I am going to start a publishing company and it is going to be called “Simultaneous,” and it is going to publish every book in a hardcover edition for libraries and collectors and another edition in paperback or board book or whatever its most natural fit is. So, all those nine bajillion-volume mystery series? A few hardcovers and then the bulk of the print run straight to mass market. That picture book with its bold, simple illustrations and minimal text? Again, a small number of hardcovers and then cases and cases of board books. That picture book that is good, but not likely to become a beloved classic? Take a guess. Yep. A few hardcovers for libraries and classrooms and gifts and a towering stack of paperbacks. The first in a debut Young Adult series? Trade paper original with a later hardcover re-release if it becomes a hit.
I hear authors and publishers readying their objections; papers being shuffled and throats cleared in preparation for a lengthy rebuttal. But, please, just hear me out. I really do understand that there’s a prestige to a hardcover release that one doesn’t get from being the proverbial “paperback writer.” However, as someone who works in a small bookshop, I can guarantee that I can make more dollars for you with a non-hardcover edition.
Say you publish a hardcover at $20. I don’t know what your contract stipulates, but let’s say that, hypothetically, you get $4.00 per hardcover sold. $20 is a fairly reasonable price for a hardcover, so the little store where I work may be able to sell two. The paperback comes out at $10.00, of which you get $2.00. We’ve already sold five in hardcover, so that’s five fewer customers for the paperback, and the book’s already been out for about a year, so we might sell three–ten if it gets chosen as a Staff Recommendation–and that’s being generous. So the two hardcovers plus the three paperbacks net you a whopping $14. And that’s assuming that we don’t return the hardcovers, which is much more likely than returning the paperback. So that $14 may actually just be $6.00.
However, skip the hardcover release or just do a limited one for libraries and collectors and bring out the paperback simultaneously and those numbers change. Because even if your publisher is still only giving you $2.00 per paperback when that’s the primary format in which you’re published, we can move a lot more units. We only have to sell seven paperbacks to meet what we were able to contribute to your bottom line with a hardcover (with no returns) and a paperback spaced about a year apart. And we won’t have that gap between formats when the book might fall out of people’s memories or we’ll realize the hardcover didn’t really work for us and maybe we should skip the paperback or any other of a billion possibilities. We’ll be able to keep your paperback on the shelf for the entire year that would normally elapse between the hardcover and paperback releases. So even if we only sell one copy a month, we can net you $24 over the same period of time.
Look, I’m trying to do you a favor here. I want you to make money so you can keep writing. I also want to be able to carry your book and to maybe have it earn a place as core backlist. Doing a simultaneous release in multiple formats for different audiences and markets benefits all of us.
Alas, most publishers don’t see it this way and most authors are still hooked on the prestige of a hardcover release and I for sure and certain don’t have the money to open my own publishing house and try to change things by example. It’s a lovely dream, though, and I live in the hope–vain though it may be–that the dream will one day come true. Until then, I’ll try to remember to order the paperback when it gets cataloged a year after I first got excited by it.