Saturday, February 23, 2008

Hard Cover or Trade Paperback—An Author’s Choice

By Keith Fisher

So, you finished your book and a publisher made an offer to print it in trade paperback, but you want hardcover. You think a hard cover will give your book more authenticity somehow. You’re not alone, many writers have felt the same, and many authors have their name on hard cover books that readers don’t read.

Before you make an issue of wanting hard cover, you may want to reconsider.

Walk with me into the library of a very old stately mansion. This musty house is as old as it is intriguing. Since electricity was never installed in most of the rooms, candle wax drips from the chandeliers as the reflection of flames dance on the walls and ceilings around you.

In the library however, the homeowners have spared no expense in providing us with all the modern conveniences to illuminate the collection of leather-bound first editions. Some of the most important books ever published sit on shelves at our fingertips. We pause to examine some of the familiar titles and marvel at the dollar value that must be placed on some of these old books.

We pick up one of those books and run our fingers over the gilded edges and admire the binding. We open it and examine the pages. Raising our eyes, we spot another, more beautiful book---bound in leather and very similar to the other ones, only newer and with a title we’ve never heard before. The pages crack as we turn them. We look at the title page and discover it was published at the same time as the first book, but it appears to have never been read before.

We don’t have time to wonder, because another book has caught our eye. It’s almost pocketbook size and smaller than most of the others. The green cloth hard cover has gold letters and a picture of a dog in a harness on the spine. This book intrigues us because it is different. We examine it closer—it is The Call of the Wild by Jack London. This book is worn and well read. We open the first page and there is a piece of vellum protecting an illustrated cover page with a dog in the center. This book was published in 1903 and is a story that almost every young man has read since then.

This week, I inherited a first edition reprint copy of The Call of the Wild. There is a certificate attached to the book that tells me it is exactly the same as the original. As I run my fingers over the cover, I’m reminded of a story about a young man and his dog in the wilds of the Klondike Gold Rush. More than that, however, I am amazed at the size and the binding. It was small enough to fit in a hip pocket and since there wasn’t a dust jacket, the color pictures on the cover must have attracted readers to look into the pages and read the book.

The hard cover original was bound in cloth, which was cheaper than leather, meaning it could be purchased by far more people. Over the years, it found its way into the hearts of millions.

Now, consider this: do you want your book bound in a more expensive hard cover, that may or may not be purchased or read except by literature professors? Or do you want your book to touch the hearts and lives of as many readers as possible? Yes, there is prestige in the hard cover. There is something about it that says, "I am literary."

The bottom line, trade paperbacks (not pocket paperbacks) are the same size as most hard covers, which are more expensive and may not get purchased.

I searched online for first editions of The Call of the Wild and found one signed by Jack London’s daughter. It lists for $425.00. I also found a 1906 copy of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, signed by the author. It listed for $19,072.33. Compare those to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s, The Beautiful and the Damned listed at $175.00, Beyond the price, however, is how many more people have read London’s or Twain’s books vs. Fitzgerald’s.

Rather than sitting on a shelf with a rare book collection, I want my books to be read. Good luck with your writing, see you next week.

1 comment:

Jenn said...

You make such a good point! More people are going to buy a paperback book because the bottom line is, it's cheaper. Therefore, it will reach a wider audience. If you're J.K. Rowling or Stephanie Meyer and millions of people are buying your hardcover books because you're just super lucky, that's great, but it's the exception.