“Will my book be in hardback?”

March 4, 2011

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.


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.

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