“Will my book be in hardback?”

This is a question I hear from almost every author we sign. I hear it at writer’s conferences – authors who are disappointed their publisher won’t print their book in hardback. It’s hard to address this disappointment without sounding defensive, but the truth is, there needs to be a solid reason to take a book to hardback.

Does it make sense?

Of course we all believe it makes perfect sense to have our books trussed up in a hardcover but there are a lot of considerations that go into deciding to take a book to hardback. First and foremost, it’s gotta make financial sense. In a word – will they sell?

Returns: Take a look at the dollar book bin at your local bookstore. They’re filled with hardbacks that didn’t sell. And that’s just a small percentage. The rest were sent back to the publisher in returns. And let’s not forget that the publisher still has to pay for those print runs, regardless of whether the book sells or not.

Along with eating the print run, publishers incur shipping charges both ways as well. And then there’s the re-stocking fee with their distributor. It simply doesn’t make good business sense.

Retail price

And why are there returns? Well, in this economy, the buying public is looking to pinch their pennies and still be able to read good books. Hardbacks are far from free for the buying public,so fewer hardbacks are being bought. Even the libraries, who were the mainstay buyers for hardbacks, are more than happy to buy trade ppback. Sure, they’ll get beat up faster, but they’re also cheaper to replace.

What kind of book is it? The idea is to get books out to market and keep them there. Some books simply don’t “qualify” as hardback material because readers of that genre don’t classically buy hardbacks. There are a lot of considerations, such as the author, genre, potential readership, the promotion being put into the title, the “longevity” of the story.

For example, you won’t find a lot of romance hardbacks, but you do see a larger percentage in true crime or general nonfiction. And again, it depends on the nature of the book. Much of this discussion actually takes place with the marketing and sales teams. And no, there is no magic formula that says whether a book should be hardback or not. It’s a gut call based on the belief that those books will sell. There are some publishers who do special collector’s print runs in hardback and sell them at collector’s prices. But those are specialty markets.

Ego

When we really get down to brass tacks, having our book printed in hardback is an ego thing. It makes us feel that we’ve “arrived,” that we’re now officially part of the cool gang. And old thoughts die hard. Being published by a mainstream publisher with excellent distribution is verification that you have “arrived.” The packaging is immaterial and is in no way a reflection of your “worthiness.”

It’s gotta make sense – nothing more, nothing less.

And really, let’s look at this logically; would you rather enjoy higher sales with a product that’s more affordable, or would you rather feed your ego?

Publishing is hard enough and emotional enough without having to play touch football with an author’s ego. Publishing is an evolving entity and the old tried and true methods don’t necessarily make sense in a faster-paced world that is financially challenged from the production and marketplace sides.

The best gift give you can give yourself is to give your ego the day off. Heck, give it a permanent vacation. Do what you do best – banging out fabulous writing – and let your publisher worry about how they can best showcase your brilliance to a hungry reading public.

12 Responses to “Will my book be in hardback?”

  1. NinjaFingers says:

    I’d be happy with mass market paperback. Heck, I’d be happy with ebook only… (Yeah, feeling some of the rejection blues right now).

  2. Brian Clegg says:

    Funnily, I’ve always prefered not to be in hardback, because I don’t think many people want popular science in this form, yet some publishers seem to want to put out everything in hardback! There’s no pleasing authors.

  3. AstonWest says:

    I was probably the only author excited when the e-book price of my first novel was cut in half. I’d much rather sell high volumes at a lower price point. Other than being a novelty for someone’s collection, I don’t see the point of a hardback.

  4. domynoe says:

    I actually am not all that concerned about being in hardback. What I would like is quality paperback. Probably about as likely as hardback, but it’s my favorite format. lol

  5. Lauren says:

    I am a hardcover hardcover fan. If I can get it in hardcover I do; nothing else will do. Trade paperbacks are acceptable–and if they are designed with French flaps and high-end paper like the Penguin Classics all the better. But well-made regular ones are fine.

    However, I agree with you since I know my preferences are not the norm. It’s a book, a book for sale to me. And that’s what really counts.

  6. Exactly, Lauren. You’re a book reviewer – and a very good one – and most reviewers probably do prefer a hardback. But they also realize hardbacks are expensive and their preferences aren’t the standard, but rather, the exception.

  7. brightdog says:

    My first book was paperback, with lovely french flaps and a great cover. My second came out in both collector edition hardcover and paperback.

    The publisher’s decision is fine with me – but I wonder if I would feel that way if I didn’t have that one hardcover…

  8. Pelotard says:

    I’ve always been a bit puzzled that some books are released as hardcover. Who buys these things? All the words are the same in the paperback, only at a lower cost. It’s like you need a pint of milk, only you buy it as two half-pints at a higher price. If I ever see that end of the business, I’ll probably fight to have it paperback only.

  9. Brian Clegg says:

    If you look on my bookshelf, Pel, I have quite a lot of hardback books. Some are presents – a hardback seems more substantial as a present. Some, though are books by a favourite author that I want to read as soon as they become available. I can only assume there are other impatient people like me.

  10. Agreed, Brian. Many eons ago I used to buy hardbacks because I was too impatient to wait a year for the book to come out in mass paperback. But somewhere along the way, my hardback budget was traded in for diapering babies and constantly buying new clothes and shoes for them.

    Nowadays, that wait time is far less – roughly 3-6 months – depending on the publisher. But there will always be a populace who prefers hardback. The difference is the size of that populace.

    Like everything else, publishing has to evolve based on the marketplace. While it costs us maybe a dollar more to produce a hardback, we can charge oodles more. So from a publishing standpoint, we love hardbacks because the profit margin is far bigger. But it doesn’t mean a thing if few buy them.

  11. Pelotard says:

    Ah, I stand corrected. I do have a hardcover of my very own, for the same reason you do, Brian. Couldn’t wait for the paperback.

    I don’t think I’ll ever be that author to anyone 🙂

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