Seriously, stock market? Really? You want to go? Because we can go. You heard me. You might win, but I fight dirty.
Reader Gregory O’Neill wrote with a very interesting question: why are some books originally published in hardcover and some originally in paperback?
Good question! There’s more to it than a coin flip. (Mostly)
In recent years there has been a movement towards publishing more original paperbacks. Mass market (i.e. supermarket-rack-sized) originals had always been a way of building up writers in genre fiction, but over the years, trade paperback (i.e. bigger than mass market, smaller than hardcover) originals have gained steady popularity as well. You’ll have to trust me on that because I don’t have time to find the numbers to back that up. Hooray for expediency!
So what goes into the decision?
Well, there are pros and cons to both.
Pros: More royalties for the author because of higher price point, more review coverage (er, in theory), sometimes treated as more “serious” and “prestigious” because of tradition, two shots at a book catching on (first in hardcover then again when it comes out in paperback — Penguin in particular has perfected the art of turning a relatively modest hardcover run into a blockbuster trade paperback – just look at the Trade Paperback bestseller list)
Cons: Hardcovers are expensive, and it’s sometimes difficult to break out an author at a higher price point
Pros: People love them some trade and mass market paperback, lower price point and thus readers may be more willing to take a chance on a new author, trends younger
Cons: Less review coverage, only one shot
So, you might be thinking, if a hardcover is going to come out in paperback eventually anyway, why not just start in hardcover and then come out with the paperback down the line? Win win (win). Well, here’s the potential problem with that: if a book does very poorly in hardcover, it will probably affect how the bookstores are going to place orders on the paperback. So a book that might have caught on as a paperback original could see a paperback run partially dashed if the hardcover doesn’t do well.
Ultimately it’s a very tricky decision that involves figuring out the target audience, factoring in how much review coverage is going to matter, and many other elements. But more and more authors are starting out on the paperback original side, particularly with books that trend toward a younger/edgier market (because young people are poor!), and for authors who are seeking to build an audience.
That was a very interesting blog post. Until now I’d never really thought of hardback vs. paperback or the marketing decisions that go into choosing one over the other.
I’m one of the poor young people 🙂 so I won’t buy hardbacks yet UNLESS it’s the next George R. R. Martin novel. Hardbacks are also heavier, and since I don’t have a car, it means that I’m less likely to lug the hardback to the subway. On the plus side, though, they’re much more resilient than paperbacks, as Lisa said.
Millennium Housewife says
I always presumed (which I know we are not supposed to do..) that the hard backs were by established authors and meant as a bit of a tease. In other words, we know you just can’t wait to read this new book so kindly hand us £50 and you may have the honour in advance of others. MH
Most of the really good books that I’ve ever read–including academic non-fiction–I could only afford in mass-market or trade-size paperback. Seriously, my undergraduate library looks like the “unusual books” section in a used book store.
But honestly, who doesn’t want to see their name embossed on the spine of a hardcover book? That’s what keeps me working on my thesis.
I’d be willing to go with mass-market paperback to get started in fiction and I would keep writing even if that’s all the better I could ever do. But seeing that hardcover book with your name on the spine! That’s got to be an image that every writer lies awake at night thinking about.
Wow… I love the comments on this. I personally would not hesitate a new writer in trade paperback. With the cost of Hardcover being a little to much to bear. However that being said if I loved the author or the book that much I would buy Hardcover as a collector’s keepsake.
As for ebooks….. will not go there, I like the feel of a book in my hand and I get enough of technology throughout the day. Perhaps reading an actually hard copy book will become and eccentricity.
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It would be most interesting to note how many authors here prefer the A5 size covers to a typical A4 size cover for their published books.