Sunday, February 5, 2012

How to Get Hardcovers

Everyone has an opinion on ebooks these days. Some have added a fifth horsemen to the apocalypse and his name is eReader. Others are trying to discover just how to bestow sainthood on the Internet naming ebooks as an example of one of its many miracles. There are countless blog posts, magazine, and news articles still being written, and podcasts and talk shows still discussing the various electronic formats for literature. Precious few, debate the various incarnations of paper.

How often do you hear about the end of publishing as we knew it because of Allen Lane or Fanny Fern. You likely don’t even know who they are, or how Saul Bellows tried to eliminate hardcover books.

This post was supposed to be about how you can get your hands on hardcover editions of the Riyria Revelations for those who wanted them, and it still is, but the explanation has taken an unexpected detour through the history of publishing in America that has enough strikingly similar connections to current events that I thought you might find the whole story interesting.

To begin with, we need to travel backward…

Long, long ago in a land far, far away—Europe—books were printed by a printer and sold unbound. If you wanted the pages put together you needed to take them to a bindery and there you could have it dressed up anyway you liked, pick the leather, the end papers, etc. As you can imagine this whole process was expensive.

Across the pond in the colonies, while there were printers who functioned as publishers, books were mostly imported from England. Eastern port cities like New York, Philadelphia, and Boston became the source of books in the New World and this trend continues today, with New York retaining its publishing crown and Philadelphia most known for its medical publications.  

As it wasn’t until 1886 that international copyright laws were established, in the early nineteenth century the open pirating of books was rampant in the United States. Half of books published in the US were by British authors who had their work copied and sold without their permission or seeing a penny of the revenue. I have to wonder if they ever considered SOPA (Stop Overseas Pirating Act.)

Books at that time were still expensive, too.  When the average working class man made $1-$1.50 and the average woman made $.30-$.40 and the average book cost $1 to $1.25, that meant a book cost a day’s wage or more, which restricted the luxury of book buying and often, in lack of a nearby library, the very act of reading to the upper and middle classes. Published books were also being written almost entirely by men and in the high literary style of the day, which made it difficult for the less literate to enjoy.

Then in the 1850s Maria Susanna Cummins sentimental novel The Lamplighter sold 20,000 copies in twenty days, coming in second only to another woman, Harriet Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. In a year that Melville and Hawthorn were happy to sell a couple thousand copies of their books, another woman, and newspaper columnist, Fanny Fern sold 70,000 copies of her “conversational style”  ladies fiction book Fern Leaves from Fanny's Portfolio. Women’s fiction was not just born, it was kicking down doors.

In 1855 Nathaniel Hawthorne famously wrote from Britain to his publisher:

America is now wholly given over to a damned mob of scribbling women, and I should have no chance of success while the public taste is occupied with their trash–and should be ashamed of myself if I did succeed.  What is the mystery of these innumerable editions of the ‘Lamplighter,’ and other books neither better nor worse?–worse they could not be, and better they need not be, when they sell by the 100,000.

I just can’t read this and not think of Stephanie Meyers, or Amanda Hocking, and I wonder if this was the first shot fired in the battle between, not only sexual discrimination in literature, but the conflict of “good” literature and the sort that sells.

Then as the Civil War was getting underway a number of events caused an upheaval of another sort. With increased demand due to increasing literacy and new printing technologies, along with cheaper paper, and later the lowering of transportation costs due to the new railroads, books got cheaper. (Prior to railroads, the production of books stopped in the winter due to frozen rivers upon which logs were transported.) It was at this time that Beadle & Adam's invented the Dime Novel that created an explosion in the fiction market added in large part to the demand of bored soldiers having nothing to do to pass the time and enjoying small, light, cheap books.

While dime novels were a proper name for a series of publications, they became synonymous with cheap popular fiction that actually ranged in price from a nickel to twenty-five cents.  These were largely reprints of stories that had run as serials in “storypapers,” eight page weekly newspapers-like publications.  They were largely sentimental, “lurid” stories written in common language and focused on western gunslingers, adventures, detective stories, and romances.  It was these “common man” popular novels that gave birth to genre fiction.

By the start of the twentieth century, publishers found that a larger format with less pages was cheaper to produce, and soon the dime novels transformed into magazines such as Popular Magazine, Nick Carter Weekly, (Nick Carter first appearing in a dime novel The Old Detective's Pupil) Wild West Weekly and the Detective Story Magazine.  Also known as pulp magazines, pulp fiction, or just The Pulps, by virtue of the cheap paper used.  

Street and Smith publishing who created Argosy, the very first pulp magazine, came up with the idea of specialized genres, making whole magazines that focused on one common story theme or subject, such as romances, detective tales, etc. These classifications form the basis of our modern day genres. Later in the twenties two other pulp magazines called Amazing Stories and Weird Tales popularized modern science fiction and fantasy.  

Then in 1935 Allen Lane founded Penguin Books and invented the modern day mass market paperback, with the idea that the classics ought to be available to the masses for the same price as a pack of cigarettes. (Which incidentally,  today sells from $4.74 in West Virginia to $11.90 in New York—still a good benchmark for the price of a book.)  This combined with comic books and television, killed the pulp market which ended in the late fifties.

Now after the advent of Lane’s mass market penguins, there were two kinds of novels available, mass market and trade. The definitions being determined by distribution or where they are sold. Trades are books sold in bookstores, shops whose stock and trade are selling books. Mass markets books are sold anywhere: drug stores, grocery stores, airports, newsstands, etc.

In the early 1980’s when inflation and declining sales were wrecking havoc with publishers and bookstores alike, the trade paperback became the new thing. Actually it had been around since the 50’s, but used mostly as special editions until the 1980’s when it was seen as the solution to a struggling publishing industry. A trade paperback is a paperback book, of any size—but often larger-than-rack-size—that is sold exclusively in trade stores (bookstores) and not mass marketed—although this is starting to change and the definition is becoming more and more obsolete. They are also of better quality binding and paper. At often half the price of trade hardcovers, the portability, and affordability made them attractive to readers and the restricted trade venue, made them attractive to booksellers. At one time it was believed that the day a big-name author opted to have their book debut in trade paper, would be the day hardcovers died. This hasn’t happened even though in 1988 Saul Bellows (Pulitzer and Noble Prize winning author) opted to have A Theft, originally published in trade paperback with the hope of starting a trend.

Hardcover books are still seen as the most preferred luxury, binding for those who can afford it due to their durability, and sheer presence. Originally built of wood wrapped in stamped leather, this was made more economical by using heavy cardboard covered in cloth (which lent them the nickname of “Cloths”.) Long about the middle of the twentieth century the cloth was replaced with clothette, a textured paper that vaguely resembles cloth, and the only real cloth might be covering the spine. Over this was placed a dust cover. (Calf’s leather is still used for special fancy binding.)  

Traditionally hardcovers are typically reserved for authors who are expected to be successful—popular enough to attract readers to spend premium prices for their work as hardcovers often average $25. This then forms the start of a sales cycle, with a trade paperback being released the following year and depending on the level of sales in another year or two, the mass market paperback would be released. These repeated releases in different formats allow for three-times-at-bat, three chances to promote the novel and to gain revenue from all levels of the reading public. Less guaranteed authors work are likely to debut in original trade paperback form and never see a hardcover edition or mass market.

Given the choice I suspect most readers, who have shelf space, the money, and aren’t required to haul their novels around with them, would opt for the Cadillac of book binding—the hardcover, and if possible the embossed, raised spine, gilded-paged, variety. That’s a lot of conditions however. Most people like to travel with their novels just the same as the Civil War soldiers, and most avid readers can’t afford to spend top-dollar on a book anymore than a laborer in the nineteenth century could. Still there are a few who love books, who when they find a special one they’re willing to spend something extra for the chance to own a more permanent doorway into whatever world they see themselves visiting more than once. A portal they might plan to one day leave open for their children to walk through.  

And that brings me to the point of this post.

I was one of those not-so-guaranteed author releases that got the trade paperback treatment. I was delighted with Orbit’s decision in this respect as I’m not sure people would spend the extra money for the hardcovers of a new author, and they offer a good balance between “affordable” and “quality.” Still, nothing beats a hardcover for sheer unadulterated luxury in reading. Even if my books do great I never expected to see hardcover editions, maybe mass market, but not hardcover.

So it was wonderful to discover that when Orbit sold the subsidiary rights to a book club they planned to do a hardcover edition. The Book club in Question Science Fiction Book Club which offers a wide variety of both fantasy and science fiction books in special edition versions. They have hardcover copies of the books in the following arrangements

• Theft of Swords Stand Alone  $12.99
• Rise of Empire Stand Alone  $12.99
• Heir of Novron Stand Alone  $12.99
• Theft of Swords/Rise of Empire $22.99
• All three books $34.99

They even have Heir of Novron as their Top Featured Book right now. And all three books are on their Top 100 List:

• #23 Theft of Swords
• #28 Rise of Empire
• #38 Heir of Novron

Like most book clubs they have a great introductory deal, specials (running a buy 2 get 1 free right now). You get your first 5 books for $1 then you have to buy 4 more at “regular price” within the next year.

For my $1 order I chose 5 Riyria Revelations (so I got 15 hard cover copies of my book for $1 – Sweet)

I recently ordered single copies of each so I got 3 more for $26 (one is free).  I’ve just about satisfied my requirements – I just need to buy 1 more by November 2012. But I’ll probably stay in the club after I make the requirements as their prices are very good.

For those that don’t want to “join the club” you can get the hard covers which are being sold on the Amazon Marketplace.  These are sold by individuals (and sometimes book collectors) so the prices vary but I’ve seen both the Theft and Rise for sale for $10.00.  I haven’t seen any Heir of Novron but I think that’s just because they are so “new” – I only got my order on Friday so it will probably be a few days until they start reaching the market.


  1. Your link to is throwing up a 404 error.

  2. Awesome, thank you Michael! I will probably give this a go.