- by Robin Burcell
How many times have you heard a reader say she only buys hardcover, her tone implying that anything out in mass market is of lesser quality, the books meant for the populace, not the crème de la crème of society? I’ve even heard a bookseller turn his nose up at the thought of ever reading a paperback. And for the majority of us paperback writers (cue the Beatles’ song), in these days of budget cuts, ARCs—those advanced reading copies that might garner us reviews to grow our readership—are less of an option with publishers.
So what’s a paperback author to do?
There is one idea that shouldn’t be overlooked: paperback authors from big houses going with smaller presses for that hardcover. I did it, and since then I’ve noticed several other authors have taken a similar route. Here’s how it worked for me:
Several years ago, I was signing at Poisoned Pen bookstore in Scottsdale, Arizona. Barbara Peterson, the owner of the bookstore and Poisoned Pen Press, told me that if HarperCollins wouldn’t bring me out in hardcover, then I should tell them that she would. I remembered that conversation when my agent and I were discussing the hoped-for transition of mass market paperbacks to hardcover. Harper wasn’t ready to print me in hardcover, and yet, getting reviews for a paperback seemed a near impossibility. How does one grow one’s readership if one can’t get major reviews? My agent approached both Poisoned Pen and HarperCollins to see if they would be interested in such an arrangement. They agreed, and Harper licensed the hardcover to Poisoned Pen Press.
My first hardcover, FACE OF A KILLER, was released in October 2008 under the Poisoned Pen Press label, and the paperback followed two months later. (Quite a bit different than the standard one year later in the usual hard/soft deals.) This allowed libraries to purchase copies, which opened up a whole new set of readers. And the reviews? Did coming out in hardcover actually make a difference?
It did. I was reviewed by journals that had never even looked at one of my books before: Booklist, Library Journal (starred review), and the now defunct Kirkus, as well as Publisher’s Weekly. There were also more online reviews than in the past.
THE BONE CHAMBER came out December of 2009 under the Poisoned Pen Press label in hardcover, and was followed in January 2010 in paper from Harper. Again I was reviewed by the bigger journals that had overlooked the earlier paperbacks.
There are things to think about should you decide to try this route. Carefully choose your hardcover press. I chose Poisoned Pen Press because in mysteries they have a good reputation among the big reviewers (as evidenced by the many starred reviews PPP gets from their original publications that
they purchase and edit themselves). This was important to me. (And I doubt Harper would have allowed the deal to go through otherwise.) Be aware that it won’t be a huge print run, mostly to libraries and collectors. The advance is paid to your main publisher, not to you directly. And the artwork on the cover will be different, so if you are also trying to brand yourself, you have to keep this in mind when creating promotional materials. (I had a book trailer made with the HarperCollins cover on it, and couldn’t find a way to get the Poisoned Pen cover in to fit.) But those are minor quibbles compared to the benefits of growing your readership to a new market.
How do I feel about it as a writer? I think it was the best of both worlds. There were some glitches in the process that suddenly cropped up unexpectedly because we were dealing with two houses, such as editing schedules. But all in all it was a positive process. Definitely more reviews, which I hope equate to more sales.
So, I’m wondering if this is something that has crossed your mind? Any thoughts on the pros and cons of this? Or is there another way you’ve increased reviews?