Form of…mass market

I’ve reached a publishing milestone today–well, a milestone for me.  After years of hoping and wishing, I finally have a novel published in mass market format (that would be a reissue of the first in my WVMP Radio series, Wicked Game).

I realize that many authors aspire to trade paperback or even hardcover.  They want the prestige of reviews in major publications such as Publishers Weekly and Kirkus.  They also want the greater per-book royalties that come from these formats.

But me, I just want readers.  The audience I’m trying to reach most–the urban fantasy and paranormal romance fans–tend to read mass market exclusively, because they buy a lot of books. We’re talking double digit numbers of books per month. And with today’s shrinking budgets, being affordable is more important than ever.

As a (non-voracious) reader, I personally prefer a trade paperback over the other two formats. Compared to a mass market, the paper quality is higher, the print is larger, the binding is stronger. It feels more substantial, and I think that physical quality affects my perception of the novel itself.  I expect a better story, or at least a more complex, less formulaic story, from a trade paperback.  I expect it to defy genre conventions and have more mainstream appeal.

(And I’ll rarely buy a hardcover.  They’re heavier to hold, easier to damage, and of course, more expensive. )

What about you?  Authors, setting aside the royalty issue, do you prefer to be published in one format over the other?  Readers, are you willing to follow an established author to a more expensive format or try an unknown author in trade or hardcover?

I’m most curious to know if the format affects your perception of the reading experience. Do you expect more from a trade paperback or hardcover than a mass market paperback? (“More” could be simply mean the length of the novel, or it could mean complexity of storyline or just plain old better writing.)

Thanks in advance for your thoughts!

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  1. 1. Skip

    FWIW, I try to keep series all in the same format, because my bookshelves have hardbacks and trades on different shelves than paperbacks, and I want to keep series together, but not authors necessarily. So, for example, when the last Naomi Novik Temeraire book came out in hardback, after the first few were mass market only releases, I didn’t buy it. I’ll wait for the paperback, if I buy it at all, since I read a friend’s copy already.

    As for new authors, will I buy them in hardback? Occasionally, but not so often, because in my mind that’s committing me to buy the rest of the series, assuming it is one, in hardback as well. On the other hand, if, at the same time the hardback comes out, and I see it, there’s a non-insanely-priced ebook edition available, I very well might pick it up for the kindle.

  2. 2. Jennzah

    i love trade paperbacks. like you say, Jeri, they’re nicer, more portable, and usually have prettier covers! :D i try to keep all my books in the same format though in my personal library (i have photos to prove this!!), so if i’ve gotten a book as a gift and it was in hardcover, i’ll try to maintain the status quo. but usually i’ll wait (unless it’s something i can’t wait to read!!!) what i don’t understand is why some authors will start a series in either trade paperback or mass market, then release their newest in the series in hardcover? is this a marketing ploy to get more $$ by the publisher? two examples : the House of Night series by P.C Cast and the Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs. also the Greywalker series by Kat Richardson. i’ve held off on all the newer books because they’re in hardcover!

    p.s, Jeri, amongst the many other things i love about you, you’re just so HUMBLE. it’s fantastic. as a writer, i just want readers too. i dont care if they publish me on parchment scrolls, i kinda just want people to like my stuff. :D i love that vibe from you. and also that you love music just as much as i do, and you turned it into a series.. WITH VAMPIRES!

  3. 3. Ruthanne Reid

    It’s funny, but for me, it comes down purely to what I can afford. I prefer glorious covers; hardback if possible. However, $6.99 is generally more in my price range. I suppose it’s almost like meals in that way. When I can afford filet mignon, you better believe I indulge. But most of the time, it has to be on-sale.

    End result: I’ll read a lot MORE mass market; but probably spend a similar amount of money on the nicer quality books. I just get fewer of them.

  4. 4. Jeri Smith-Ready

    Skip, that’s a really good point, and I know a lot of readers are the same way. I keep all my books in alphabetical order by author, so there’s a big mix in size (it looks kinda like a city skyline).

    I actually sort of like it that way–the variety gives it that feeling of a used bookstore, where you never know what you’re going to find.

    Thanks for commenting!

  5. 5. Poppy

    I will follow an author that I already know I like to hardcover but I am not that likely to buy a hardcover if it is by an author I have yet to read, especially if I can get it through the library instead.

    I don’t mind buying trade paperbacks so much because Amazon discounts them and they usually aren’t much more expensive than mass market paperbacks. Sometimes I am less likely to try an new author in that format unless I have heard really good things about the book.

    I’m more likely to give an unfamiliar author a try in mass market paperbacks.

    I don’t really expect more quality wise from hardcovers and trade paperbacks. I do demand more from hardcovers in a way though…if it is in a series and that series starts to go down in quality for me then I am unlikely to keep buying it in hardcover.

  6. 6. Keilexandra

    Like you, I prefer trades–they’re an ideal balance between hardcover and paperback, with nicer cover designs and heftier paper. They also tend to lie flat much better than chunky mass markets.

  7. 7. Daemon

    To begin, I won’t ever buy a HC at all, given the option. Too large, heavy, etc.

    As an extremely heavy reader who takes good care of his books, I have to say that I very much prefer MMs over TPs.
    They lose a fair amount of the portability of the MM due to the increased size. I haven’t found them to be significantly higher quality – so far as I can tell, they use the same construction methods and papers as the MMs. I take good care of my books, so the majority of my MMs will probably outlive me. A more personal gripe is that TPs won’t fit on shelves designed for MMs. I currently have the choice of either splitting series with TPs on one shelf and MMs on another, or having new shelves made to accomodate authors/publishers who have decided to no longer support MM format.

    The concensus of most of the heavy readers I know has been that the upswing in TPs has been mostly a money grab. We’re being charged 50-100% more for the same product in a slightly larger size, and no obviously apparent differances to explain the price jump.

    As long as MMs continue to be made available, it’s fine, but whenever a books I really want come out in TP only, it means I’m probably going to be buying half as many books that month…

  8. 8. Matthew Milson

    Now that you have a mass market book out there, has your perception of them changed at all?

    From the post:

    “Compared to a mass market, the paper quality is higher, the print is larger, the binding is stronger. It feels more substantial, and I think that physical quality affects my perception of the novel itself. I expect a better story, or at least a more complex, less formulaic story, from a trade paperback. I expect it to defy genre conventions and have more mainstream appeal.”

  9. 9. Deborah Blake

    I like to read hardcovers, but I rarely buy them, except from book clubs. At the library, however, I’ll get a hardcover if given the choice. However, as an author, I’d prefer to be in trade paperback. I think it is the perfect compromise between quality and affordability. If my favorite writer’s books are in trade, I’ll almost always pick up a copy eventually.

  10. 10. Tom

    I prefer HC, but will read any size novel. TP is my least favorite, and I have no good reason to explain it. Truth is, I buy HC when I can mostly to support the authors. Also, really thick novels are more of a problem in MM format, I think.

  11. 11. Jeri Smith-Ready

    Jennzah: I think when the series goes up in format to hardcover it’s because it’s getting very popular and the publisher is betting that the extra money they make will more than make up for the readers they lose (who will end up buying the mass market reissue anyway). They are betting that people will want to read the new book badly enough to put out the extra money (FWIW, I bought the new HoN book in hardcover, but PC’s a friend of mine whose books I happen to adore–I rationalize it by telling myself I’m supporting a buddy ;-) .

    Oh, and I’m not really humble. If anything, I want to be in mm because I want more exposure. I’d trade my starred review in PW for an extra 50,000 readers ANY DAY.

    Ruthanne: I’m the same way–I probably spend the same amt total but buy a lot more mass markets. I have to really want it to put out the extra money. However, Amazon has great discounts on HC and TPB, so that sometimes the trade paperbacks are only 2 or 3 more dollars than the mass markets, which are never discounted.

    So I guess I’m more likely to buy HC/TPB on Amazon, but if shopping in a regular bookstore it’s almost 100% MMPB.

    Keilexandra: Very good point! Sometimes after a day of writing/blogging/e-mails, my hands hurt so much I can’t hold open a MMPB. I went through a phase where I only read HC’s because I could prop them open on my knees and rest my hands completely. (Luckily my to-be-read shelves are so full, I have 180 books to choose from at any given time.)

  12. 12. Nozomi

    It all depends.

    I’ve followed all of my favorite authors into hardcover, simply because I’m extremely impatient when it comes to new releases. For a new author, or someone I’ve never read before, I prefer to read mass market paperback. Not only are they the cheapest, they’re the easiest to carry about. It’s difficult to hold up a HC when I sit and read on my sofa. Most of the books I own are mass market paperback, but nearly all of my classics (Frankenstein, etc.) are in trade paperback or when it’s cheap, hardcover. I also like my books to match sizes–I actually have authors in different spots because I organize my books by paperback then hardcover, and keep all trade paperbacks together if possible. There are a lot of factors.

  13. 13. ~Linda~

    Jeri, great discussion. I am a serial reader. I like all my books in a series to match. If I have read a series that I truly love love love, and I know that I will re-read it. I will try and get them in Hardcover. So I have all the JR Ward Black dagger brotherhoods in both HB and paperback.
    I joined a book club so I can get Hard covers for the same price as mass market. I pre order when they have a half price sale. I am always happy for a author when there books go from trade to mass market. $14.00 verses 6.99. They will get such a larger audiance with mass paperback. It has just happened to Toni I really don’t like when you have all a series in PB and then they come out with the newest installment in HB. gurrrr. Like with the house of night series. When I found out they were going to change to HB I didnt buy them. I went ahead and read them but I am waiting for the first 4 to come out in HB before purchasing. I agree I to prefer the thicker paper of Trade or hb’s. I agree with Deborah

  14. 14. ~Linda~

    Arrrrg I ment to say it happened to Toni Mcgee Causey as well she writes The Bobby Sue books. Hers are getting new covers and new Titles.

  15. 15. Jeri Smith-Ready

    Daemon: I think you are partly correct about it being about money. Publishers a few years ago were told by booksellers, “Give us more trades” because for the same horizontal shelf space (assuming spine-out facing), the stores could make more money.

    Now, of course, with people’s budgets shrinking, the stores are saying, “No more trades!” so publishers are acting accordingly. So by the end of this year we should start seeing more MMPB’s.

    However, it’s not all about money. The publishers make their decisions based upon the market they’re trying to reach. If they’re aiming to get a more mainstream audience and reviews in the big publications, they’re more likely to try the trade format, because those readers are open to buying that size.

    Matthew: Well, technically my book is just a MM reissue of a trade paperback, so it began its life as a trade. It’s around 100K words, which makes

  16. 16. Jeri Smith-Ready

    Oh man, it cut me off. As I was saying:

    It’s around 100K words, which makes

  17. 17. Adam Heine

    Mass market, all the way. I want the smallest, cheapest, most convenient format possible. I want a book I can hold in one hand while I’m doing something else. Until Kindles cost $50, and e-books $3.50, the mass market format fits my needs.

  18. 18. Stephen

    Lately (last 3 years) I’ve bought almost nothing but e-books – probably 10 paper purchases vs. 1800 e-books in that time.

    But before that, I bought MM almost exclusively – you had to be a really favourite author to get me to buy Trade or HC. A part of that was price – books here cost 2-3 times their price in the US – and the rest was storage problems.

  19. 19. jere7my

    Daemon, trade paperbacks are indeed printed on better (often acid-free) paper, and their bindings tend to be stronger. In twenty years, the pages in a trade paperback are less likely to be yellowing, brittle, and falling out than those in the equivalent MMPB.

    That’s a guideline, not a hard-and-fast rule — there are really well-bound MMPBs, and books in trade format (e.g. some YA books) that are printed on cheap paper. But it’s not just a money grab; the trade books are more durable objects, and MMPBs were designed from the start as a disposable format, one step up from newsprint. You don’t see many of them in libraries for this very reason.

  20. 20. Steven Klotz

    I love this discussion.

    I prefer reading TPB. No matter the format, I love examining the differences between books. I heft, feel the paper, smell (don’t taste … but I have to remind myself sometimes), do some mental arithmetic with the width and page count, remove the dusk jacket on a hard cover, look for acid free paper, etc. Most of my book collection has accumulated from used bookstores, and I tend to try and find the most unusual book I can. I prefer a British or Australian imprint if I can find one. I love finding notes scribbled in margins. I look forward to getting all my new books on a Kindle (or similar) in a few tech generations, but I’ll always have a soft spot (and many shelves) for the books that have already had one or more homes (and plenty of love).

  21. 21. Liane Merciel

    I buy an average of 5 to 7 books a week, so unsurprisingly I buy MMPBs almost exclusively — especially if it’s a new author to me or I’m not sure I’m going to love the book. On the rare occasions that I pick up a hardcover, it’s because no other format is available and I feel compelled to buy that book _right then._ Which hardly ever happens.

    The last couple of times I bought hardcovers, they were moderately disappointing (except for Josh Bazell’s Beat the Reaper, which was a lot of fun and exactly what I wanted at that time), so that’s further discouraged me.

  22. 22. Tara Maya

    I actually like mass market paperbacks because of their size and convenience. They fit more easily in a purse or backpack than a trade. Though my Kindle 2 is changing my experience of convenient. Now I can carry a dozen and more books at a time without worrying about space. I do worry about the Kindle being stolen much more than I did with a paperback.

  23. 23. C.E. Murphy

    The Walker Papers are being re-released as mass market paperbacks this summer. I’m very excited. I’m even more excited about my Del Rey paranormal romances coming out next year, which will be my first original mass market releases.

    My agent and my Luna editor both say I must be the only author on the planet who agitates so strongly for mass market (I had a long argument over whether the Negotiator books would be mass market or trade, and eventually lost), but I’m right there with you, Jeri: affordability is really, *really* important to me!

  24. 24. Seebo

    What a great discussion! For me, the shape, size, weight and text really affect my perception of a book. I prefer paperbacks as usually the covers are strong, the paper is good quality and the text isn’t so small that you feel like needing a magnifying glass. A heavy hardback leaves me with the impression of pretentiousness – and I realise how stupid that sounds but it feels more ‘serious’.

    Put a thick paperback next to the same thick hardback and I’ll choose the paperback any day. It’s more inviting, more open to being read and doesn’t have that ‘when you open me up you’ll need your brain in gear’ vibe that hardbacks possess for me.

    As a writer, I’ve had three text books (study books for schools with plays, etc., inside) in two different formats. One was a folder with detachable pages for photocopying… which I really didn’t like because I was being snobbish! It didn’t seem like a proper book. (I’m painfully aware of how vain that makes me sound!) The other two were tradebacks and looked glorious. These were proper books to me and looked really friendly and asking to be used. There really was no competition.

    The publisher’s explanation was that the first book (the hardcover folder) was for teachers so they didn’t care about the presentation on the outside, whereas the other two were for students so they needed to be inviting and easy to handle.

    My perception was definitely changed just because of the binding. That could make me shallow, though, so I doubt I represent the majority!

  25. 25. Miki

    I buy exclusively ebook, preferably eReader format. I have been very disappointed that your publisher is choosing to release Kindle only.

    In the vein of this discussion, I prefer ebooks that are priced in the MMPB range, though. I’m one of those double-digit book buyers, and I have to be very confident in an author’s style before I’ll pay Trade prices, let alone, hard-back.

  26. 26. Miki

    Hmmm. Sorry about that last post – I’m not sure I know why I was so sure “Wicked Games” was available for Kindle (it’s not)…

    I’m waiting (hoping) your publisher will change its stance on ebooks at all. I have no more room for print books and am not buying any more of them.

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