Author Sarah Pinneo Asks: Is Women’s Fiction Headed For Paperback?

I met Sarah Pinneo online, asked her to be on Women’s Fiction Writers and she then asked if she could write about her book coming out in paperback — I think I heard the Hallelujah chorus. My book will also be released in trade paperback and I was curious for Sarah’s perspective. We give so much thought to when our books will be published, do we give much thought to how? I had no qualms about a trade paperback release because – well – being published is BEING PUBLISHED. And I could rationalize upside-down and sideways (as I often do) that it was best for my book. And for my career as an author. I think you’ll relate to Sarah’s post, whether you’re aspiring to be published, self-published, e-published or published in hard cover. Because we all agonize over the decisions that go along with release our books into the world — we want the right packaging and the right perception that will lead to blockbuster sales. And more than anything that includes changing some perceptions of our own.

Please welcome Sarah Pinneo to Women’s Fiction Writers!

Is Women’s Fiction Headed for Paperback?

By Sarah Pinneo

Dear Sir or Madam, will you read my book?

It took me years to write, will you take a look?

—“Paperback Writer” by The Beatles

But when my agent began to shop Julia’s Child, it was the editors of paperback imprints who showed the most interest. I’d always pictured the book as a hardcover, and not merely because I was having delusions of grandeur. The women’s fiction I’d read for years—Alice Hoffman, Jennifer Weiner, Jodi Picoult—was always hardback. Soft cover, I assumed, was for chick lit and genre romance.

So I decided to (very casually) ask my agent about it. “So…” I said, “is this because I’m a loser, and nobody will ever take me seriously?”

A good agent is one who can answer her authors’ questions without laughing, even on those days when their neuroses are poking through like porcupine quills. “That’s just where the market for this book is at this time,” she said.

And so it was. Two years of effort paid off with a successful sale to Plume, a paperback imprint at Penguin, and an editor who met all the definitions of terrific.

Still, I thought about it. And somehow I decided that the reason my book was destined for paperback was because it was a comedy. But when I looked around, that didn’t hold up. My own imprint had quite a few women’s fiction titles in paperback, including titles by the very successful Sarah Jio. And so did Gallery, including Georgia’s Kitchen by Jenny Nelson. And those weren’t comedies.

And over at Berkley, I found Katie Britton’s Her Sister’s Keeper and Liz Michalski’s beautiful Evenfall. Not a one of those books is genre romance or chick lit. As it turns out, Liz had the same reaction to paperback as I did. “Although I would have loved to have walked into a store and seen my novel in hardcover, the bottom line is that I love even more for people to buy and read it, and if coming out in paperback gives me a better shot at that, so be it.”

So it’s definitely a trend. And once I was able to think rationally about it, the economics driving the trend fell into place. Even in hardcover land, there is a notable acceleration toward releasing the paperback sooner than ever, according to The New York Times. Apparently, simultaneously released eBook prices, at 12.99 & 9.99, are making hardbacks look pricey. Even publishers of award winning literary fiction are now going to paperback 6 or 7 months after the hardcover release, as opposed to the full year that was once standard.

Last summer my galleys arrived, and I took them to a few independent bookstores I know in my area. All galleys are paperback, of course. But on numerous occasions I watched the booksellers’ eyes light up when they got to the imprint information on the back: Plume U.S. $15.00 / $17.50 CAN. “Oh, it’s a paperback!” I would hear. “That’s great.”

If booksellers are delighted by the format and price tag on my book, than so am I. So what if I pictured myself in hardcover? I also picture myself an inch taller, and with pre-childbirth abs, and yet the likelihood that I stay the way I am doesn’t keep me up at night. I’m a practical girl. And a lucky one. And a happy one.

Sarah Pinneo writes about food, family & fiction from Hanover, NH. She was a wall street dealmaker for more than a decade before making the transition from breadwinner to bread baker. You can find her at www.sarahpinneo.com, or follow her @Julias__Child.

21 thoughts on “Author Sarah Pinneo Asks: Is Women’s Fiction Headed For Paperback?

  1. I, too, have my novel coming out as a paperback original next year (with NAL, another Penguin imprint), and I couldn’t be happier. In this economy, books are definitely a luxury purchase for many women, plus the trend is toward e-books–many of which people can purchase for 2.99 or even .99 if they buy indie authors. There is a lot of competition for dollars out there. It’s sensible of the publishers to take this route, I think! Congratulations, by the way–sounds like a terrific book!

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  2. I had some of those same thoughts – always when I’d pictured my stuff published, it was in hardback because that’s how I thought “it worked” — so when I found out my books would come out in trade paperback, I thought “huhn?” But, I am so happy with it – and the costs are so much easier to swallow for readers who want a print book. Many people want for the trade paperback to come out before they’ll buy, so this beats it to the punch – 😀

    And really, I often bought trade paperbacks before my books were picked up, much more than hardback.

    I tell writers who are just starting out to always be prepared for “something else” or for the unexpected or to alter their expecations because in this business, you just never know!

    Thank you for a wonderful post!

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  3. Interesting post — and true that as I am nearing the end of edits with my current WIP, I never gave HOW a second thought. So I appreciate the heads up. As with everything in publishing these days, this too seems to be up in the air. And (perhaps needless to say) I’ll be thrilled however my book gets published!

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  4. The trend is somewhat sad to me (because I love the hardcover books on my shelf), but I always assumed – as Sarah has pointed out – that it is just another change in the publishing industry based on survival and sales in volatile market. You both have a wonderful attitude about it – and who, among us, hasn’t dreamed of the hardcopy :-)? As a reader, I love trade paperbacks, too. Better fit with the wallet!

    Congrats to you both in the publishing of your novels!

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  5. My first 4 books were published in hardcover, then trade, but hardcover these days is just so very expensive for everyone. It’s a dying form, IMO. Trade paper is the form that sells, and a hardcover can hurt those sales… Not because people think they’ve purchased it, but because low hard sales can wound the bookstore orders of the paperback.

    Congrats on the new release! My kind of book, too!

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  6. I love your positive attitude, Sarah, but I have to wonder if this trend seems to be in “Women’s” fiction (and not in “Men’s” fiction – because – there isn’t such a thing!) I suspect books by male authors will continue to outnumber those by women – and with this trend they will dominate the Hardback bestseller lists more handily.

    Thus my policy. I only buy books written by women. Hardcover, paperback, ebook – just not written by a man!

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  7. Very enjoyable post Sarah. My cookbooks were both hard cover and that made sense to me. My mystery books are paperback and it didn’t bother me at all. I confess, though, I’d much rather read a paperback. I just find them easier to hold and to lug around with me to my kids activities, where I wait and wait. And read.

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  8. Thanks for some interesting insights on the market. I can easily understand how the price of hardcovers is prohibitive in the current economic climate. Add to that the push from lower ebook prices and it seems inevitable. There is an image thing going on too though. I am curious to see if trade paperbacks make WF titles more accessible to a wider audience. Not so “heavy”.

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  9. lol – love Kewhite’s comment! And yes – I think the last book I read by a man was “Memoirs of a Geisha” and it felt very female-written (a huge compliment to the author!).

    Also agree with Molly – paperbacks are SO much more portable. When I am packing for a few days away who wants the weight and space-hogging of a hardback?!
    And in these economic time, who needs the expense?!

    I vote for paperback all the way.

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  10. From what I understand, it’s super tough to earn out a hardback advance these days. I couldn’t tell you the last time I paid hardback prices – I have an e-reader, but I’ll pay up to about $12.99 for a book I want to read.

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  11. I have never bought a hardcover.
    In Australia hardcovers are between $40 dollars + – trade paperbacks between $23-$35 and Mass paperbacks $14 and up. It is rare to find mass paperbacks these days though – almost everything is only released in C (trade) format.

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    • Shelleyrae – my friend Helen who teaches in Brisbane was just telling me how expensive books are there! I couldn’t believe it! She’s now loving her e-reader – I’m sure they’ll really take off (if only for that reason) there. $60 for a book? Yikes! That’s like a textbook here!

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  12. Great post!! I experienced a lot of the feelings you went through with the acceptance of my novel, THE RUINS OF US, by Harper Perennial. But I’m thrilled with so much about the trade paper world, and on a recent radio interview, the host said how excited she was about the trend toward trade paper for debut writers, as she thinks it’s the better career move and allows debut novelists to build a base.

    I do agree with Kewhite’s comments about male writers, though. You don’t see them getting funneled into trade paperback, but that could also be because their books are not being angled toward book clubs, as many of the trade papers are.

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  13. I was thrilled when I found out that Gallery would be putting out THE LAKE HOUSE in trade paperback. I’d met too many authors whose paperbacks were having to compete with leftover hardcopies being sold at cheaper prices on discount tables and Amazon. Add to the fact that I love to read everywhere I go and I don’t lug around hardcovers. My story is aimed towards women who tend to spend less on themselves and are less likely to splurge on a hardcover unless they know the author.

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