David Louis Edelman David Louis Edelman

Whose Books Do You Buy in Hardcover?

I happened to look at the listing for Infoquake on Amazon the other day and see that there are 57 (update: actually only 19) used copies for sale there, going as low as $7.50 per. People sometimes ask if I “mind” them purchasing used copies of my book at a discount rather than paying the full $15 cover price for a brand-spanking-new copy. And my answer is always “no, buy the book anywhere you can get your hands on it.”

The issue, of course, is how much money I make per book. If you walk into your local used bookstore and buy your copy of Infoquake there, neither I nor my publisher sees a dime. If you buy it new, I see — well, I won’t go into specifics, but it’s more than a dime. (Like seven or eight times more.)

So habitual book readers are well aware that buying a new hardcover from an author is a vote of support for that author. You don’t have to spend $25 to $30 to read these books. Most books will make it to trade paperback or mass market paperback within a year where they’re much cheaper. Either that, or you can easily find a used copy on Amazon or eBay or in your local used book dealer.

So which authors will I automatically purchase a hardcover edition of their works, no questions asked?

  • William Gibson. The godfather of cyberpunk may not quite have equaled his achievement with Neuromancer yet, but that’s simply because Neuromancer broke so much new ground. Gibson gets better and better with each book, and Pattern Recognition might have been his most mature, most affecting book yet.
  • George R. R. Martin. As long as his Song of Ice and Fire doesn’t go on for too much longer, I’m there. Oh, and he’d better not have really killed off Davos the Onion Knight, or I will hunt him down like the mongrel dog he is.
  • China Mi√©ville. Another author whose imaginary powers seem to be just barely off the runway and headed for stratospheric heights. I happen to think that Perdido Street Station was quite overrated, but The Scar and Iron Council were two of the most visionary novels I’ve read in years.
  • Richard Powers. Thousands of people walked by London’s Globe Theater every day in the 16th and 17th centuries without bothering to check out Shakespeare’s plays. They missed out. Millions of people walk by Richard Powers’ novels today in the bookstore without buying them. They’re missing out. Yes, he’s that good.
  • Thomas Pynchon. I will not brook any argument on this point: Thomas Pynchon is the reincarnation of Herman Melville, Groucho Marx, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Eugene Debs all rolled into one. Some people wait in line for the latest Harry Potter, but I’d happily line up outside my local Barnes & Noble at midnight for a copy of his upcoming Against the Day.
  • Philip Roth. Ever since American Pastoral, Roth has just gotten better and better. To paraphrase Kanye West, if the Nobel committee doesn’t recognize Roth before he kicks the bucket, they’ll lose credibility.
  • J. K. Rowling. All right, I’ll admit it, I’m as besotted as your average thirteen-year-old with these Harry Potter books. (Although that last one was something of a disappointment.) My desire to own these books in hardcover has more to do with Mary GrandPr√©’s artwork than the contents, however. How can you British people stand buying such inferior-looking books?
  • Kurt Vonnegut. Vonnegut doesn’t write novels anymore, so I’m pretty safe there. But his novels were such an important part of my teenage years, that I’m glad to subsidize him doing whatever the hell he wants in his twilight years.

So that’s my list. These aren’t the only authors whose books I buy in hardcover; they’re just the only ones who get an automatic buy from me (when I have the money).

All right, so who’s on your list?

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  1. Armchair Anarchist on November 15, 2006 at 2:35 pm  Chain link

    Iain M. Banks (without fail, sf or ‘straight’ titles)
    Charles Stross
    William Gibson
    Alastair Reynolds
    Ken MacLeod
    Vernor Vinge

    Of course, this is only a recent thing, as hardbacks were out of my financial reach for years. Also factor in the fact that my occasional reviewing gigs mean I may get a free TPB of a title that I would otherwise have bought – I figure I’m compensating the author with publicity in those situations.

    Speaking of which, guess who has a rough galley copy of Charlie Stross’s Jennifer Morgue, not yet out here in the UK? Yeah, that’s right. How stoked am I? :)

  2. Jason M. Robertson on November 15, 2006 at 3:54 pm  Chain link

    Greg Egan (Anticipation of Incandescence is one of the few things that has me pretty bouncy…)
    Peter Watts
    David Brin (probably, I’m aware of the drop-off in quality, but there’s a lot of nostalgia value there…)
    Scott Westerfeld would be on it if he were still writing adult sf.
    Karl Schroeder

    Alastair Reynolds, Ken MacLeod, China Mieville, Gene Wolfe, John Scalzi, Linda Nagata and Charles Stross all get a close looking at depending on budget and strength of the title in particular, and with Century Rain and Pushing Ice both very pleasing to me, Reynolds could get an upgrade.

  3. Matt Jarpe on November 15, 2006 at 4:05 pm  Chain link

    I don’t have a list of must buys in hardcover. For one thing, I come from a long line of frugal people. For another, I’m in reasonably good health and can gamble on living until any book comes out in paperback. For a third reason, I read on the subway, standing up. A good sized hardcover is really hard to hold in one hand while holding onto a pole with another while the guy behind me gyrates around, not realizing that the enormous backpack he’s wearing is slamming into me with each uncontrolled movement.

    Now, that said, I’ve got a book coming out in hardcover next year, and I’ve been thinking a lot about karma. I just bought Peter Watts’s Blindsight and I’m going to pick up Karl Schroeder’s Sun of Suns the next time I visit Pandemonium. I would have bought Dan Simmons’s Olympos but I chanced across it in the library and I figured karma would let me get away with it once.

  4. David Louis Edelman on November 15, 2006 at 4:50 pm  Chain link

    True, Matt, one must admit that hardcovers aren’t always the most convenient choice. I’m reading Ian McDonald’s River of Gods right now, and it’s quite a monster. I’d hate to hold it one-handed anywhere.

  5. Lou Anders on November 16, 2006 at 11:39 am  Chain link

    Some of the books that get listed as “new & used” on Amazon are actually booksellers – small and online bookstores, etc… too.

    Re: Hardbacks – I always buy the hc if there’s one available, but am aware that’s not everyone’s choice.

  6. David Louis Edelman on November 16, 2006 at 11:53 am  Chain link

    Wow, you’re absolutely right, Lou. I admit that I’ve never really looked closely at those listings before — looks like there are only actually 19 copies at the moment that are used rather than new. Big difference!

  7. Yaron on November 16, 2006 at 2:57 pm  Chain link

    This “vote of support for the author” thing isn’t that straight forward. The price of the hardcover books is often double, or more, the one of the paperback. And if the author isn’t getting a higher income from the sale by at least that percentage (Do they/you, BTW?) then it’s not clear cut the additional cost is for a vote of support.

    Add to that the fact that hardcovers are indeed much more cumbersome, and take a lot more of shelf space (I’ve a medium-small library, and a small and growing four-digit number of books. Hardcovers would have filled the entire room), and they’re even less worth it as long as you don’t enjoy the feel, or like to see them standing straight in the library.

    Since I mostly want books for the content (that’s the part the author is responsible for, BTW) buying a hardcover means to me paying a lot more, to get a an inferior product. I don’t mind showing my support, but as most of it is not going to the author anyway…

    Now, if the good writers (i.e. those I personally really like) would provide some “Think you would have paid even more for my recent book you read? Donate here!” option, that may be a more valid option to show direct support. But that’s a whole other can of worms.

    Other than that, though, when buying a book I’m buying a book, not a vote of support, so I should pay for what I get from the book, not other things. If I can buy another book, or two, for the same price, well, IMNSHO there’s no competition.

  8. David Louis Edelman on November 16, 2006 at 3:40 pm  Chain link

    Yaron: I believe the percentages the author receives are typically something like 7 to 9% for trade paperbacks and 12 to 15% for hardbacks. I think it’s even lower for mass market. It usually gets bumped up a point or two when you hit certain milestones (e.g. 10,000 sold).

    If you consider an average trade price $14 or $15 and the average hardback price $25, that’s a difference for the author of a couple bucks a book. Someone who’s actually in the publishing field could back me up here.

    Of course, I think there are differing levels of support one can offer a favorite author. There are a lot more authors who I buy in trade paperback than hardback, simply because my bank account only has so much moolah in it.

    The other thing one has to think about in terms of support is that buying an author in hardback boosts that author’s numbers earlier — which can translate into a better paperback reprint deal, more attention, more foreign rights sales, a better deal on the next book, fame, fortune, chicks, etc.

    But hey, listen… I can’t imagine any author would complain about someone buying their book in a cheaper format. You’re not a second class fan if you’ve got a bunch of used mass markets instead of pristine hardcovers. Just buy ’em, that’s what I (and I assume, most authors) say.

    (Oh, and for the record… Infoquake debuted in trade paper.)

  9. Matt Jarpe on November 16, 2006 at 4:29 pm  Chain link

    We do get a bit more for the hardcovers than for the paperbacks. I imagine that this is a pretty typical royalty schedule for a first novel:

    Mass market: 6% to 150,000, 8% thereafter.

    Hardcover: 10% on the first 5,000, 12.5% on the next 5,000, and 15% thereafter.

    Trade Paperback: 6% on the first 25,000, 7% on the next 25,000, and 8 % thereafter.

    There is a lot of other math involved to determine 10% of what exactly, but ignoring all that you can figure $2.50 a pop for the hardbacks and 60 cents for the paperbacks.

    None of which figures into your reading enjoyment. It’s the same book no matter the size or rigidity of the package. Well, you know what I mean. When you buy a hardcover you get to read it sooner and the book will last long enough for you to pass it along to your grandkids.

    The reason they make hardcovers is at least partly to advertise the author’s backlist. You see the latest hardcover on the shelf, big as life, and you read the cover copy and say “Sounds good, but 25 bucks? I wonder if she’s got any paperbacks.” Then you scan down the shelf and there they are.

    RADIO FREEFALL is my first novel, so there will be no paperbacks down the shelf. What makes someone decide to shell out $25 to read a novel by an author they’ve never heard of? I wish I knew. Not only do I want to get my grubby hands on that $2.50, but if the hardcover doesn’t sell there will be no mass market paperback. And then we’ll both be screwed. Me more so than you, of course.

  10. Matt Jarpe on November 16, 2006 at 4:47 pm  Chain link

    And when I say 60 cents for the paperback I really mean 42 cents because even though I do math for a living and have a calculator next to me at all times I suck at numbers.

  11. Liviu on November 17, 2006 at 11:34 pm  Chain link

    I also tend to like hc or tp, and avoid pb’s if possible, though since I buy pretty much all through Amazon or BookDepository (for uk)I can afford to buy more books than I would buying them at B&N or Borders.

    Authors on my buy on publication (whether us or uk, whichever publication comes first)list as of now are:

    established (3+ books)- D. Weber, P. Hamilton, R. Morgan, N. Asher, J.Ringo, A. Reynolds, J. Robson, J. Wright, A. Roberts, S. Williams, R. Levy, P. Watts, J. Meaney, IM Banks, K. McLeod, J. McDevitt, S. Bakker, WJ Williams, W. Barton, RC Wilson, JC Grimwood, MJ Harrison, J. Lovegrove, H. Hendrix + G. Turner of which this applied when living (I own pretty much all the original sf&f novels written by these authors, mostly in first editions)

    new (1-2 sf&f bks)- S. Swainston, KJ Bishop, DL Edelman, R. Buettner, J. Abercrombie, S. Lynch, Th. Judson, J. Grimsley, T. Ballantyne, Gary Gibson, Alan Campbell

    I am also always happy to try a new author, usually if an excerpt is available it is enough to decide me, if not, I look at reviews, read a little at B&N or Borders, if available, or just on a guess for uk books. I was rarely dissapointed doing this and I discovered almost all the uk authors mentioned above this way, taking a chance and ordering from there.


  12. Yaron on November 21, 2006 at 12:58 pm  Chain link

    Hmm, that’s a much bigger difference between what the author receives for each format than I imagined. The paperback percentages don’t sounds as bad as some claims on the music industry with big labels, but are still far from impressive. Thanks for the info, Matt.

    And yes, I agree that a hardcover debut is problematical. The sales loses the people who buy the book because they already know they love the author’s work.
    Good luck on getting enough copies sold to warrant a larger paperback publication. Your book does sound interesting.

    I don’t get the claim about advertising the backlist, though. Instead of hoping someone will see the hardcover, decide it sounds interesting but too expensive, and go check for paparbacks by the same author, why not… Make the new book on the shelf a paperback to begin with, so the person seeing it could just buy it straight? And then maybe go for more if they liked it.

  13. Matt Jarpe on November 21, 2006 at 2:32 pm  Chain link

    I know it doesn’t make much sense about the hardcovers being an advertisement for the backlist. Not much in publishing makes sense to me. Most of what I knw I learned from JA Konrath’s blog “A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing.” If you’re really curious, here is the post where he explained the true purpose of the hardcover release:


  14. Yaron on December 5, 2006 at 3:24 pm  Chain link

    Thanks for the link, Matt.
    And sorry for the late response…

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