A common topic here is the difficulty new authors have of breaking into today’s market (even before the economy went south), and how a bad book deal can ruin a career if you publisher miscalculates too much how many books you’ll sell. The following concept came to mind:

New authors routinely are released in mass market paperback for about $8. People are far more likely to take a chance on something new for $8 than for $25, especially as the traditional book tour/newspaper review marketing system breaks down.

If the book earns back its advance, print Book 2 in the same format. If it does well and everyone makes money on the mass market paperback, move the author to trade paperback for about $15, with better support from the publisher. If that book pays off, then move the author to $25 hard covers.

Of course, authors might need more than one book to move up, and some could be jumped right to the top of the pyramid. If an author’s sales indicated he was at the level he deserved, he could stay there, earning a small but regular profit. If a book or two tanked, then the author could be dropped down a level instead of just dropped.

There are marketing opportunities here, too. Publishers could work with booksellers to discount the paperbacks of newer writers when bought with a hardcover by an author with the same house.

Publishers would, of course, compete and authors could make their best deals; the balance would always be precarious as sellers and buyers under- or over-estimated a book’s potential. It would have to be a change in mindset of all parties as much as anything else.

My question, to those who have far more experience than I: are there business reasons why something like this couldn’t work? Is it at least worth a publishing house giving it a try?

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Happens all the time, Dana. We've got plenty of authors on our hardcover list that started as mass market -- some of them pretty famous by now. And it's something we often recommend -- we start plenty of people in hardcover, but sometimes our best advice is: start in pb, build yourself an audience, and when you've got enough fans, then you're a better bet for hardcover and the higher price.

It's pretty rare that there's an interim step in tpb. The numbers tend to be smaller in tpb, and usually if you've established yourself in mm, that's enough to potentially take the jump. And of course there are some people who start out in tpb and then go to hardcover.
Thanks for the answer. You're probably the person I most wanted to hear from.

Here's another question: Does it ever work in reverse, where an author gets to hardcover, but then is moved back to paperback? We all hear horror stories of authors who got big advances, the book didn;t do well, and they're toast. You never hear of authors who crash and burn in hard cover getting back to a successful paperback career. Does it not happen, or do we just not hear about it?

Actually, yes, it's happened that way, too, though not as frequently -- sometimes you just need to press restart.
I moved quite intentionally from hc to tpb when I switched publishers. I thought sales would improve by leaps and bounds. Instead they've been building slowly. I'm left with the nagging conviction that the same would have happened with hc. Once you establish a fan following, they usually don't worry all that much about cost. There are other considerations: reviewers don't review mmpb, and rarely tpb. You just don't get the same respect in paper. Possibly you also get less of a marketing push and promotion.
I see the hardcover versions of my books as marketing material (and I'd like to see the cost come out of the marketing budget). They mostly sell to libraries and are in bookstores much the way a poster or an ad is displayed.

What I would like to see is the time between the hardciver and the paperback reduced. A year is too long, too many other books have come out in between and any marketing that was done for the hardcover has lost any effectiveness it may have had. Maybe there was a time when a paperback came out a year afer the hardcover and people had been waiting for it and were excited - but in the internet age that paperback is now just old news.

Of course, what do I know? I can't sell any books. I'll let you know next spring how St. Martins does.
On the trade paperbacks, as a bookstore operator, the trade paperback editions sell through at the low end. MMPB sell at the high end, with HC picking up ground.

The one plus on hardcovers is the purchases made by libraries from my perspective.

Thanks, Bob. That's quite interesting.
I'd like to see the Hardcovers come out in the build-up to Xmas gift season, and then paperbacks come out 6 months later for the summer travel season.
This definitely happens all the time, with respect to moving a mass market author up to HC. But I can tell you they don't give any incentives to bookstores to get them to buy certain authors's books. I think it would make sense if they did, but they don't. Every now and then, with a bestselling author, they release a limited edition mass market of one of his earlier books, that sells for a lower price. But it's quite rare, and printings of those limited editions sell out fast, and aren't usually reprinted.
Thanks to all who replied. I learned a lot from this discussion. Enjoy your weekends, whether it's a holiday for you or not.


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