When you’re publishing your own work, you’re taking on all the departmental responsibilities of a publisher: editing, design, printing, financing, distributing and marketing. Unless you’re publishing an e-book you’ll have to choose a book binding.* Deciding between hardback and softcover lies at the intersection of finance and marketing.
Readers are in transition, not just from print to electronic books, but also in our thinking about hardcovers and paperbacks. We’re accustomed to seeing first editions in hardcover for a premium price, followed by softcovers at a discounted one. Some genres have been running first editions in softcover for some time now, but we have been conditioned to believe a hardcover will eventually come out in paperback at a lower price.
*Disclaimer: throughout this post I’m going to interchange hardback with hardcover as well as softcover with paperback.
Social conditioning and the hardcover
Intrinsic beliefs about hardcover books are best summarized by the equation Hardback=Quality. We’ve been conditioned to believe hardbacks are more valuable. They are keepsakes. A hardcover gift says the giver is a person of discriminating taste.
Then there’s the matter of cost, which is easier to discuss rationally. A hardback is printed on cardboard, not paper. Cardboard and stitches have to cost a lot more than a glued-together paperback, right? Believe it or not, at a low quantity the hardcover may cost LESS to print than the softcover. That was the case with Live Full Throttle: Life Lessons From Friends Who Faced Cancer because it has front- and back-cover flaps (see below).
But the cost analysis shouldn’t end with printing and binding. No matter the quality of the paper, the sturdiness of the cover, the earth-friendly inks that were used, the content is the same. That content originated in the author’s brain, passed through an editorial process, was designed and illustrated, and then sent to the printer. I’ll post on the intricacies of costing my book in November.
I had always intended to publish in paperback with flaps but caught a big case of second thoughts when I learned that a small run of books would cost less in hardcover than it would in paperback. I called my friend Karen, who owns The Bag Lady here in Charlotte, NC. Karen’s long career in the book trade includes years as a book rep (selling to bookstores), a bookseller, a librarian and the proprietor of a book and gift store. I asked her to tell me about consumer behavior to hard/softcovers and her response fascinated me.
She told me that when people see a hardcover book priced at say $25, they may think that’s a good price but will immediately wonder how much LESS they can get the paperback for if they wait a while. Because people are willing to WAIT for a paperback to come out, but won’t tell the bookseller that’s what they’re waiting for, the bookseller can’t tell them there is no forthcoming softcover (if that’s the case) or WHEN that paperback is due on the shelves. By the time the paperback comes out the reader probably forgot about it and everyone walks away a loser–the author missed a sale and the reader missed a book.
Here’s how I decided to go with paperback
Live Full Throttle is a combination memoir, photo essay and self-help book. The book is supposed to be written in, like a journal, because I included a set of exercises at the end of each chapter to help readers apply the information to their own lives. Keep this in mind as I walk you through my decision to go with a softcover.
- Some people prefer softcovers for their portability.
- Many readers say they don’t want the pressure of preserving something so valuable as a hardcover.
- A lot of self-help books are published exclusively paperback, which means buyers are accustomed to that form.
- I called a couple of self-helpaholics who said they’d rather have a paperback for the journaling and portability.
- Journaling and highlighting in a paperback is easier because the binding isn’t as stiff as a hardback.
- My book has 13 photos that span the gutter (the centerfold of the book). I was concerned about losing parts of the photos in a tightly-bound hardcover with 112 pages.Yes, photography books are usually produced in hardcovers, often cloth-bound with a dust jacket, but those books usually have more than 112 pages. While Christina Shook’s photos are worth staring at (the pictures in this post are in the book), it’s not a true coffee table book for the eyes; it’s ultimately a book to be handled.
So many considerations for self-publishers, eh? Do your homework.
Go with flaps to re-enforce a softcover
I hate when the edges of a paperback bend and tear, as they inevitably do. Flaps greatly reduce this possibility. If you’re printing a paperback, get a quote on cover flaps for protection.
I also like flaps for Live Full Throttle because they let me wrap the cover photo, taken in a Wyoming canyon, onto the back and not cover it up with a bunch of copy that I could instead place on the flaps. Flaps give the author more room for marketing messages.
I think that’s enough for now. Next up is that financial discussion I promised. If you have other topics to suggest for this series, please ask in the comments section below.
Ask any professional writer about the need for a fresh set of eyes and they’ll tell you it’s essential. I don’t have an editor for my blog posts and newsletters, but when I write long form, whether a white paper, article or book, I always collaborate with one.
When putting together my team for Live Full Throttle I knew I’d use Aprill Jones (@aprillwrites on Twitter). Aprill writes copy and is as an account social media content manager with an area advertising agency, in addition to being a freelance copywriter and editor. We’ve hired each other to edit client’s book projects.
Editor as Reader Advocate
There are different kinds of editing assignments, only two of which I’ll cover here, the “conceptual” editor and the “copy” editor.
The conceptual editor is akin to an architect and a copy editor to a home inspector. The conceptual editor guides the writer in how to present the material for maximum impact, while the copy editor makes sure the final output doesn’t distract the reader with inconsistencies, punctuation, grammar and other details of craftsmanship. Some projects call for another layer of edits between conceptual and copy, because familiarity with the work dulls the senses (and that familiarity begins with the writer). Editors are the readers’ advocates for the project.
For Live Full Throttle, I asked Aprill to focus somewhere between conceptual and copy edits on the first round. I originally wrote:
In 2005 Karen was diagnosed with Choroidal Melanoma, a form of eye cancer. Five years later, in a three-month period, her position with an Episcopal parish was terminated, her husband left her, and she was literally run over by a Mack truck while riding her motorcycle out of state.
She described cancer was “a skate” compared to the triple-whack.
What’s a laid off minister facing divorce do with a paid sabbatical? Take a motorcycle trip on a Suzuki Boulevard, of course. But what began as a wind-in-the-face opportunity to assess life and career options ended in an orthopedic exoskeleton from neck to waist.
After Aprill’s feedback it became:
In 2005 Karen was diagnosed with Choroidal Melanoma, a form of eye cancer, which she described as “a skate” compared to what came five years later. In a three-month period during 2010, her position with an Episcopal parish was terminated and her husband left her.
So what’s a laid-off minister facing divorce do with a paid sabbatical between employment and unemployment? Take a motorcycle trip on her Suzuki Boulevard, of course.But what began as a wind-in-the-face opportunity to assess life and career options ended in an orthopedic exoskeleton from neck to midsection when Karen was literally run over by a Mack truck several states from home.
Advice for self-publishers
If you are a business professional planning to use a book as a door opener for speaking engagements or as a leave-behind with clients, remember that old saw about judging a book by its cover: people will judge YOU by your book. Your book should be at least as professionally designed, written and edited as it would have been in the hands of an experienced publisher.
No matter how well you write, you need an editor or two. Non-fiction writers, I’m not telling you to hire the local high school’s British Literature teacher as an editor, I’m advising you to hire someone who will read your work on behalf of your intended audience. Works of high literary fiction read very differently than self-help and inspirational books, which is how Live Full Throttle is categorized. The white papers, newsletters and books I write for financial professionals are different from Brit Lit, too. Command of the language and its conventions is just the starting point when looking for an editor.
I wrote a post last year about how to find the right ghost writer for your project. Some of that applies to finding the right editor:
Before you hire someone to write for you, be sure they have domain expertise. My specialty is business writing and nonfiction because I have the background and education to do the job well. If someone asked me to write for pharma or hi tech I’d have to take a pass — actually I’d have to question why they called me in the first place!
The right relationship starts with due diligence, including work samples and client referrals.
For self-publishers hiring book design firms, ask if the firm can refer editors they’ve worked with in the past. Some firms even have copy editors on staff.
When I ghost write, I also function as conceptual editor, but I wouldn’t take on a copy editing job. If you’d like to work with Aprill and me on a project, send me an email.