Wednesday, February 13, 2008

To Market Mass, or Not? Tis the Question...

My paperback publisher hit me with a surprise early this week. They're proposing to publish Acacia as a mass market paperback, instead of as the scheduled trade edition. A little history...

My paperback publisher is Anchor. They tend toward upscale books, with a good bit of commercially viable literary fiction on their list: Margaret Atwood, Ian McEwan, Alexander McCall Smith, Colson Whitehead, many more... They've published my first three books in handsome trade paperback formats - which just means it's the larger size, with a price tag in the teens. It also has a certain amount of cache in the literary/academic world, representing something a bit higher brow than those wee, cramped, fairly disposable mass market airport books.

Thing is, in most cases trade books don't sell in the volume that mass market does. Anchor, when looking at what the should do with Acacia: The War with the Mein, would like to break out of my past sales record and head into entirely new territory. They think mass market could help that happen. Just get the book in more hands. And, frankly, they're hoping for a lot more hands. The printing they'd propose for the mass edition would be, oh... 4 or 5 times what they'd do for a trade version. Apparently the book stores like the idea also. The book would cost something like $8, instead of $15. That, of course, means I get less for each book. But if we sell a lot more books... And then, later, likely, they'd end up with all my books back in trade format - as part of a backlist that will hopefully be around for a long time.

The downside? Well, personally, I don't like mass market books that much. I'm not talking about the authors or the works themselves. It's just that I'd rather read a mass market author in hardback, instead of cracking open those small pages. And there's my academic hubris... What will my colleagues think of me? Dare I give up the stature of trade paperback for the filthy lucre of the masses?

That, dear readers, is the question I direct toward you. I know what my editors think. I know what my agent thinks. I even know what my wife thinks. But what do you think?

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34 Comments:

Anonymous TeichDragon said...

That's a tough one.

Since I can not comment on the US market, and the sales on trades vs. mass market just some thoughts...

I am neither a fan of trades nor of mass paperback. If I could, I would buy all my books in hardcover. Sadly, that is not possible. Actually I was a bit sad, that Blanvalet bought your book, since they don't do HCs. At least the trade version they created is wonderful in its own right. But still *only* a trade.
I really don't understand why trades are marketed differently. To me, they are still paperbacks, just a tad bigger and sometimes have a somewhat better cover.

Enough rambling:
I would say, if going for paperback means more sales for you, give it a try. Hopefully that means that more people will buy the hardcover of the second book. :D

Teich

3:55 PM  
Blogger Lynne said...

If you will eventually end up with a trade pb later, I would vote for going for the filthy lucre of the mass market pb.

As a not-so-wealthy academic, I am much more likely to pick up an $8 mass market than spend $15 on a trade. Mass market means I can get TWO of your books for the same price as one trade...

Just sayin'...

4:50 PM  
Blogger Sorley said...

Well I know you have this thing for hard backs, but... Well I think a paperback is just much easier to handle and it costs less! Definitely a factor for me. I care about the content not the presentation! You can't hold a hardback in the bath very easily and you can't get as many on the shelf!

5:02 PM  
Blogger David said...

Mass market. I believe (using local bookstores and amazon searches as data) that the smaller, cheaper package would sell better than 2x the trade format. I understand the aesthetic complaint, though, but the offer to release later is cool.

5:15 PM  
Blogger La Gringa said...

Okay, ya snob!

:-)

A hard question. I think it depends upon the way the book is marketed AND if they can get it into the ID market. Ask your editor/publicist about this. That's the real advantage of mass over trade these days: getting the book into supermarkets, drugstores and airports.

But even there, more and more airports are full-service bookstores, carrying trade and hardcovers as well as mass.

Also, you stand a chance of getting additional review coverage in trade, for those places where I wasn't able to secure a review for the hardcover. It'll be a lot harder to do in mass.

My own personal preferences: I like mass market. It's portable and cheap. I like cheap, dear. And your demographic is likely to grow with a less expensive paperback. PLUS (and this is important) you should encourage Vintage to give away several hundred of them at trade shows and Comic-Con.

The more hands you get the books into, the better.

5:16 PM  
Blogger Lou Anders said...

This is no contest. Mass market. You already have the hardcover edition for the collectors, for the prestige, for the "feel" of the book as object. If it were a choice between just a trade paperback or a mass market, no previous hardcover, it might be a choice. But with the hardcover already out, you want the added exposure and readership of a mass market. What's more, that readership might feed into increased sales for the next hardcover release of the next book in the series.

6:37 PM  
Anonymous Ed said...

If I were fortunate enough to be in your shoes, I'd have a really hard time not going for mass markets. Trades feel and read much nicer (though the new Pocket Books-style $10 MMs are pretty easy on the eyes), but mass market paperbacks are just so much more common.

They really get your name out there. For what it's worth, I work in a new and used bookstore, and I'm probably familiar with like 90% of the recent authors who've got something in MM format because I've handled so damn many of their books. For various reasons, authors of trade paperbacks are just way less familiar.

Acacia really seems like it could be a breakout book--a straight-up fantasy story that's also got stuff to appeal to non-genre readers. In my limited experience, a trade paperback wouldn't really be taking advantage of the potential audience the way going mass market would.

6:40 PM  
Blogger Lou Anders said...

Also, there is more overlap between consumers who will buy a trade paperback and a hardcover than between a mass market and a hardcover. Some mass market readers will ONLY read in mass market, whereas with the trade pb, you are reaching a demographic that may have already picked up the hardback.

6:46 PM  
Blogger Jonathan DiMarco said...

Speaking as a recovering graphic designer, let me emphatically say mass market. Trade paperbacks have lovely paper, lovely stitched binding, lovely what-have-you. But these aesthetic and tactile advantages are entirely forgotten once the story takes hold. Most readers aren't repelled by mass market editions; quite the opposite. They fit in a purse or jacket pocket. They're cheaper than a movie ticket. They're available all over the place. Sure, they bring less cash per sale -- but like others have said, it'll boost your exposure and expand your audience. You'll come out ahead, I think.

Don't worry about the opinion of the literary/academic world. Acacia lookin' all prim and savvy in trade paperback won't make 'em suddenly respect genre fiction.

8:14 PM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

Right! Thanks for the opinions and insights. You all make a lot of good points. And, on balance, it's looking like mass market it is, then!

La Gringa, I don't know about the ID market, but Sloan did talk about my "footprint" being larger this way. Said that it would so much be distributed by the "jobbers"... Man, this is a lingo heavy business. What I take from all that is that, yeah, they're convinced they'll be able to place the mm books in lots of places. They may not be in truck stops in Northern Utah, but they'll be in all the trade venues PLUS lots of other places.

Lou, thanks for the publisher perspective. Good point about some people only buying mm. I hadn't really thought of that.

At the end of the day it doesn't matter that I prefer other formats. I'm not the one that needs to buy my book. It's what works for readers that matters.

More opinions welcome, though. This is actually a great help. Thanks.

8:55 PM  
Blogger Tia Nevitt said...

Just speaking from a reader's point of view, I'd say go for the mass market paperback. As a reader, it would seem odd to me for it to go from a hardcover to a trade paperback.

Plus, if you go mass market and get to eventually revert to trade paperback, you would probably have yet another great cover! How cool would that be? There have been cases where I have owned several editions of my favorite novels. That's potentially three separate sales for you!

9:34 PM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

Tia,

You're a dream reader. Three sales? What about... What about the graphic novel version? A fourth sale, perhaps?

9:40 PM  
Blogger paranoyd said...

I would TOTALLY go for a graphic novel edition. I'd also probably get the coffee table book of artwork "Inspired by the Epic Series of Novels by award winning author David Anthony Durham".

Oh, but, the main question - Mass Market, buddy, all the way. If it was horror or fic/lit then trades are the way to go, but I work at Border's and we shelve and sell more MM scifi/fantasy than trades.

Besides, I mainly buy MM, and I have really been looking forward to reading your book. You know that's at least one sale if you go MM.

2:01 AM  
Blogger Meghan said...

Nuts! Late to the party again!

I agree that's kind of a hard one, but there is an upside to going MM. Namely it's that you'll reach a greater audience. Some people (students etc.) just can't afford the more expensive trade versions and may even feel intimidated by them. A paperback back version will allow more people to get to know your work. Why should they be denied that just because they can't afford the hardback version?

2:54 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

Mass Market. Get the book into as many people's hands as possible. it's not just about this one, but the remainder of the story. if you can get it into more hands, more people will want to follow that story moving forward.

3:03 PM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

Paranoyd,

I'd dig a graphic novel edition, too. I know that some of the folks that publish those have read and liked the book, but it might take a while to happen - if it ever does. I'm patient, though.

Meghan,

Wouldn't want anybody to be denied their Acacia!

Brian,

Absolutely right - it's also about the story to come. That's part of the nice thing about this. Anchor is thinking about the future of all the books. Nobody there wants to morph me into a category that I don't quite fit into. They're just trying to get the book (books) into the hands of people that may enjoy them. I can't argue with that.

But everyone so far has basically embraced the mm idea - are there any lurkers out there that totally hate the idea? If so, speak up!

5:20 PM  
Anonymous TeichDragon said...

David, since I am totally lost when it comes to the US market, could you explain here (or in an blog entry) why mass market might be a really bad idea?

Over here in germany most of the books are printed in those small paperback editions, that you would call mass market. The only I DO actually hate, is the Trade version, which seems just like a bastard version of normal paperback in the size of a hardcover. I don't understand why a trade is marketed differently, why it sometimes costs about the double amount of a "normal" paperpack, or why I even should buy it.
It doesn't have the good things of a HC (aka hard cover [more durable], good binding, dust jacket, etc...), AND it doesn't have the good things of small paperpack (smaller size, low prize...).

6:07 PM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

Teichdragon,

Good question. That might merit another post. Give me a few days and I'll put something together that compares the two - in a US context.

-David.

6:48 PM  
Blogger Tia Nevitt said...

Oh, yes. The graphic novel would be a fourth sale. I might hesitate to get both the mm paperback and the trade paperback, but I would definitely grab the graphic novel.

9:00 PM  
Blogger Larry said...

Unless the book only was issued in MMPB format, I wouldn't buy it in that format, because I think I've become more of a snob than David here is ;) Just something about the small size where the cover is engulfed by my hands that makes MMPBs unappealing to me.

But I'm in the minority here and I've known that for years. I've heard thousands of people over the years on various internet forums and in person say that they buy only the cheapest of formats, ones that they can carry anywhere. And although the royalty differences are bound to be more than just the price drop between the formats, from what I understand, for the biggest sellers, the MMPBs sell many times more than any other format. So it would be seen oddly as a "prestige" thing among some fantasy readers if your books are issued eventually in MMPBs (I know they're fussing about Scott Bakker's trilogy still not being available in that format in the US, for example).

4:00 AM  
Anonymous Debbie Smith Daughetee said...

All my writer friends believe that they have really made it as writers when their mass paperbacks are in the supermarket checkout aisle. I'm just saying...

Debbie

10:38 AM  
Blogger SA_Avenger said...

Tough decision though in a way you have a chance not many authors have do you? :) And breaking the mold, making of fantasy a "mass market" product its as scary as it's sweet.

I'm not much concerned by US market of course but as long as hardcover stays available I think you should indeed give a try for mass market (I don't read those personnaly due to poor eyesight).
But I think it'll be great for mass market readers to be actually able to read some fantasy instead of the usual stuffs.
Go and make them dream :)

2:37 PM  
Blogger Lou Anders said...

mass market = more readers = more sales of your subsequent books in other editions.

Personally, I won't buy mass market, but I am a collector, and atypical, in that regard, as are some others here. At this stage, you want the increased exposure and you want to grow your fanbase as wide as you can.

3:33 PM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

I'm feeling pretty convinced. My editor at Anchor just sent me copies of some of the mm paperbacks they've done recently. They're books, and they're all by people who have "made it".

Debbie, does that mean I've "made it"? Strange, because I'm thinking things have only just begun...

6:29 PM  
Blogger Gabriele C. said...

Ok, I'm biased because I'm one of those poor, starving writers and freelance editors, so I'd prefer mass market. 15 or 8 bucks does make a difference. :)

8:31 PM  
Blogger Joe Sherry said...

Weird, I thought I replied to this one twice already.

I'm a little snobbish and this may come from the fact that most of my book buying is outside of SFF and I love the feel of a trade paper. In fact I prefer trade paper OVER hardcover. It's a good size, usually well bound, looks nice on a shelf. I also wonder if it is a prestige thing. I have a nice trade paper of Lolita from Vintage and On the Road from Penguin. Compare this to my pink mass market of Anne McCaffrey's Crystal Singer...

I also have too many bad experiences with my mass market pbs of Robert Jordan falling apart in the first or second read through.

With that said, I think as an author and a genre author, I would be happiest with whatever is likely to sell the most and that is mass market. Cheap price, small size, easy to tote around, increases readership.

I think Lou Anders hit the nail on the head - mass market will bring you the greatest benefit in terms of broadening your audience. (though I am happy Pyr publishes trade paper).

1:17 PM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

Gabrielle,

I'm starting to understand how much that simple arithmetic matters to people. Makes sense.

Joe,

I'd like to think that what Anchor is offering is a bit of both worlds: mass market to expand, eventual trade editions for the long haul. I can't guarantee that those trade editions will happen, but I think it's likely if the books do well. And I have to base the big dreams on the notion of the books doing well, right?

1:31 PM  
Anonymous stevent said...

David, I'm thinking maybe it has to do more with the audience of sci-fi/fantasy as opposed to those who read historical fiction. I worked in a bookstore for two years, and I know that fantasy books just seem to sell better in the mass market form than in the trade paperback. For whatever reason, readers of that genre seem to prefer the smaller, less expensive versions, perhaps because fantasy series run for several books and it's more cost-effective just to buy the 13 or so books of a series in mass market. I don't have any statistics to back that up, just my observations from the time I spent in a bookstore.

1:43 PM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

StevenT,

That's makes perfect sense. On the literary side of fiction, readers expect NOT to read series. Many more works are standalone, and when you even mention the notion of a sequel it suggests your somehow going commercial. For some people, that's a problem...

Thinking of those thirteen books in a series. The math between trade and mass market is substantial. Will you buy all the books for $200? Maybe... Will you buy them all for $91? That's quite a difference!

2:07 PM  
Blogger twilightandfire said...

Hi, this is my first post (though I've been an avid reader of your blog). I'd vote for mass market as well.

Most first time fantasy novels get hardcover *or* trade *then* mass market because there are a lot of genre readers who won't spend more than $7.99 on a new author/new series. Scott Lynch, Patrick Rothfuss, and Brandon Sanderson received hardcover for their debuts, but they have also released mass markets (or soon will be). Brian Ruckley, Joe Abercrombie, and Mark J. Ferrari received *trade* for their debuts and then mass markets. Kim Harrison was released in *only* mass market until the fifth book in her series (now she's a NYT bestseller and they're going back and re-releasing the first four in hardback). There are too many books coming out in the genre for people to buy every book in hardcover or trade. You'd be missing out on doubling or even tripling your fantasy readership.

I bought Acacia and Name of the Wind in hardcover, but I bought Elantris, Mistborn, and Lies of Locke Lamora in mass. I know people who bought Lamora and Elantris in hardcover, but are *waiting* for the mass markets of Name of the Wind and Acacia. Yes, you have people who prefer hardcover or trade, but the average reader just cares about the story and how much money it'll cost him/her. These are people who say "that new writer or new series looks interesting, but I'll wait until mass market to try him/her out because if I don’t like him/her, I’ll have wasted too much money."

2:47 PM  
Blogger Joe Sherry said...

Naomi Novik, of course, has been published only in mass market and she won the Campbell last year.

It is easy to forget about the economics and business of publishing and that hardcover / trade / mass market are business decisions that does not necessarily have a thing to do with quality and has everything to do with sales (and then partly with prestige and appearance of prestige)

2:54 PM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

Twilightandfire,

Thanks for coming out of hiding! (Oh, and thanks for buying Acacia in hardcover. You're a saint.)

And you make a great, great point:

"the average reader just cares about the story and how much money it'll cost him/her"

True enough.

And those Kim Harrison and Naomi Novik examples are interesting ones to consider. By comparison, it feels to me like the general hardcover/trade track for literary books is geared toward... well, toward a low trajectory of success. Most books don't fly and publishers know it. But they still go through the motions and every now and then get a hit.

I'm liking it more and more that Anchor wants to break out of the mold with some pro-active action.

12:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I only buy mass market paperbacks, so, if your book doesn't come out in that format, it's unlikely I'll ever purchase it.

8:02 PM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

Well, it is coming out mass market! It's decided and I'm happy about it. So... hopefully you will buy one...

8:07 PM  

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