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July 26, 2005



As a reader I never understood why there had to be hardback and paperback. As someone who works in the library, I understand the need for hardbacks. My brother also loves hardbacks and will buy them for his "collection" if he likes the author enough. As a buyer of books--it's paperback all the way. For my very favorite series over the years, I can think of two occasions where I talked myself into buying a hardback because I couldn't wait for the paperback version. And I read A LOT of books. There might be feelings from authors and publishers on what it means to be in one vs the other, but I still won't buy hardbacks because they are just too expensive.

David J. Montgomery

There is definitely a stigma against authors who are published PBO. The perception isn't helped by the fact that publishers dump a lot of crap in paperback that would probably never sell in hardcover. This creates a situation where you have good books by talented writers competing in the same format with books of lesser stature and quality. Publishing an unknown writer as PBO can make a lot of sense from a business standpoint, but the perception will still be that the work is at least slightly inferior. (This point is reinforced because that perception is often true. A lot of PBOs are inferior.)

Hardcover will remain the gold standard for the industry unless things radically change. The books look better, they're better quality, they're most lasting. (I'm talking the physical product here.) Perhaps even more importantly, being published in hardcover signals that the publisher was willing to make a greater financial investment in the book, something which might not be as true for a PBO.

So a lot of it is just smoke and mirrors. But there is something more tangible there as well.

PK the Bookeemonster

I think the stigma comes from within the industry - publishers, writers, critics, collectors, etc. For the average reader, it's simply the economy - PB equal more bang for the buck. Hardbacks come from the library.

Same as for the movie industry. The financial equation to go to the theatre is astronomical for many people: tickets + snacks + babysitter + gas. People are finding better value for their entertainment to rent or even buy the DVD.

Buying a hardback is a rare and big splurge so it has to be a special book or author for me to do so. Same with the movies; my husband and I will go to the theatre for something big like Star Wars or Lord of the Rings, otherwise the comfort and convenience of the home theatre does great.

The publishing industry is twisting itself up trying to define/rearrange/market itself but they're losing site of the target audience and their purchasing abilities.

Tod Goldberg

I've been having this discussion a lot recently with other authors, though about Trade Paperback Originals. What I can tell you about personal experience is that when my first novel came out, it sold exceptionally well in Trade and made me think then that I'd sell an equal number in HB. As it turned out, that was not to be the case by a large stretch, though when the trade version of my second book came out, it easily outsold the hardback. It seems to me that for many writers such as myself, where we perhaps have an audience of several thousand, maybe 10, that trade simply makes the most sense, especially if we want to earn out while attracting new readers. Will the NY Times review it? It seems like they do so more lately, but what I've learned is that you can't eat a NY Times book review. Six Bad Things by Charlie Huston and More Than You Could Chew by Rob Roberge are good examples of perfect trade paperbacks, in my opinion: I likely wouldn't have bought either in hardback (well, I would bought Rob's, but that's because we are friends and, well, I blurbed it, too, so, yeah...) but at $14 with handsome wraps, they make a great impulse buy and more than pay off.

David J. Montgomery

I think there's some truth to that, but I also think that there are a lot of people out there who prefer to buy and read hardbacks. (If I didn't get most of my books for free, I'd still be buying hardbacks. And in fact I still do anyway.)

A hardcover book is just so much more satisfying to look at and hold and admire and read... but I'll admit that it's a bit of a fetish with me. :)

$25 for a hardback isn't that much money. Heck, you'd spend more than that on dinner at Olive Garden.

David J. Montgomery

(My comments are referring to PK's, not Tod's. He snuck his in there.)

Ben Rehder

Before my first book came out, even though I read a lot of books, I was fairly unaware that some weren't first issued in hardback. I had never heard the phrase "paperback original," and if I would have heard it, I doubt it would have had much impact on my selections. My point is, how many other readers out there are the same as I was then? It seems that most of the people tuning into this blog are connected to the industry or are bigtime readers. But I'm wondering if the average customer at an average bookstore is even aware of this issue, or the implications (if there are any) of a book being released as a PBO.

Kevin Wignall

I still think the solution is the one chosen by Hodder for Jasper fforde's "The Eyre Affair". Hard and paperback were published simultaneously. The small print run for the hardback ensured reviews, satisfied collectors and those, like David, who simply prefer hard covers. The paperback ensured that an affordable version was available at the same time as all the hype. The only thing that's lost doing it this way is the chance for a second bite of the apple, particularly if the first campaign misfires.

David J. Montgomery

Kevin, that's common in the UK, isn't it? Did Fforde's US publisher do it, too?

Elaine Flinn

David is right-pbo implies inferiority and is definitely a 'stigma'. Ask any pbo writer (such as moi) and I'll bet they'll agree. Even my grandson (he's twelve) asked me why my books were 'small' and so soft. When I tried to explain that I was a new writer and had to prove myself, he said it shouldn't matter if the story was good. Out of the mouths of babes,huh?


I've always found the perception of HC making a writer "more succesful" odd.

A writer I know recently made her first publishing deal. The two offers to choose from were 1) be pub'd in PBO with a first print run of 180,000, or 2) be pub'd HC with a first run of "close to" 30,000. The advances were similar.

She chose the PBO deal and to me it seems like a no-brainer - if she has only a 40% sell-through, that means 72,000 of her books out there instead of "close to" 12,000.

But I'm not a published author - is there something I'm missing?

Kevin Wignall

David, I don't think his US publishers followed suit. But the UK has flirted with paperback originals in trade (which over here means BIG, much bigger than a regular PB) for a long time. The move seems to be toward cheaper hardcovers for newer writers - 10-12.99, against 10.99 for a PBO and 6.99 for a mass market PB. I'm guessing the equivalent in the US would see HCs retailing for about 16-17 dollars.


Interestingly, I've been feeling a bit of a "hardback only" stigma. A few months ago, another writer asked me if I had a hard/soft deal with St. Martin's, and I thought I did until I actually looked at the contract again. Nope--it's no guarantee. So while I'm thrilled that my next book will be in hardcover, I'm also hoping for a mass market release, too, because I think many more readers will take a chance plunking down $7.99 for a new writer (vs. $23.95).

David J. Montgomery

Oooh, good point, Duane. If an author is only in hardback, there are problems with that, too. It's going to be that much harder to develop an audience.

By the way, just so that there's no doubt, I don't think there should be a stigma, nor do I think that PBO necessarily implies inferiority. I was simply stating that those perceptions do exist. I wouldn't want my comments to be misconstrued.

The reality of publishing is that, if you can get a decent publisher who'll actually get behind your work, it doesn't matter if they print it on toilet paper. You're doing well.


David, says, "it doesn't matter if they print it on toilet paper."

Unless it's one-ply.

And please, don't give anyone any ideas....

Jeff Abbott

To answer Sarah's question--my publisher didn't ask me to write a standalone as a requisite to moving to hardcover. They planned to move me to hc even before I'd given a book proposal, they asked if I was interested in writing a standalone. After some serious thought, I was: I had an idea, they liked it, off we went.

I've had a great experience as a PBO author and have no regrets. (I chose PBO over hardcover with my first book.) I think more and more books in the future will be PBOs, and the biggest growth will be in trade.

PK the Bookeemonster

From a certain POV, I understand why the typical route of a book is hardback and then the paperback in a year such as the ability to have the book in the public eye for two years, etc. However, it would be interesting to see the simultaneous HB/PB release be given a chance. Would the book then have to stand on it's own merit more rather than rely on a marketing machine?

Tod Goldberg

Actually, I forgot about this: my new book is coming out in both hb and trade at the same time. The HB has a small print run -- less than 1000 -- so I'll have a good idea in about 6 months time.


As a result of these postings regarding the paperback thing, I got to thinking...and, keeping in mind that I buy quite a bit of books, when I purchase crime stuff it tends to be overwhelmingly paperback...I'll buy the hardcover of a "literary" writer (say DeLillo or Palahniuk or the like), but when it comes to crime it'll be a paperback...Hell, the last crime novel I bought in cloth was Ellroy's The Cold Six Thousand...and that was a good what, 2-3 years ago at least.

I'd venture a guess that folks who buy crime/mystery buy a lot of books...unless you're The Pope, you don't have enough money to buy them in cloth, even if they all appeared hard bound in the first place.

Olen Steinhauer

Guyot's story of the two possible contracts is really interesting, in particular because he's talking print runs that are far beyond my present imagining. But so far in my career I've still got a fear of PBO. This is really because of my experience in the UK. I sold my first 2 books to Random House, and the first came out in HB, then one of those "airport-sized" (the big UK-PBs Kevin mentions) paperback. Some good reviews, minimal sales. Then with the 2nd I was told it was only coming out in PB. I was concerned. Was this a sign they were losing faith in me? I was told (by them) not to worry. The 2nd came out in PB, and though the reviews were still good, there were fewer, and when it came time to negotiate the next contract the advance plummeted, and we had to go elsewhere. My fears were confirmed. This is more about the publisher's conception of PBOs than the reader's, though.

Mark Terry

To date all my books have been trade paperback, and I recently signed a 2-book contract with Midnight Ink. As far as I can tell, they'll be trade, which is fine, because the prices should be fairly reasonable, somewhere in the $12.95 to $14.95 range. Which, in terms of garnering readers, is probably what it's all about. Mass market, being cheaper, may not have the prestige (at least among publishers and librarians), but more readers. And besides, "Paperback Writers" at least got a real cool song.

Mark Terry

Clea Simon

I'm with Mark (and some others above). My close friends express their pleasure that "Mew"is in hardcover. But I rarely buy a writer I don't know in h/c, whereas I'll often take a chance on a new author in paperback. I'm assuming my publisher knows what he's doing, and I know he markets to libraries and collectors (who do want the hardcover). But I also know at least one mystery bookstore that won't be stocking more than two or three copies because its readers want more book for the buck, and that means pb.


As Sarah suggests, I "disappeared" from publishing when I went to work in TV 6 years ago. Ouch...truth hurts. So the PBO vs. HC decision was easy once I overcame the ego problem. Not helping was a friend who whistles to the tune of: "Dear Sir or Madam, will you read my book? It took me years to write, will you take a look?"

My Jake Lassiter series was out of print, and publishers were not knocking on my door. Hell, they didn't know where my house was. I wrote "Solomon vs. Lord" on spec, and my agent sent it out. We turned down two HC offers in favor of Bantam's four-book commitment. At least the first two will be PBO.

My reasoning: To build an audience quickly, PBO makes sense IF the publisher supports the book/series. None of my 8 HC's ever had as much marketing & promotion: TV & print ads and Internet. (Actually, there was virtually NO Internet marketing when I last published a book). Yes, I'm sure we'll get fewer reviews. But we've made audio, book club, & foreign sales, and I am optimistic that we'll move in HC. In short, I think it's smart publishing strategy. Now, if only they can come up with a way to get airline passengers to put down their laptops and start reading again. Paul Levine

David J. Montgomery

One point that comes up a lot in this discussion is how hard it is for PBOs to get review attention. (I try to buck the trend and I know Sarah does as well, but it's definitely an uphill battle.)

If you're a published author, do you care? Is that particular trade-off worth it?

Mark Verg

This past poll by bookreporter.com is still relevant even though it's over a year old. I thought it would add something to this discussion.


Naomi Hirahara

I, for one, am prepared to give SOLOMON VS. LORD a whirl. Good title, great cover, Dave Barry blurb, and eight bucks? I'm in.

From another paperback writer

Jessica Hernandez

With hardbacks there are weight limits to consider. I move a lot. Hardbacks take up too much space, weight, and are very difficult to pack since they don't come in a standard size. It makes more sense for me to have a paperback than a hardcover. When I spoke with my grandmother, an avid reader, she agreed. She said, "Paperbacks are easier to hold in your hands. You can lay on the couch and hold it up without your arms getting tired." LOL. I love her perspective. Just thought you'd like to know.

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