottom line, and it's still to be decided whether our publishing model has been able to evolve quickly enough in this very difficult moment to even break even with a paperback.

Right now, I'm keeping my fingers crossed for a sign from above. Although our catalogs are due in a hot minute, there is a little time before we have to make the ultimate decision.

This is an issue, though, that is going to come up with more and more frequency among soon-to-be-published debut novelists. So it might be a conversation relevant in a lot of our lives. (Fingers crossed, again.)

*interview 11/23-11/24/08


David said...

Trade paperback, or some other oversized paperback format, as a compromise?

Susan Adrian said...

FWIW, as a frequent consumer, I'm MUCH more likely to buy a book if it's in paperback, especially trade. There are only a very few hardcovers I'll buy. I see no stigma at all in coming out in paperback original.

Iasa said...

As a reader, I prefer paperbacks. The travel easily, they are great for the bathtub, and it's really a pain to hang your head off the side of a couch and read a hardback upside down. I hope the book does well in whatever format it is published.

David- I am intrigued greatly by your avatar.

H. L. Dyer said...

This is a very interesting dilemma. Thanks for posting your thoughts, Moonrat.

As an unpublished author, my opinion is probably less than useful here, but FWIW...

If I were in your debut author's shoes, especially given the current economic climate, I would prefer the paperback original.

If the book does, indeed, achieve bestseller/classic status, they can always put out a hardcover edition later. Yes, this may mean less revenue generated for this novel in sales (although you'll never know if the novel would have achieved bestseller status in hardcover original).

But at that point, who cares? You've got a successful debut and a career ahead of you.

I think if you're planning a career as an author, the debut novel is more about reaching as many people as possible than it is about maximizing the revenue on that particular book.

So I would opt for availability over the aesthetics and prestige of hardcover.

I very seldom buy hardcover. In fact, the hardcover novels I purchase fall into two categories:

1) an anticipated novel from a writer I already love.
2) a bargain, clearance copy

I would never purchase a debut novel unless I personally knew the author. And I'm a book person. The general public is probably less inclined.

Charles Gramlich said...

I don't buy a lot of hardbacks either, except from friends. I somtimes replace my paper copies with hardcovers at used book sales. Just as a reader who keeps big shelves of books, I kind of miss the days of "two" sizes of books, regular hardbacks and regular paperbacks.

Katiek patrianoceu said...

I never really got the point of hardcovers in the first place! Although, now that you point out the library-sales-angle, I can see why libraries would prefer hardcovers. But I vote paperback all the way. Whenever I get published, based on what I know so far, that's the way I'd like it to be - I agree totally with Ms. Dyer.

Ello said...

Well if this is of any interest just in case you are taking a poll:

I only buy hardbacks if:

1. Friend

2. So good cannot stand to wait a whole year for paperback (this is rare except when...

3. Am reading a series or waiting anxiously for sequel of book that was so good I can not wait to read the next in the series (like Harry Potter).

4. And if I love a book so much I want a perfecty clean hardback copy for my bookshelves but which no one but I am allowed to touch or read.

Otherwise, I buy alot of books - and they are 9 times out of 10 paperbacks. Except picture books. Those I almost always buy hard.

writeidea said...

I like trade paperbacks better than hardcover. I tend to only purchase hardcovers via Amazon as the price is lower than purchasing at a bricks and mortar store as well.

Lisa said...

I'm one of the minority who regularly buys hardcover new releases, but I think I'm the only one I know who does this. Part of the reason is that I'm in a signed first edition book club and I do love getting that monthly package and a beautiful signed book with the shiny Broart wrapping around it -- but I know it's pretty wasteful. In addition to those, I always pre-order the new releases I want in hardcover, even though by the time I read them, the chain stores have already remaindered them. Do book reviewers really even know that a book will be released as a hardback or as an original trade paperback when all the ARCs (AREs) are sent out in paper anyway? It seems like one of the outmoded publishing glitches that really needs to be reconsidered across the board because there really is a perception that if a publisher doesn't release a book in hardback, it's like a vote of no-confidence and as a reader, I don't really think that's true. I'm just thinking out loud, but if the industry in general were to migrate to releasing more original paperbacks, maybe they could produce limited runs of first editions and get the authors to sign them and make them available for special order. That would satisfy crazies like me, who love them and it would reduce or eliminate the additional risk and cost associated with a hardcover release, followed by a paperback release and it would take away the negative stigma of not having a hardcover at all. Just thinking out loud...

Derek Gentry said...

I love hardcovers, and I always buy them when a favorite author releases a new book, but I have to think that trade paperback originals make more economic sense in most cases.

As much as I like the feeling of a new hardcover, I sometimes wonder what I’m really paying that premium for—some extra cardboard and cloth? Clearly there’s an emotional element to their appeal (for me anyway), as there was for vinyl records.

JES said...

Years ago, pre-'08 meltdown, I had the good fortune to have been published in hardcover. Was very excited about it, for sure, especially since it was a mystery which could have been easily just dumped out there in paperback.

But you know what? I think it's overrated -- that the visceral thrill is deceptive.

Tell you, I spent a fortune arranging book signings along the East Coast. Few experiences can be more dispiriting than sitting at a table in a bookstore, surrounded by copies of a hardback, approached by dozens of potential readers who express delight at the concept, go nuts over the cover, and then shrug apologetically and say, "...well, maybe when it's out in paperback."

Of course there may be many reasons why a book doesn't find an audience ("It's just not that good" right up there at the top). But especially now, I think hardback publication is actually stacking the cards against a book's success.

And as others have said, I just don't buy many hardbacks myself (except for "event titles" like the Potter books).

Ann Victor said...

Answering this as a reader. I very very very rarely buy hardback books for two reasons: a. the cost and b. space constraints. I can get two (or three) paperbacks in the same storage space as a hardcover.

I do like good quality paper and good binding though. Very irritating when the paperback falls apart after a read or two.

My vote: paperback.

If it takes off like you expect you can always go back and print it in hardcover (can't you?)

Crimogenic said...

Even if my favorite writer is recently published in a hardcover edition, I wait for the paperback version. And these are books that I basically salivate to have.

I think it makes sense for a debut author to go with a paperback, it's a safer bet. I'm not willing to spend $24.95 on a debut author. I rather spend $8 to $10 for the paperback and if I fall in love, I'll be on board for the rest of my life to buy to her books.

Valerie Geary said...

Thank you for this informative post! I've always wondered if there would be a downside to not publishing first in hardcover and if it would make me feel like "less of a writer"... however, plenty of strong arguments now for trade paperback!

Linda said...

I'd never really thought of this dilemma - Thanks, Moonie, for waxing so expertly...

Ditto what Ello said.

Peace, Linda

Becca said...

I'm glad to see so many people weighing in on this. I have my first novel coming out in February, and it's coming in paperback. When my editor told me, I felt deflated. It seemed like a stupid third-rate Disney remake going straight to DVD because nobody would go see it in a theater.

She, being the Wise and Gentle woman that she is, assured me that was ridiculous (she so totally did not use that word) and that instead, it shows how we understand the needs of our readers. Economy is tricky, so let's keep the books in a reachable budget.

Which helps, but... But I am a huge nerd about the books I hold in my hands. I want to hear the spine crack. I want to handle that thick, creamy paper and feel the ridges in my fingers. If I see my debut YA fiction printed on newsprint, will I be able to hold in the tears of shame?

So I guess what I'm saying is, I feel your pain. From every side of the book, this is a tricky one. May the universe align for you and your author.

Beth F said...

Trade paperback. Consider an audio edition.

Andromeda Romano-Lax said...

With the economy in tatters, and because many of us here buy more paperbacks than hardcovers, it's easier to make the pb argument. So let me play devil's advocate.

When my first nonfiction narrative came out (a book called Searching for Steinbeck's Sea of Cortez) we had to make this same decision in a post-9/11 climate. We went for PB. There were very few national reviews, even though some magazines highlighted the book. I hadn't foreseen that, and I regret our decision.

Things may be different 7 years later, but it still hurts to miss out on the hardcover review opportunity. Likewise, we probably lost out on some library sales, and if the economy is REALLY bad now and even pb sales go way down, library sales may be the author's best hope. Each library copy is read by multiple people and builds an audience for the next book! I even get reader email from people who checked out my book from the library, and THEN went and bought a copy.

Finally, while many of us find hc too expensive, in my experience with signings, there are lots of people who are eager to buy a signed author copy as a gift (which is how people justify many of their book purchases) only when it is hc. A signed pb just doesn't have as much cache, unfortunately.

I'm reiterating many of your points, Moonrat -- just from an author's perspective.

Jo said...

I like trade paperback originals. They're easier to read in the bath!

Joe Iriarte said...

I have no answers, since I'm still only dreaming of publication. On the one hand, I do buy hardbacks. On the other hand, like H. L. Dyer, my hardbacks are all either from authors I already love or from the discount rack.

On the other hand--like David, apparently, I have three--I love to get books autographed, and I pretty much only ever get hardbacks autographed.

One thing I think I can comment on:

Frequently, authors are upset by the idea that their books aren't going into hardcover. It just doesn't look or feel as nice. Then, their agents get upset because they think you're not giving the author star treatment. This becomes a serious author relations issue.

If an editor conveyed this to me:

I want the best for my author. I want to believe she has strong backlist potential and this book will be a classic or a bestseller or both.

I'd find it a lot easier to accept the decision. Convince me that you're enthusiastic about my work, that you do believe in me, and that you're focused on more than just your bottom line. Don't make the decision in a vacuum. It may seem like a no-brainer, but I find it surprising how often people don't bother to communicate things like that. (Not in publishing, about which I only know what I read online, but in my world. Certainly in education. Decisions are made and the people impacted are left to guess at the meaning behind them. I'm pretty neurotic, and I'll always assume the worst possible interpretation. On the other hand, I'm also trusting, so I'll tend to believe a sincere explanation.)

Jeanie W said...

I like trade paperbacks that use high quality paper. If they're not to expensive to produce, french flaps might be a good way to make a softcover seem as fine as a hardcover.

Chris Eldin said...

Ditto what Ello said. 9/10 of my purchases are paperback.

But, I'm thinking it might take one or two big publishing houses to do what you're suggesting, and do it well, for it to become an accepted practice (if not just in the short term). Obviously, the industry isn't there yet. So even though I buy paperback, I think it's in the author's best interest to have her book come out in hardcover at this point in time. (fwiw! This is a tough one.)

Erica said...

One thing you didn't mention is what type of book this is. I think some books have great potential in hardcover AND paperback, and some are just not meant for hardcover. Is this book targeted to young (35 and under) people? Is it edgy? Is it book club-y? If any of those answers is yes, I think it makes more sense to go straight to pb where you're going to get more sales anyway, and not risk having stores reject it because of a bad hc sales track.

And though it's rare, some authors do start out with pb originals and then go in hc first on their third or fourth book down the line.

eledi said...

I really dislike hardcovers these days. The only way I'll buy one is if I've read the thing before and want something more durable on the shelf.

(Exception: yard-sale finds from before paperback caught on)

Anita said...

My book recommendation column debuts in the Colorado Springs Gazette this Sunday. When I consider books to recommend, I don't give a moonrat's behind if they're in paper or hardback.

Lisa Schroeder said...

As a YA author whose first book was trade paperback, I can tell you that at first, I was disappointed my debut was PB. I hate the fact that there is some status thing with a hardcover, but there is! And I did only get one trade publication review on the book.

However, it sold has sold really well, and it's a book that again and again kids tell me, "I tell all my friends about your book."

My second book is coming out 12/23, this time in hardcover, and I think now it's good that the debut book was in PB. It found more readers, and hopefully those readers will be more willing to pay more for the hardcover.

Juliana Stone said...

I'm like most of you here...I buy a hardback if it's in the bargan bin, or if it's part of a series that I love and I want them for my bookshelf. Other than that, I buy paperback whether mass market, or trade. My own first book is coming out in 2010 and will be paperback and I'm just grateful to have sold. I do think with this economic downturn it's the literary type books, and especially hardbacks that will suffer.

Crystal said...

Personally the art work is the attention grabber for me, not whether it is hardback or paperback. And I actually find hardback books harder to read from than paperbacks. They are not flexible, hard to hold, and most of the time too big. And with four kids, five years of age and younger, those book jackets are just a pain! But besides that, it's the artwork that draws me in. For example, I had never heard of Twilight before last month. I was in a store and my eyes were immediately drawn to six sharp looking, black books on the shelf. I pulled them off the shelf and the artwork almost had me sold right then. However, even though this is true I do not let the artwork make my final decision because I find that 9 out of 10 really good books have not so good artwork. THAT I do not understand.

Marta said...

A few months back (maybe longer, my memory is shot these days) I read about this very issue. If I could remember the where and when I'd pass it along, but it did say not to snub your nose at the paper debut. Who can afford a hardback these days? No one knows the future, but if I were lucky enough to get someone to publish my book, I'd take the paper debut deal.

Not to smack of desperation though please.

Sarahlynn said...

It's been under 2 years since I cleaned out my desk in the marketing department. But when I read the title "the cloth or not to cloth?" my first thought was diapers, as in: Moonrat is having a baby and this is how she announces it?

Forehead smack.

Dingbat said...

Yes, paperback original! Look:
Hardback sales are down even more than the rest, while [mass market] paperback sales are actually up. Even though this would be a trade title, the trend towards less expensive books is obvious and intuitive in this economy.

Jeff said...

Another book buyer here who rarely buys hardcover books (even by my favorite authors). Surely we are in the last years of hardcover fiction except for a few authors. Trade paperback originals are just so much more affordable.

Julie Weathers said...

I love hardcovers, but my budget has been pretty thin for a long time. I snap up hardcovers that might remotely interest me if I can get them on sale.

I've bought several hardcovers I simply couldn't wait to read.

I like the permanence of hardcovers and they are usually easier for me to read. Aside from that, the old, old books I have are hardcover, I can't imagine the paperbacks having that kind of longevity.

Even so, as a writer, I would almost prefer to go paperback. The best advertising is word of mouth. The more people reading, the more people recommending it. I can always come out in hardcover next time, but there has to be a next time and budgets are tight now.

Emily Cross said...

Hi Moonrat,

my first post on your thread....but not my first read ;)

your blog is really excellent and helpful!

anyhoo to my waffley long point FWIW (i just figured out what that means) :

I always find it interesting to read about the prominance of the hardback on your side of the pond.
When i speak to people online from the states they are always surprised when big books come out here in paperback(eg. Twilight) which are released first in hardback over there.
I don't know why there seems to be a difference in culture/stigma about it?

Now i'm not in the publishing industry or anything even closely related to it (maybe...someday lol) but from a reader and buyer's perspective i do know that in most bookshops (in ireland) i rarely see hardbacks of debut books and usually when i do see the odd hardback its only by HUGE established names in small quantity on the shelves.

Do you think that with the current 'tightening' of the belt and the dawn of epublishing that US publishers will follow the UK example? I wish i could find out the stats of the hardbook to paperbook ratio in ireland and uk but sadly i only have my own observations to go by.....

In my opinion though hardbacks are great for levity (if your already a fan of the book) but i know if i had a choice between a hardback book (which won't fit in my bag, be hard on my wrists to hold and cost twice as much as a paperback) and a paper back book of a debut author, i hadn't heard or read before - i'd chose paperback.

And if you do decide paperback is the best route, i'm sure the author would understand - the world is in an economic meltdown, its obvious everyone will be tightening their belt (both the publishers and the consumers)

Stuart Neville said...

As Emily points out above, this argument has been settled on this side of the Atlantic. After a previous airing of the topic on this blog, I asked my editor at Harvill Secker about it. Although my contract details a hardback release, it will at most be a token gesture, if it happens at all. As far as they're concerned, trade paperback is where it's at.

The primary reason is that the big chains don't want fiction in hardback, not even from the very biggest names - even Stephen King's last few titles. My local Eason's (the Irish equivalent of Barnes and Noble) only stocks fiction in paperback, apart from the run up to Christmas, in which case they and the supermarkets will stock a few mega-authors (like John Grisham's latest) in hardbacks for gift-buyers.

Aside from the Christmas gift market, trade paperback is the only way to go on this side of the pond, at least for commercial fiction. Some niche literary novels are pushed in hardback, but I think that's a market unto itself.

Liz said...

Original hardcovers are a splurge for me that I rarely, rarely indulge. Not when there are so many places where I can satisfy my need for the feel of a hardcover book in my hands by buying used. If something's available as a paperback, I'm much more likely to buy it. And I'm a sucker for the pretty displays at the book stores. That means much more to my book purchasing than whether it was ever available in hardcover.

My verification word is dizatena. It really looks like it should mean something. I wonder if 100 years from now, linguists will be reflecting on how the word verification tool spawned new vocabulary into language.

Maggie Stiefvater said...

Personally, I have to admit that I tend to buy hardcovers when I've already read the book and loved it. So -- check it out from the library first, love it, buy the hardcover.

Otherwise, alas, it's pb.

Becky Mushko said...

Trade paperbacks! I rarely buy hardcovers unless (1) an author is giving a reading at the booksigning or (2) I find one I like at the used bookstore. If I have to wait too long before a book I want to read comes out in paperback, I'm likely to check out a library copy.

If/when I find a publisher, I'd be delighted to see my book debut in paperback.

Melanie Avila said...

I've only bought two paperback books in my life, and both were due to timing (long story). I think I'd be fine with only releasing in paperback, but I'm not anywhere near that stage so it's easy for me to say that now. As a consumer I think it's smart to print fewer hardcovers and use that money for publicity for more authors.

Zen of Writing said...

Yes, trade paperbacks for me for all the same reasons, cheaper, more user friendly. Not as long-lived, but I seldom reread the books I keep, anyway.

What is the difference in profit between hardcover and trade paper? I'd vote for nice paper, those fancy flaps, and maybe charge a buck more for each new trade paperback. Future printings could be normal trade paper.

And as much as I seldom buy mass market paperbacks now, when I was a kid, I loved them. I read all of Vonnegut (at the time) in mass market size.

Joe Iriarte said...

Melanie, am I reading you correctly? You've only bought two paperbacks . . . and the rest are hardcover? Wow--that's unusual! Cool!

Sarah said...

I'll throw in my vote for a high-quality trade paperback. I was actually talking to someone about this a few weeks ago, genuinely hoping that my first novel wouldn't get a hardcover run. Reason: I hate hardcovers. Hate. You can't read them upside down; they're too heavy; and they don't go all Velveteen-Rabbity like well-loved paperbacks do. They always look a bit too perfect.

I defer to wiser souls, of course.

(A good audio reader makes all the difference too.)

clindsay said...

I may be in the minority here, but I buy the majority of my books as electronic editions these days. When when it isn't available as an e-book, I buy paperback for portability.

Another great blog post, Moonrat!

dara said...

As much as I think hardcover books are nice, I generally do not buy them either unless it's an author I absolutely love and cannot wait for the paperback version.

I'm an unpublished author, but if it were my choice, I'd probably choose paperback as well. I want the best opportunity to keep my career going and if hardcover sales are low, that could jeopardize that. So I'd rather market the book as paperback. But who's to say if I'll even have the choice?

Alex said...

This was really interesting to consider. As a reader, I always, always ALWAYS buy paperback, even if it's someone I love and am willing to spend the money on (for example I had to wait what felt like forever to get my hands on Pratchett's Making Money in paperback, which drove me nearly to tears.) And this is not only because of the money issue - it's for the simple (and perhaps silly) reason that all my other books are paperbacks. I don't want to go messing up my bookshelf.

Of course, this isn't something that generally comes into consideration for a publisher, but nonetheless, paperbacks are, I feel, the way to go. ;)

ediFanoB said...

That is a quite interesting post.

Most of the time I by paperbacks. The last exception I remember have been the Harry Potter books. And the next one will be A Dance with Dragons (Song of Ice and Fire) by George R. R. Martin because I can't await to read it.

There are three reasons to buy a paperback:
Space, weight and price.
We life in flat and space is limited.
Reading a Hardcover in bed is quite dangerous for your nose.
For the price of one hardcover I can buy between 3 or 4 papberbacks.

Beside this my wife and I took alsoanother decision. We both live in Germany and we aren't native English speakers. Unfortunately it always takes a long time to get German version of a book and a lot of books will never be translated. So we buy now most of our books (we like fantasy and urban fantasy) in English.
And to be honest English paperbacks are cheap in Germany.

I think it is good to have Hardcover for public libraries because some paperbacks fall apart after reading them 3 or 4 times.

boleroid said...

I wish good quality writing were more available in mass market pb format. Like the good old days.

Ted Lemon said...

I voted for hardcover when this decision came up, but that was for a technical book, and I wouldn't be surprised if it cost some sales. I just wanted the book to last.

From my own experience as a reader, I went through a phase where I bought new books from favorite authors in hardcover, because I could afford it and I figured it was good for the author. But my shelves started to fill up pretty quickly.

Now that I'm happily married, I get a pretty serious glare if I come home with a hardcover, so it's a very rare thing for me to buy a book even by a favorite author in hardcover. This is because of price more than size - the Harry Potter and Twilight books were so heavily discounted that they might as well have been trade paperback, and we did buy those.

So if a book comes out in hardcover nowadays, I either borrow my father's copy (he's an Amazon addict) or get it from the library. Either way the author has lost a sale. If it's paperback, I buy it.

Frank said...

I'm coming in very late on this debate, having Googled for just such a discussion. I'm a UK-based author with a new novel out later this year. Much of what you wrote chimes exactly with my past experiences, especially the bit about an unsucessful hard cover not making it to paperback at all. This happened last time I was published in the US.
However, there is one issue I would flag. I recently had discussions with my publisher over a switch to trade paperback from hard cover. All the economic reasons you've cited were put up to defend the move - but the proposed price drop from one to the other was just £1 (from £12.99 to £11.99 - equivalent to a drop from about $18.50 to $17). Although these prices are quite typical in the UK, my worry is that this does not represent good value - especially now that hard covers are appearing on the market costing just £10 ($14) - or as little as £6.50 ($9.10) on Amazon.
It seems to me that cheap hard covers are a very cunning way forward during a recession. They represent great value, sell well as a result, while making no compromises on review coverage. Even if the publisher's margin is almost zero, the rewards will follow in mass market paperback with big orders, a large store presence and potentially heaps of reviews on the back.
What I'd like to know is if your commentators would be equally happy to buy trade paperbacks if they only cost a couple of dollars less than a hard cover. My guess is, no.