Hardback or Paperback?

Should your book be a paperback or a hardback? What about the size of the book? There’s not a simple formula or a cookie-cutter answer, but there are several factors that you should take into consideration.

  1. What will the market bear? Is price a consideration? Hardback books typically have a retail price about $5-$7 higher than paperback. Plus, they will cost you probably only a couple of bucks per book more to purchase, so financially it would make sense to publish a hardback over a paperback, right? But if your audience has some price sensitivity then going with a hardback book could cost you in both sales and influence with your audience.

One of our clients is a successful medical professional. His book will appeal to other medical professionals (doctors, dentists, etc). That audience won’t flinch at spending $20-$25 for valuable information. But if you are competing for the attention and the dollars of a summer romance novel reading audience, think twice about going with a hardback. Your audience may be willing to try something from an unknown author, but probably not willing to spend twice as much as they spend to purchase a mass market novel from a well-known author that only costs them $7.99.

  1. What is the value of the information? Are you publishing exclusive information that is not readily available? Then you might be able to go with an oversized hardback and charge $29.95 or more for that information. (Heck, some professional newsletters can cost hundreds of dollars a month and are nothing more than 4-8 pages long.) If that information can bring the reader hundreds—maybe thousands—of dollars of benefit, then the cost is clearly worth paying.
  2. What is the value of the author? The more well-recognized the author, the easier it is to expect the audience to be willing to pay for the added expense of a hardback book. Tim Tebow released his memoirs a few years ago (don’t get me started on what a 24-year-old kid has to share with the world), but he is a sports and media darling for a variety of reasons. So when his book came out, even though he’s a first-time author, and the publisher released it in hardback, thousands of people stood in line for hours at a time waiting to buy a copy.
  3. The limited access to the material. Why do you think college textbooks cost so much? In part it’s because the information is not intended for a mass market or widely read audience. It’s targeting a specific type of student taking a specific course at a limited number of colleges and universities.

There are many, many other aspects that go into creating the “ideal” size, shape, thickness, cover design, and even binding style of a book. Does it need to fit into a purse or pocket? Is it better to be an oversized book with a few words and big pictures (like a children’s book)? Or will a manuscript that’s over 100,000 words appear too daunting a read if it’s too thick, so the publisher chooses a thinner paper stock and perhaps tighter margins in the interior layout? Maybe it’s important to be a different trim size—just to be different. Good publishing takes all the subtleties into account when determining the final specifications of a book. You should too.

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