It’s the cliche beyond the cliche: we do, nearly all of us, judge a book by its cover. A cover image that’s beautiful, arresting, and/or unique will draw the eye of potential readers, and a less interesting cover can certainly turn a potential reader off. It isn’t the end-all be-all — it seems unlikely that The Help was propelled to its year-plus stint on the NYT bestseller list by faded pastel birds alone — but what’s on the cover matters, matters, matters.
But there’s another aspect of the cover that matters, too: is it hard or soft? A paperback or a hardcover? The book inside is the same, right? Does it, should it, matter to the reader?
And as a writer, does it matter to you?
Across the past decade, I was pretty single-minded: I wanted to get a book published. That was it. Publication was the holy grail. I never thought much about whether the book itself would have hard sides or soft ones, and when the publisher offered a contract it was for a hardcover release with the paperback coming a year after in the usual fashion, and I went on not thinking about it in the least until one day my agent said: they’re thinking about maybe switching to a paperback launch.
And then I thought about it for serious, believe you me.
The pros and cons of a trade paperback debut are revisited periodically by the major media, so you can read them almost anywhere, but here’s a brief recap. Pros: a lower price point encourages readers to take a chance on an author they don’t know; paperbacks can go a lot of places hardcover debuts never go, like Target; and with these two things encouraging sales, it’s a less risky approach, a safer bet. Cons: a single paperback launch means you miss out on the two cycles of publicity potential that come with a hardcover release followed by a paperback one, and the lower paperback price point means you make less money per sale than you would in hardcover.
A book is a bet. Publishing is gambling. There’s risk involved for the publisher, who is putting down all this money upfront without a real true sense of how much the book will sell. And there’s risk involved for the reader, who can know a certain amount about the book’s contents — is it an author you know? are you interested in the story? have you heard good things through word-of-mouth? read great reviews? — but is also, like the publisher, putting down the money before knowing the results.
A trade paperback is a smarter bet from both directions, from both the reader’s and publisher’s point of view. And so here’s the third point of the triangle: what about the author? What’s better for her/him/you? I have author-friends who would argue either side of this one passionately. (I’m sure some of them will pop up in the comments.)
For my part, what did I decide? I decided I’d be happy either way. Thinking about it, regardless of whether my book came out in hardcover or paperback, my goal was the same: sell as many books as possible. Whether my initial print run is big or small, whether the cover is hard or soft, whether the book is reviewed well or poorly or not at all, the only thing that matters to me is this: I need to sell enough copies of The Kitchen Daughter to earn out my advance and impress publishers enough to make an offer on my next book, so we can start this cycle again. I just want a chance to place another bet.
The Kitchen Daughter will be released in hardcover on April 12, 2011.
(And it will have a beautiful cover image, too: that’s the second part of my cover story, which you can read over here on Intrepid Media.)
Image provided under Creative Commons license by TipsyCake Chicago.