Ditching the hardback

<p>In the autumn of 1997, I was sitting in a conference room at HarperCollins. I was feeling mildly, if happily dazed. The past few days had seen a whirlwind auction of my first novel, The Money Makers. A number of major publishers had made bids, but the auction had reached the point where just two were left, both of them with similar bids in juicy six-figure territory.</p>
<p>Earlier that afternoon, I'd sat with the other publisher involved. Mostly it was the same deal: same biscuits, same kind of conference room, same bunch of editors, PR guys and the rest. That publisher had been proposing to launch my book, a piece of commercial fiction, in the then classic fashion: a hardback backed by as much PR as possible, followed by a paperback edition some time later, with some consumer ad spend attached.</p>
<p>HarperCollins failed to excel on the biscuit front. Their PR guys and editors and marketing types seemed good, but the other lot had seemed good too. But HarperCollins proposed to ditch the hardback. Why do it, they said, when the book was clearly a mass market paperback title? Why split the PR drive from the main product? Why divorce the ad spend and the PR? Why not get all pistons firing behind the one core product?</p>
<p>These were reasonable arguments. So intensely reasonable, in fact, that in no other industry I can think of would anyone have considered thinking otherwise. So I didn't hesitate. Though I had other factors to consider too, the absence of a hardback in the HarperCollins proposal was a positive selling point. Sure, I sacrificed the 'prestige' of a hardback, but, like almost any author on the planet, I'd rather have the prestige of book sales, royalty cheques, bookstore presence, and a solidly based career.</p>
<p><a href="http://www.thebookseller.com/news/47557-picador-makes-paperback-move.htm... is now proposing something similar for hardback literary fiction</a>: namely, a joint launch in hard and soft covers. Given that hardback literary fiction doesn't sell in any quantities (unless you're Ian McEwan, that is) Picador's step is an obviously rational one. Clare Alexander commented last week that Picador would be at a disadvantage in rights auctions as a result of their move. I disagree. I think the exact opposite. Authors want sales. If a new strategy will help achieve that, authors will support it.</p>
<p>In actual fact, I think that this supposed &ndash; but wholly unproven &ndash; resistance on the part of authors is a figleaf. The real resistance comes from the &quot;that's not how we've always done it&quot; brigade in publishing. It's about time the industry stopped using authors as their excuse for altering outdated business practices. We authors would rather like it if publishers just got on with the job of selling our books.</p>