Saturday, September 25, 2010

Paperback or Hardcover? What Format Brings in the Bucks?

When I sold my first novel and was told it was coming out in hardback, I was worried. I myself rarely bought hard covers and feared no one would pay twenty-something dollars for a novel by a debut novelist. What I didn’t know is hardback often trump trade paperbacks when it comes to subsidiary rights, i.e. audio, book club, and large print. I practically ended up making back my advance before the first copy was sold. Moreover, royalty rates are higher for hardbacks, library sales are larger and there are usually more reviews. Although that’s changing.

Lately though, more and more authors are coming out in trade and sometimes success is big as in the case of this summer’s smash hit One Day. Occasionally a hardback will experience middling sales but the trade paperback soars as was the case with Memory Keeper’s Daughter or Secret Life of Bees.  Penguin is a publisher that seems to have a lot of luck with turning paperback reprints into huge sensations. Also some types of novels have always come out in trade such as a lot of first-time literary novels as well women’s fiction, particularly chick lit.

An article this week in the Wall Street Journal covers the advantages and disadvantages of both formats. A book editor at People is quoted as saying:

Seeing 'paperback original' in a catalog used to mean I could safely skip a book—that the publisher probably didn't have big ambitions for it. That's slowly beginning to change."

I’ve come out in trade and hardback and see pros and cons with both formats. Yeah, the royalty rate is better for hardback but as an author it’s a pain to promote both versions. Also at book signings it’s easier to get people to pay fourteen dollars instead of twenty-four.

What’s your thoughts? As a writer, do have a preference for a particular format and if so why? As a reader, do you usually buy hardbacks or trade paperbacks? Or do like mass market paperbacks. (Like the fat paperbacks sold on grocery shelves.)

 Click worthy Links:

Rejected novels rake in the dough. J. A Konrath’s ebook sales hit 100,000.

Few Boys Allowed. Publishing is an old-girl business.


  1. I've only been published in trade paperback and ebook formats, so I can't say much about hardcover. I do know that as a reader, I prefer trade to both hardback and mass market. Hardback is just too expensive and mass market, while nice and cheap is sometimes harder to read (awkward). I have to say, though, that I buy more on my Kindle now than print books.

    I'm registered to attend the NINC (Novel Inc) Future of Publishing Conference this October in St. Pete, fl. I'm only doing the one day workshop, "Brainstorming: The Future of Publishing" but it should be interesting. Even now with my 3rd book coming out in a few months I'm a complete clueless wonder on most things so I'm hoping to smarten up some on the business side of writing. Will let my girlfriends know what I find out!

  2. I'm with Maria. I read so fast that before I became an author (and got tons of free books), I'd go with mm b/c it's cheaper. And I've found authors put out more in mm than in trade. The price point was a big deciding factor, as was backlist.

    I've gotten one hardback in the past 10 years, and that one was a gift. I just can't spend $25 on something I'll go through in 2-3 hours. A movie is cheaper.

  3. I have a Kindle too, Maria. I've haven't been using it a lot yet but I intend to, Bought the new Laura Lippman for a little under 12 dollars and that was so cool to get a hardcover for a trade price.
    I used to read mm only, Judi, back in the day. I was always at used book store trading paperbacks. At the time I wasn't aware that not all books come out in mm.

  4. This is a very interesting and timely (for me) post since my debut novel comes out in trade paperback next March. I appreciate the link to the WSJ article. Thanks!

  5. I've had mass market originals (with my mysteries) and trade paperback (with the YA and women's fiction), except for the hardcover book club editions. But, honestly, even with the changes in the market, I would love to be released in HC some day! I tend to buy lots of trade PBs. I will buy a hardback if it's someone I truly love, or I just can't resist the cover.

  6. I find it hard to resist certain HCs too, Susan. I also have a few authors I love so much HCs are automatic buys for me. Emily Giffin and Anne Tyler I always buy in HCs,

  7. I'm new to this as my debut was released in hardcover in Jan (Viking/Penguin). Though my hardcover has sold exceptionally well, it's my understanding that they're planning to sell the Trade paperback like crazy.

    I had an extensive hardcover tour that lasted almost 4 months, and now I'll do it all over again starting in late October when the paperback is launched. I know I'm blessed so I'm not complaining, honestly I'm not, but there were times it was quite exhausting.

    As a consumer, I buy about 1/4 of my books in hardcover and the rest in paperback and MM. I have a Kindle but I don't like reading electronically. If they'd get the formatting down correctly I might read more on my Kindle, but I'm so visual that it really bugs me how the text looks (especially when it doesn't have justified formatting).

    Maria, I'll be eager to hear what you learn at the conference!

  8. Great post, Karin! And great links.

    I buy just about everything-- I just love the feel of a book in my hands.

  9. Thanks, Brenda. I love books in my hand too although I got a Kindle (not using it a lot yet though).

    Beth, I'll bet they sell the tp like crazy; it's such a fun, wise book. Sounds like your Oct. will be busy.

  10. As you point out, there are pros and cons to every format.

    With my debut, we had strong hc sales but the trade pb has been much better--got close to that tipping point into ubiquity, which I expect Beth's book will see. :-)

    With my second, I'll have to wait until next spring for the trade pb before I know how things shake out there.

    I like that the hc/pb combo essentially gives a book two chances to catch fire. And there's no question that sales to libraries can have a huge impact on getting newbies established with readers. While a lot of readers can't/won't spring for the hc, they can read for *free* from the library if they choose, or wait for the pb--a win-win situation.

    That said, some books will fare much better as pb trade originals or mm originals, simply due to market realities. Ultimately, we all want as many readers to find and read our books as is possible, so whichever format leads to that is the right format!

    As for reading preferences, I'm still a purist when it comes to paper vs. electronic. I don't favor hc or pb except, of course, in terms of price.

  11. So true, Therese. I also think certain houses do better with TP than others. I also tend to think co-op is crucial for the success of a TB.