Monday, September 27, 2010

The "curse" of the trade paperback

by Jane

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.


  1. My friend's first YA came out in trade paperback and did so well, that they decided the publish the second, option book in hardcover. It's done great too and now is out in pb. I think you're right about letting them lead the way on certain things. It is their job, after all.

  2. My debut came out in trade paperback in April, and I'm glad it wasn't hardcover. As you said, it's at a good price point for a newbie author--at a discount it's barely over ten bucks. And it got plenty of "regular" reviews. I love my trade paperback!

  3. The link to the Wall Street Journal article just goes to Do you have the direct link, or the name of the article? Thanks!

  4. It is interesting because to be honest I didn't know such a format existed in the book publishing business. I've only encountered it recently regarding Sons of Thunder by Giles Kristian. Me and my boss and friend Terry both work at our local college Library (more or less single handedly) and we both love Giles writing. I bought the second in hardback at shop same time as I bought his first - I discovered him a bit late you see. Since we both enjoyed his books upon sharing we got his first book Raven into the Library. Suprisingly enough the first girl to pick it up is eagerly demanding we get Sons of Thunder the sequel to Raven in. However students seem to prefer paperback so Terry had me find out if it was indeed in paperback yet. I checked the Waterstones website and they listed it only being in that format in April 2011! I was suprised we had such a wait. I contacted Giles via his website regarding this matter and he then explained that we should be able to get it in trade paperback format and Waterstones do sell it and should list it. Since then he has passed my worrying message onto this Editor who is equally suprised Waterstone's aren't listing it correctly. He has assured me there is such an edition which we can get.
    I wonder if I've perhaps discovered a situation where publisher and bookseller have disagreed but unknowlingly? Still yet to learn the reason why but Gile's is Editor has forward this error to Waterstones Head Office for an explanaiton.

  5. I don't feel that it matters. As I progress through the writing process and learn more about how the publishing world works, I am realizing that it doesn't matter much to me, I would just be happy to be published. With the coming of the EBOOKS and the EPUBLISHING I think that this debate will seem insignificant in the next ten years anyway. Publishers are going to take the road with the maximum gross profits, in this case trade paperback over hardcover and in the future it will be EBOOK over trade paperback. That is what they are there for right, making money?

  6. Thanks, Anonymous! Link fixed.


  7. I'm for all trade paperback releases. The higher price point for hardcovers does steer me away, unless I absolutely adore the author. Not just love the author, but he/she must be one of my top all-time favorites. I'll end up waiting for a paperback version or getting it from the library unless I know there will be an opportunity to get the hardcover signed. I find the prestige attached to hardcovers silly anyway, even if they are more durable.

  8. What are your thoughts on the ebook format over TPB?

    Dorchester recently announced that their books will come out in an ebook format prior to a traditional TPB. Do you think other publishers will follow their lead?

  9. I'm glad that article mentioned Gary Fisketjon, who created Vintage Contemporaries. Vintage Contemporaries was a great line, easily identifiable on the shelves, and pretty much a guarantee that a book was good. Bold editors like Fisketjon seem to have gone the way of the dinosaur.

  10. You know, I always find the hardback issue quite in interesting... in Australia, most books come out as paperback.
    Breaking Dawn and Mockingjay (sorry, just trying to think of big releases to use as examples) were both released as paperback. Hardcovers are expensive here (maybe it's the same there, but I don't have a decent comparison). Keeping in mind that at the moment the AU$ is nearly dollar for dollar with US, we'd pay $39.95, and up to $59.95 for a hardcover.

    It tends to be really big name authors like Matthew Reilley, Dan Brown, JK Rowling (with the last Harry Potter) all get hard covers, but it's really more of an exception than the rule. I think it's kind of fascinating :D

  11. I've never understood why a publishing company would put out a debut author's first book in hardcover. If I were a teen with a limited budget, I probably wouldn't spend my money on an unknown hardcover. I'm NOT a teen and I hesitate to pick up a hardcover book by an unknown. I've bought hardcovers by debut authors, but that's because I knew them way back when they were first trying to get published.

    The hardcovers of a debut author tend to be really short, and paying $17 for one isn't a good value (for me). If I buy hardcover, I want to have at least 300 pages. At least! And then you're taking a chance with an author you may end up not liking. Putting a new author's book out in trade is so much better. I can buy a bunch of books, and if I don't like it, the "loss" isn't as much as with a hardback. The risk is so much easier for me to take when a book is 8.99 rather than 17.99.

    I think that part of the reason publishers prefer hardback is because of libraries. But why not just do the special library binding for them?

    As an aspiring author, I would definitely prefer my first book to come out in trade paperback, but at this point, I'd just like to have a book come out! :)

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