You mentioned a while ago that you wouldn’t mind some questions/ideas for blogs… I was just wondering why authors want their books published in hardcover? I personally wait to buy soft covers, but I am really curious about this… Love your books and your blogs are wonderful and informative – Keep on going! And no hurries on answering, I know you are busy
Writers like hardcovers for several reasons, but the choice actually doesn’t belong to the writer in this case. This decision belongs to the publisher. The switch to hardcover or the choice to publish a book in hardcover from the start is made for marketing and financial reasons. Writers don’t have much say in it.
Some advantages and disadvantages of hardcovers are:
- Hardcovers cost more, which means author gets more money per book, but lessens the audience
- Hardcovers don’t fall apart as fast, providing a lasting value, which means some libraries prefer them
- Hardcovers tend to be printed on higher quality paper
- Hardcovers are more “visible” in stores, while mass markets tend to fade into background if shelved spine out
Here is one scenario, under which hard covers make sense. A typical hardcover format royalty is as follows:
Ten percent on the first 5,000 books sold
Twelve and one half percent on the next 5,000 books sold
Fifteen percent on all copies sold thereafter
A typical mass market royalty spread is:
Eight percent on the first 150,000 books sold
Ten percent on all copies sold thereafter
A highly simplified hypothetical example.
Let’s take author Bob. Author Bob writes hard SF. He has a small devoted following of readers who will buy his books no matter what. However, he has issues reaching a wider audience because the subject matter of his books is highly specific.
In both cases of hard cover and soft cover, the amount of man-hours that goes into the production of the book is roughly the same. Edit, copyedit, galleys, cover design, etc have to be done in both cases. Production wise hardcover is more mostly to produce but even there we get into funky territory. Printing mass market in volume is sometimes actually cheaper than printing only a few thousand of mass market books.
Bob’s book is published in hard cover with a print run of 6,000. Bob’s book is hailed as experimental and wins an award. Book collectors decide they want to own one. The book sells 5,000 copies. Libraries order some because he is an award winner and his fiction is cutting edge, his fans order some, and Bob gets:
$25 x 0.1 x 5,000 = $12,500
Not super money, but not too bad. Bob’s sell through rate is 83%. Bob is a viable author, because the house makes a modest profit and doesn’t take a huge hit.
Let’s say Bob’s book is published in mass market with a print run of $15,000. Printing above that is too much of a risk – Bob’s track record says he only moves a small number of copies. The house is unable to take advantage of printer’s volume discounts. However, with this tiny print run, Bob has trouble penetrating the market. Half of the libraries skip the mass market purchase – what’s the point, it’s too flimsy – but another 500 people decide to take the chance on the mass market. Bob sells 5,000 copies.
$7.99 x .08 x 5,000 = $3, 196.
The house is stuck with 10,000 useless paperbacks. Bob’s sell through rate is 30%. Bob is a giant fail.
When mass market books came on the scene, they were a cheaper alternative to hardbacks designed to appeal to a wider audience. They were light and small, which made them portable (see why ebooks are winning this war? Kindle is easier to carry than a paperback), and permitted places like grocery store to carry them. More of them fit on one shelf. They were cheaper.
Because they were cheaper and flimsier, some people viewed them as almost disposable. When Gordon was in Japan, he used to see people leave manga in random places, like the subway. Manga volumes were cheap and once you were done with them, why not let someone else read them?
There was a point when paperbacks were viewed almost in the same light. Category romances still often are. I can sometimes find a category for $5. But over time, the price of mass market steadily climbed up $7.99 and higher. At this price point mass markets no longer seem disposable.
In the mind of most readers, there is a distinction between mass market book and hard cover book. Hard cover book is to keep. Mass market is often light entertainment. That’s why sometimes you will hear publishing industry professionals say, “This type of book just doesn’t do well in hard cover.” That said, the success of any given book is pretty much a craps shoot. Seriously. If anyone could predict bestseller status, everyone in publishing would be a lot richer.
If the mass market author is very successful, there comes a point where they develop a loyal following of reader who will buy their books no matter what, and the author makes a jump to hard cover. Still, that decision isn’t made by the author. It’s usually made by the publisher.
What does SOP mean? I have come accross this several times and do not know what it stands for?
In culinary terms, to sop means to soak up liquid with a piece of bread. I suspect that you want SOP – this stands for Standard Operating Procedure.