Hardcover vs Paperback

As with all other aspects of independent publishing, the choice of published format abounds. Do you choose hardcover or paperback?

If you publish with a traditional publisher, they will most likely make the decision for you. That can be a good thing if you have a hard time making decisions, but it could also mean the death of your hard work. If your publisher decides to publish your book in hardcover, and it doesn’t sell well, then the chances of it being released as a paperback are slim.

So why would a publisher want to publish a hardcover copy first? For two main reasons: 1) old guard reviews and 2) profit margin. Reason one begs the question, how many people actually read book reviews in newspapers and magazines anymore? And furthermore, how many of those people actually purchase a book based on a review they’ve read? Most of the people I know, myself included, decide on a book based on word of mouth or, if I’m buying online, based on customer reviews of a book.

When I’m in a bookstore I buy a book based on the bit I’ve scanned (usually the table of contents, if it’s non-fiction, and the first couple of chapters). Occasionally I ‘ll buy a book based on what I’ve read on the internet via blogs and web sites, but since I don’t know these people I’m always very cautious about spending the money. After all, haven’t we all discovered at one time or another that our taste in reading material differs greatly from others?

Reason two makes more sense financially. As Justine Larbalestier, author of YA novel Liar, says, “An average royalty for hardcover is 10%, and for paperback 6%. So [paperbacks] are a smaller percentage of a smaller amount of money, which means on average you have to sell three times as many to earn out.” But I don’t see the merit for an independent publisher to make every decision based solely on how many books sell in one format.

In the same blog post, Justine points out that there are several book series that debuted in paperback and saw great sales. So the question becomes, what does the reader want? (And aren’t they the ones we have to please anyway?) That, I’m afraid, comes down to personal preference. There are those who love the look and feel of a hardcover book. Librarians prefer hardbacks because they last longer. Book collectors say the same thing. People who love hardbacks are willing to pay for them. However, I would hazard a guess that only a few will buy a hardcover book from an unknown author without having the benefit of word of mouth or personally perusing the book.

The rest of us prefer paperbacks for some of the same reasons. I love the feel of a paperback, of being able to read one-handed while eating. I also like that I can easily stick a paperback in my purse for those long waiting times at the doctor’s office (assuming my daughter’s not with me :)) or during a solo lunch.

There is one bit of information in favor of paperbacks that Justine passes along in her post and that is that, while hardcover sales are down, paperbacks are only down slightly and in some cases are actually climbing. I see that as a good sign that independent publishers should strongly consider releasing everything in paperback first. For myself, I’ve decided on that route. I figure if it sells well enough in paperback, chances are good there will be those wanting it in hardcover.

Of course, there’s no reason an independent author can’t do both if you’re using a POD company. The choices on The Road to Writing are as wide open as any creative soul could want.


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