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July 25, 2005


Jim Winter

To be honest, as a consumer, I hate hardcovers. Bulky, hard to take with you on the bus or plane, and grossly overpriced. ($30 now for some? WTF?)

I can roll back a trade pb while I'm reading. And mass markets slide nicely into my laptop bag. Frankly, I don't get why publishers keep printing hard covers other than they supposedly look good on the bookshelf.

But I don't care about that. I'm only interested in the content. If it were feasible for me, I'd just buy everything on ebook.


I prefer they come out in succession, the faster the better. Often by the time a second book comes out, I've completely forgotten about the author. Or I don't care anymore. Or I think, "yeah it was good, but I'm reading something else right now." I tend to lose interest in series after three anyway. If they aren't quickly available, I might never make it to two unless they are EXTREMELY good, funny, or some aspect sticks with me the usual long year it takes to get number two out. If I have heard a first books is stellar and my friends can't wait for two--I'm VERY inclined to wait until two or even three is out before I start. I didn't start reading the Harry Potter books until number five was out. I loved the books and read them all within a few weeks. In this day and age of improving technology, it would be excellent if the industry could be faster.

David J. Montgomery

I was told recently by a new author who just signed with Morrow that they are no longer publishing debut writers in hardcover. First-timers are only going to be in trade paperback or mass market.

I suppose it makes sense, since unknown writers are such a tough sale. I love hardbacks, though, and nothing will ever replace them for me.


You look at people like Laura Lippman, Harlan Coben and Rick Riordan who were nominated for many mystery awards during their PBO runs which gave them name recognition when they were moved into hardcover. I don't believe they would have won these awards right off the bat if they hadn't been PBOs. All three of them won, or were nominated for awards with every one of their PBO books but when they moved to hardcover the awards dried up for a bit. I think it's a great opportunity for new writers to grow into a career.

Karen Olson

I agree with Jim that a paperback is easier to cart around, and I never take hardbacks on vacation with me because they're a bit bulky and heavy. But that said, I love hardbacks, just the feel and look of them. And I don't balk at taking them to the pool with me or to work for a quick lunch read. As for publishing in quick succession, it doesn't really matter to me. There are so many books out there to fill up the time between series books.


I also love hardcovers, but that might be because I tend to save books, and hardcovers last longer. That having been said, it often takes me longer to get around to reading a hardcover because they don't slip easily into my bag and are too heavy to lug around.

As for how quickly books in a series come out, the book a year pace, through sometimes frustrating, actually keeps my interest going more than if I had a bunch available at a time. Part of the appreciation of a series is the sense of anticipation of the next book in the series. If you can jump right in it kind of changes the experience. May explain why I tend not to read an entire series quickly even if I can.


In fact, Harlan pulled off a hat trick that Rick and I then duplicated: He was the first-ever writer to win the Anthony, Shamus and Edgar for the same series. (S.J. Rozan has done this, too, and may be the only person to do it in the Best Novel category. But Harlan did it first.)

And there were people who had no problem telling me that I'd never be nominated for an award again. For the record, of the award nominations I've had to date, more than half were outside the Best PBO category and my hardcovers have received almost as many nominations as my PBOs. Does that sound contradictory? Consider that PBOs can be nominated for Best Novel and Best First Novel, depending on the award.

PBO is a marketing strategy, not a judgment on the quality of the work. PBO made my career and that was without the benfit of getting books out quickly, although I did have two out in the same calendar year.

Bill Peschel

I've never understood the logic behind once-a-year publication if the author is capable of delivering. We don't wait a year between TV shows, for example.

Maybe there's a dirty secret behind that wisdom: that few novelists are good enough to merit publish-when-ready. Who would I buy at anytime? George Macdonald Fraser, John Mortimer, Peter Lovesey, Peter Robinson, Ian Rankin and Terry Pratchett.

David J. Montgomery

A good reason for the one-book-a-year standard, I think, has to do with touring and reviews.

If a writer has two books out in a year, does that mean 2 tours? (Connelly's going back on the road for his 2nd book this year, although he's only hitting 8 cities.) If you've got 2 books (or more) in a year, can you get reviews or other media for both?

It seems like the authors who do have multiple books per year are the "brand names," like Patterson and Parker, and they don't rely on the same marketing strategies that most writers do.

Aside from all that, though...Between writing and promotional commitments, I think a lot of authors can't pull off more than 1 a year without the quality suffering.

PK the Bookeemonster

The questions are interesting. There are pluses and minuses to the publishing more than one a year idea. For an author I've really enjoyed, yes I would want to read the next much more quickly. I'm looking forward to a couple new authors' second books now. Another author is on book four of a series and the last one just didn't do it for me -- would it have been different if the length were shorter in between, I don't know. A first time author who I liked but didn't make as big an impression on me might not be in the front of my mind to keep an eye for -- I remember a legal first mystery last year and I can't remember by whom. Will I make the effort to find out depends on what I've got ready at hand to read now. On the other side of the coin, while I'm waiting for a favored author to release the next in series I'm looking around for other things to read and in doing so I discover new-to-me authors to be added to the must-read list.

There are authors who need more time to write but there are other authors who write under different names and are able to multi-publish. It's a balancing act.

PJ Parrish

As a PBO author toiling in the ghetto, I have mixed feelings about this issue. On one hand, it is very difficult to get respect as a PBO author because of the near automatic assumption by most critics that the quality level is not on par with HCs. And its harder to get foreign sales and perks like audio and such. But as an author trying hard to build an audience, I can see the logic of a PBO launch. Nice reviews are great but reviews have not proven effective in landing you on the NYT's list. It is readers, one by one and hard won, that make a career. Word of mouth remains the most potent marketing device out there. So as a relatively unknown author, would I rather have 200,000 chances to win over readers or 25,000? And if I were a reader, would I want to shell out $25 for an author whose work I didn't know? Shoot, I barely will do that for those i DO know. John D. MacDonald was a PBO guy for most his career. He somehow managed to find an audience.

Beth Tindall

Paperback, hardback...makes no difference to me, I'm just excited to hear that Paul Levine will be back! I've missed his series so much!


Years ago, when my first suspense novel, Where's Mommy Now?, was published as a PBO, some of my writer friends consoled me. When Avon bought my next book for a PBO, the editor told me, "I would have published Where's Mommy in hardcover." The next editor, who bought the first two in my Jessie Drake series (hard cover), said of my second book, "That should have been a hardcover."

Go figure.

The first three books in my Molly Blume series were published in hardcover, then in paperback a year later. The fourth will be published as a trade paperback original. I've talked to readers, to bookstore owners, book fair chairs--almost everyone is thrilled about the TPO. As PJ said, readers unfamiliar with an author will more likely take a chance if the price is right.

The downside: Libraries prefer hardcover, of course, as do collectors. And it's probably more difficult to get reviewed in TPO.

We'll see...

David J. Montgomery

It definitely is tougher to get reviews as a PBO, mass market even more so than trade. It can happen, though.

Dave Worsley

It's a heck of a lot easier to sell PBO's than cloth copies, especially if you have a Sam Lipsyte or a Chris Brookmyre to work with. I'd be happy to see the last of hardcovers almost without exception.


The last hardcover novel I bought was Harry Potter #6. The one before that was Harry Potter #5. Not many authors have Rowling's reader loyalty, and not many novels have people camped out waiting for stores to open the cases. Just about everything else I've read in the last decade has been paper.

The way I look at it, I can buy two trade paperbacks or 4 mass market paperbacks for the price of one hardcover. It's pretty obvious what offers the best value for my entertainment dollar.

If I like the book well enough to reread it, I'll go back and buy a nicer edition. But for books that I'll read once and give away, hardcover prices are just a waste of money that I could spend on more books.


As nice as hardcovers are, I think the TPO/multiple books idea makes a lot of sense for new authors. I know that, for myself, I'm a lot more likely to pick up a paperback to try a someone new, and if I get excited about an author I'd be a lot more likely to still have that excitement a couple of months later, rather than a year or so, when something else might have caught my attention. (Not that I have a short attention span but- hey look, a butterfly!)


Excuse my ignorance, but what are "cozies"?

m.j. rose

Great subject, Sarah. I've been in HC and TBO and Mira is doing the three in a row Morgan Snow novels (six months apart) mass market thing to be followed up with a stand alone HC in Jan 07 six months after the last mass. I'm with PJ on this 200,000 vs 25,000 idea. (Though in my case it's more like 150,000 vs 12,000.) They want to get me moving faster and the timing worked out. It remains to be seen if it will work.

But it's reassuring to read that most people don't see mass as less quality - that was the one thing I was afraid of with the mass originals.

Mark Terry

Once upon a time libraries wouldn't buy mass market paperbacks or the rare trade paperback, only hardcovers. From what I've seen that's changed somewhat, although libraries are still likely to lean toward hardcovers. As a book reviewer (The Oakland Press, Michigan) it really doesn't matter what I review. I do review PBOs if they come my way. As a novelist, it's been trade paperbacks so far and that's fine, but I'd like the hard/soft deal with mass market, just like everyone else. I actually think PBOs would be fine if distribution was in place--I have nothing at all against airports, grocery stores, drug stores, hospital gift shops, and I do think it would be easier to convince people to shell out $7.99 for an unknown author than $12.95 or $17.95 or $24.95.
Mark Terry

Naomi Hirahara

Wow, fascinating discussion. The rise of PBOs, both trade and mass market, represents a new trend, indeed. I think it's a good thing -- people don't have as much disposable income or perhaps there's more competition for their dollars. (The film industry should follow suit. Ten bucks for a movie, and it turns out to be mediocre? Forget it.) Once I read No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, I couldn't wait to get my hands on the next in the series, which was available in a few months. If it's a good author, one-two-three publishing is effective.

All I can say is the contest for Best PBO will be increasingly fierce -- maybe more interesting than the Best Novel category!

Elaine Flinn

As another pbo writer 'toiling in the ghetto'- I have little to add to P.J.'s very eloquent comments. For so many new writers, just getting a foot in the door is hard enough - thus going the pbo route at least gives you a chance to hopefully find an audience. It's a full time job for us pbo'ers when you consider we haven't a big publicity budget (very few arc's)from our publishers, nor the big advances to do much traveling to cons or visiting booksellers. As for garnering reviews-I've at least been lucky there-and whatever success I've had - I lay much of that at Dave's door when he graciously gave this ghetto gal a hell of a shot in the arm with her first book.

David J. Montgomery

Elaine's case points out how crucial it is for PBO authors to work even harder than the rest to get review attention. It can be done, though. But you need to take the initiative, as your publisher likely is doing very little on your behalf.

Elaine Flinn



I started out in hardcover. My first novel had a print run of 50,000. Absolutely insane and enough to crush the poor first-time author when the publisher decides they have made a mistake and can't sell 50,000 copies of a relatively unknown author's first novel. Needless to say they dropped their support instantly.

I was lucky in getting another publisher, one who is committed to bringing out the whole series in sequence at 9-month intervals (wish it were quicker!) in trade paper.

The advantages: publisher support and better sales and faster publication (the latter is very important for a series, because readers forget quickly)
The disadvantages: fewer reviews and fewer chances at major awards. (I used to have no problems getting reviewed, but that has changed, in spite of the fact that I have a very good publicist with Penguin).

My feeling: At this point it is most important to build a following, and more people buy trade paperbacks than hardcovers.
I'll be patient. The move can be reversed in the future.

Naomi Hirahara

BTW, Ingrid, your TPO cover is beautiful--much, much better than your hardback covers. Eventually, you should definitely come out west to California. The fan base is huge for Japanese historicals. But don't go through random bookstores, but Japan Societies and other specialized groups and libraries.

p.s. Fifty-thousand hardcovers? Crazy.


I debuted through big house in hardcover, got a ton of reviews, raves in big consumer mags, mixed from PW, rave from booklist, warm from Kirkus, raves from weeklies, two nat'l TV appearances at 8:00PM, bunch or regional TV and radio... and mmmmm, let's see: shipped 9k and returned 6k. Paperback followed year later and maybe moved 3k as of last royalty statement.

Follow up is slated as TPO and I have mixed emotions, but I gotta say -- the main reason I'm opposed to TPO is simply my own ego B.S. -- don't want OTHER WRITERS (!) to think I'm somehow less important than people coming out in hardcover. I have to say, that's a pretty weak reason for me to be against the idea. Plus, as an author, one of the lamest feelings I've had is being out on the road and seeing that 19 or 20 YO kid in each city that comes for the reading, stays at the back of the signing line to meet you, then sheepishly says he's not buying the book tonight -- and I'm sitting there thinking, "Yeah, I mean...25 bucks...how can I blame the guy. I'm ten years older, make a nice living as a TV producer, and I don't drop 25 bucks on a book I know will come out in paperback."


P.S. Anybody have an updated stance on getting reviewed as TPO? I know this post and the comments are a year and a half old now, and in the last year there have been three TPOs on cover of the NYT Book Review.

Any chance to re-ignite the discussion here?

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