April, 2008

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Hardcover vs. Paperback

The days of books having to be launched in hardcover are over. Important fiction and non-fiction are now releasing in paperback all the time.

According to Independent, Barnes & Noble and Borders book buyers, people don’t buy books in hardcover the way they used to. These days, 75 percent of the DOLLARS spent on fiction are trade paperbacks. Remember how less expensive paperbacks are, factor in the price difference, and this means that less than only a small percentage of the fiction books sold in America are hardcover. And those sales are usually reserved for big houses with established, big-name authors.

Yes, there are exceptions, but if you want to maximize your chances of stocking and sell through, you will not take the chance that you will be one of the very few exceptions. Everyone thinks that they will be different. They aren’t.

I know that hardcover books are more appealing for authors. They think of hardcovers as more legitimate. They believe the hardcover will bring in more dollars. They believe that libraries want hardcover and think that they cannot get reviews with paperbacks. But those ideas are outdated..

Reviewers now review trade paperback fiction all the time. Libraries have less money than ever before and many prefer trade paperback for new authors. The ever shrinking number of Librarians who prefer hardcover can be served with Hardcover Print-on -demand.

Hardcover books from new authors or small houses are rarely, if ever, stocked nationally by major chains; therefore, sales are far less likely than in trade paper. (Example: If a national chain book buyer likes a book from a new publisher, he or she might take in 150 of a hardcover versus being willing to test 800 to 1,000 of a paperback.)

A well-known fiction buyer with more than twenty-five years’ experience has seen the passages of our industry and has kept himself up-to-date with the changing elements. When asked about hardcover versus paperback, he had this to say, “With so many small presses pitching fiction today, publishers should be obsessed with placement. They cannot get placement with hardcovers. Hardcover sales are hemorrhaging…. Please, tell your publishers to stop publishing in hardcover.”

That said, there are times when publishing a book in hardcover is a good idea. Many books are not published for the bookstore shelves. You may be publishing a book destined for corporate sales or you may be a speaker who plans to sell your book from the back of a Marriot Inn conference room. In these circumstances, publishing a book in hardcover and making the extra dollars that come from the higher price might be best.

Always keep the customer in mind when you are choosing the type of book you are going to publish. For example, if you have written a crumpet cookbook, your potential readership may have more disposable income and prefer a book that lays open heavily and will be used and reused often enough to warrant the durability of a hardcover book. If you have written a cozy mystery, your readers may not appreciate a $25 price tag and having to hold up a big, heavy book for hours while they read.

If you are concerned for your older readers, who prefer hardcover because of the bigger type, print your paperback with a larger font.

The bottom line is this… identify your reader and make sure you are creating a book that meets their desires and specifications, not yours.

Til later – AC

Books are here to stay

Why do people buy books? What kind of people buy books? What kind of books do they buy? The answers to these questions are changing rapidly. It used to be that if you had a specific need (job interview, wedding, new baby, etc.) you would go to the store and pick up a book on that topic to educate yourself on the newest thoughts on that subject. Books were the preferred tool for disseminating new information. Not anymore.

Magazines (also a changing animal) hit the scene and trained readers to grab for the “highlights” on a topic. No longer did people feel that they needed a deep, thorough understanding of their topics. They learned that they could “get the gist” in three to five pages at most and, in most cases, do just fine.

Then came the Internet. Think you have lupus? Log on! Want to cultivate a pink-and-white-only garden that will not be eaten by your local deer population? www.girlydeerresistantgardens.com to the rescue!

The people who think they are too busy to read a whole book and cannot find the time to catch up on the stack of magazines piling up on the counter can now have seventy-five words on any given subject electronically handed to their inbox to be downloaded and absorbed in seconds.

But what about novels? Fiction? Yes, there is still a strong market for beautifully written, well-edited, sharply crafted fiction. Keep in mind, however, that the competition from popular, established authors and brand-named celebrities with clever marketing/ghostwriting/PR teams have driven the chances of a new writer’s work appearing on a national chain’s bookstore shelves way, way, way down. Therefore, many talented writers are moving to Web-based and self -printed digests.

Fans of savvy, edgy writing are flocking to Websites to get their daily dose of prose. Every day, established, talented book authors are writing 3000–5000 words for readers who will never see those words in a printed book. ’Zines, Web digests, salons, and blogs are changing how fiction readers get their fix.

This does not mean that books are dead. In spite of the Cassandra-like warnings from experts over the last 100 years that the book was becoming obsolete, books are here to stay. Newspapers, radio, and television did not kill the book nor will the Internet and iPod. Books offer a sense of comfort and reliability that other mediums simply can’t touch.

What is changing is how we think of “books”. E-books are getting an erratic and ever strenghtening launch into our culture. It will not be long before hand-held electronic book machines gain full and total acceptance by an entire generation of readers who will still refer to what they are holding as a “book”. It is a book. A book that is more environmentally friendly than paper and more handy than carrying six to ten pounds in one’s suitcase on a long vacation.

Let’s not get too hung up on what a book is and keep our eye on what we need a book to be.

For people who hear a particularly compelling speaker and want to learn more about there message, there are books. For those riding to work each day who want to escape into a good story, there are books. For those who want to deeply explore a topic and have a reference to which they can always go to, there are books.

There will always be books.

Bookstores as the new Top 40 radio station?

It seems that each day brings another industry bulletin about how a bookstore has closed or how a chain will be reducing the number of titles it will carry. Brick and mortar stores are having to make hard choices; limiting their selection.

High retail rents, gasoline for delivery trucks, the economy, and unemployment can all be blamed, but not for long. Yes, it is time for consumers to tighten their budgets, but that is not the driving force behind the reduction in titles on bookstore shelves.

As a culture, we have become used to “shortcuts” and “hot-keys” in our work and home life. Our radios offer the same 100 songs each day with only a smirking nod to “independent” music. Technology does more than entertain and assist us; it often makes our choices for us. As we sink more deeply into our dependence upon technology, we lose our willingness to work for our pleasure.

Gone are the days when we slowly browsed a library or bookstore shelf looking for the perfect book to fit our mood. Those of us who find the time to read a book no longer have the time to search for one. We reach for the review section, listen to the latest NPR praise and ask our friends what their bookclubs are reading.

Armed with a vetted list, we can log on line or run into a bookshop and make a beeline for the front table. Chances are, the 11 books we have heard good things about are stacked there.

It is not that America does not have time for books, we don’t have time for bookstores. That is bad news for both parties. We want a quick hit, a guaranteed success, a sure thing. There is nothing wrong with that, but it will forever rob us of that one amazing “find” that could have altered our thinking; the hidden gem that could touch us so personally and deeply.

I understand the America is asking for fewer choices and that the bookstores have to do what is best for their business… I guess I was just hoping for more time before the book industry became what radio degenerated into 30 years ago…. a place for the masses to be told what to enjoy.

Your Book’s Journey

It is every writer’s dream to see his or her book in the front window of the local bookstore. It is fun to imagine tall, colorful stacks of your books surrounded by throngs of curious readers flipping through the pages as others rush to the cash register. Feel free to continue this fantasy as you pound the keyboard, but if you’re interested in turning the vision into reality, then suspend the writing and read on.

In order to make that dream come true, you have to stop thinking like a writer and start thinking like a publisher. For publishers, the dream location is not the bookstore shelf; that shelf is simply a short stop on the way to the real destination … a reader’s bookshelf. The only bookshelf that truly counts is the consumer’s. This blog has been created to guide your book into (and then out of) the hands of people who actually paid money to read it.

If you’re truly serious about publishing your book, then you need to shake off the fantasy and take a good, hard look at the challenge ahead. This isn’t meant to discourage you. The better prepared you are, the more successful you will be in reaching your goal.

The path a writer’s work takes through the publishing process, into the retail market, and then onto a consumer’s beside table is arduous. On this journey you will encounter misleading signposts, paths damaged by overuse, and rough road from underuse. But you will also experience a number of wondrous sights and resting places. The sweeps and turns of the publishing path can be fascinating—but even more rewarding if you know the lay of the land ahead of time.

As a writer on the verge of publishing, you are enthusiastic about your work and determined to see it through to book form. While these are certainly helpful qualities in battling the challenges ahead, there is one tool that will help you to overcome the obstacles and push forward during the final stretch: knowledge.

The best way to start a journey is to learn as much about your destination as possible. Once you know where you’re going, you’ll be able to plan your route to get there. So set your writing aside for the moment as we explore the book industry and the oh-so-important destination: the reader.

To be continued…