Over the years, there has been a kind of stigma attached to a book if the publisher’s plan is to issue it originally as a trade paperback. In fact, this is something I have never understood.
Sure, the royalty rate to the author is lower if it is published as a trade paperback, but if the hardcover doesn’t sell—or sells a fraction of what the trade paperback will sell—the difference between the hardcover and the trade paperback royalty rate really doesn’t matter.
And then there is the thought that trade paperbacks aren’t reviewed to the same extent hardcovers are. While this was once true, I believe this is something that is beginning to change with the rise of book blogs and online publications. Last week there was a very interesting piece in the Wall Street Journal which addresses all of this.
Interestingly, I rarely think it important that we stipulate in a contract that a book be published initially in hardcover; and that is more true today than ever before. More and more, I am finding that when the hardcover doesn’t sell up to expectations, the publisher is choosing not to do a trade paperback at all—and that really limits the book’s sales and hurts the author’s reputation overall. So, I almost always let the publisher lead the way in terms of the format they will publish a book in and when I disagree with what they want to do, I present my arguments and hope they will be heard.
One example that we at Dystel & Goderich have seen of the success of the trade paperback format after good but not spectacular sales in hardcover is Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen, which is represented here by Michael Bourret. The trade paperback has been on the New York Times non-fiction trade paperback bestsellers list for 23 weeks and has sold over a quarter of a million copies. As a result of this, Rhoda’s next book will be far more successful in the hardcover format than this one was.
So, my advice to those authors who object to having their books initially published in trade paperback is to listen to their publisher’s reasons for doing this very carefully. Beginning in this format, which always means a lower cover price, will help increase sales and if the book is successful, the author’s name will be “out there” and a hardcover publication for subsequent books will become more likely.
Of course, I would love to hear your thoughts on this.