Big Fish, Little Fish

February 25th, 2008

The UK Mass-Market Paperbacks of Before They are Hanged (seen here on the right – the smaller one) turned up from the publisher today. They’re due out mid-march and will swiftly replace the Trade Paperback edition (seen here on the left – the bigger one) which will go out of print.

Seemed a good moment to discuss the strange ins and outs of different editions, which I must confess I don’t entirely understand, but here goes…

It holds generally true that a novel is released first in hardback, then in trade paperback (the hardback pages in a paperback binding, so generally a larger format paperback, sometimes, especially in the US, a truly flipping enormous one), then, perhaps a year after first being released, when committed readers of the author in question will already have bought the more expensive editions, in a mass-market paperback (small format, dodgier paper and printing) which will hopefully be the edition that sticks around on the shelves for at least a few years to come.

Of course, different publishers all have their own recipes when it comes to this type of thing. Many of them, especially smaller presses, only print trade editions, and don’t go mass-market (Pyr, my US publisher, is one such). Others are only mass-market imprints, who tend to take books that others have already printed in trade editions (J’ailu, my French Publisher, had previously only published mass-market, but are starting this year to do Trade editions as well). Orbit in the US have been experimenting with putting some fantasy series straight into mass-market paperback and releasing them in rapid succession (even a month apart). Heyne, my German publisher, do only one paperback edition that is somewhere between a trade and a mass-market edition.

Gollancz, my UK (and main) publisher, do all three types (hardcover, trade paperback, mass-market), but they tend to release the hardcover and trade paperbacks together. There’s a relatively short print run of hardcovers, which are usually bought by collectors. They don’t tend to reprint these because only the 1st/1st is really of interest. The trade paperback edition is therefore the one that generally finds its way onto bookshop shelves and into the sweaty hands of early adopters. Once that edition has been out for around a year and sales have dropped off, and hopefully just before the author’s next book is published in trade, a mass-market paperback is released and the trade edition phased out. This hopefully produces a new round of interest in the old book and reaches some markets that are usually closed to trade editions – some outlets, like railway stations and airports only carry mass-market formats and some bookshops just prefer to promote them for whatever reason.

So you can see how this approach makes perfect sense with, say, a crime writer. Each book promotes the next, and after reading a few mass-markets by an author a given reader might choose to get the next book early and move up to a more expensive edition. It becomes a little more problematic in the case of a fantasy series, though (doesn’t everything), especially one by an unknown author. Let’s say you get into the series a couple of months after the second book comes out, having read good reviews. You buy the first in mass-market, since it’s the only format available in the bookshops. You then scramble to buy the second, but find it’s only available in this irritatingly much larger format. You’ll have no choice but to buy it in trade, or to wait for the mass-market of the second, but then you’ll be in the same position with the third book.

Annoying, especially when amazon doesn’t really specify what format it is, just says paperback, and gives the dimensions (like anyone checks the dimensions when they buy a book), but it’s hard to see a better way of doing things, unfortunately. So for those irritated by a lack of matching books, I can only do what I always do, and blame my editor.

While we’re on the subject, see laid out before your disbelieving eyes all five UK editions of Before They are Hanged:

Top Left – UK Uncorrected Manuscript Proof. Has a glossy rather than a textured cover, without foil, and isn’t properly set therefore has more pages and is considerably chunkier than the production editions. Sent well prior to general release to reviewers, industry notables, and unscrupulous cads who then stick them on e-bay.

Top Centre – UK Hardcover. Only about 1,000 printed and getting pretty scarce, if the number of people e-mailing me to complain about not being able to find one is anything to go by. See the foil upon its lavishly textured wrap-around cover complete with photograph of the author gleam like the moon upon the sea.

Top Right – UK Book Club Hardcover. A small format hardback printed by the UK SF book club and sold only to its members. Again, a glossy, unfoiled cover.

Bottom Left – UK Trade Paperback, the workhorse edition, complete with textured paper and foil.

Bottom Right – UK Mass-Market Paperback, soon to be unleashed upon an unsuspecting world. Smaller pages and hence more of them. Also incidentally includes a teaser chapter for the next book at the end, since it will be available in trade at pretty much the same time…

Posted in process by Joe Abercrombie on February 25th, 2008.

16 comments so far

  • Little Nicky says:

    Seriously hate trade and wish they would go straight to mass market or if I’m being pedantic slightly bigger than mass market.

    I’ve just brought 5 new books and evey single one is a different size, rrrrrrr lol.

  • Mister Roy says:

    What are the odds of hardbacks and trades being available at Orbital Eastercon do you think? I believe you’ll be there so there might be the possibility of signing??

  • Little Nicky,
    I doubt anyone would mind doing away with trade if you were willing to pay twice as much for the mass-market…

    Mister Roy,
    I’ll be there, and I’m more than happy to sign anything I’ve written, or, for that matter, pretty much anything else. As for what’s available, I guess that depends on the dealers who are there. Last Argument of Kings should be out on the Thursday before the con so it’s possible some of them may have it.

  • Little Nicky says:

    Rough prices but:

    £6.49 for a trade, £5.49 for mass market.

    I’d happily pay the extra pound for less bulk to take on the train, and from a production point of view I’d have thought they would be cheaper to make as well (hence being cheaper than trade).

  • little nicky,
    Depends on the book, I guess, and the discounting structure they’re going for, but at retail prices, on Last Argument of Kings, anyway, 12.99 for a trade paperback, 7.99 for a Mass-Market. As an author I make a better cut from the trade editions too, which leaves me earning about twice as much from a trade sale as from an MMP. So I’d be sorry to see them go, for one.

    I agree with you the whole thing makes precious little sense for readers, though.

  • Elena says:

    Speaking of matching books, if I buy King in UK trade will it match my US editions of the first two?

  • Anonymous says:

    What about the US version? Is it out yet?

  • Jebus says:

    I picked up Blade in MMPB and Hanged in TPB so I guess Kings will be TPB as well. Luckily for me I managed to wait and have them sit on my shelf for about 5 months before I read them both last week. Now I’m pissed off with myself that I have to wait a month for Kings to come out – I just couldn’t wait those extra few days eh? So I’ve started Ian McDonald’s “Brasyl” in the meantime and it sucks compared to your books.

    Here in Oz a regular fantasy/sci-fi MMPB costs around $20 to $22, a TPB $35 to $40 and a HB $40 to $55 in regular bookshops. I was in New York recently and bought a huge amount of MMPB books because even with the exchange rate each one came out to around $10 AUD – at least half price!

    Being a reader and non-Librarian going fantasy fan in Australia sucks arse let me tell you. I can literally buy most drugs cheaper than TPB or HB book. Luckily some authors are worth it.

  • Elena,
    Ah – although in terms of content the US and UK trade editions are identical, they don’t actually match. The US one is slightly smaller, top to bottom, the internals are set differently, and it’s printed on a finer paper, meaning that it’s actually considerably slimmer. Given the fact the third book is 20% longer, a UK one will most likely look pretty monstrous next to its US counterparts. The content will be the same though.

    Although it’s not due to be published until March 4th, Before They are Hanged has been available on for a couple of weeks now. I was told it had been seen in Borders as well, but I couldn’t promise that.

    Ah, not long to wait now…

  • Anonymous says:

    I thought it was funny when I read this blog because Pat Rothfuss (The Name of the Wind) just posted a blog on almost the same topic the other day.

    A lot of your blogs are similar, I think he’s even got one up about Cloverfield.

  • Anonymous says:

    You said that the hard cover print run for Hanged was around 1,000 copies. Would you be prepared to divulge the size of the print runs for the Blade and Kings?

  • Anon,
    Damn you Rothffffuuuuusssssssss!!!
    (you have to imagine me kneeling in the mud in the pissing rain, screaming it at the heavens).

    Other Anon, assuming you’re not the same Anon,
    As far as I know, the hardcover runs have been/will be all around 1,000 copies, so get ’em while they’re hot, because they don’t last long. I hear they’re clearing some of the gold out of Fort Knox ’cause it takes up too much room, and replacing it with 1st/1st hardcovers of the First Law. NOTHING IN THE WORLD is more valuable, pound for pound, than those bad boys.

  • That small hardback edition looks nice – more books should be that size in Hardback. It’s manageable, and you don’t need a mule to cart it around…

  • Anonymous says:

    And what’s the deal about “big” mass-market paperbacks, like yours ? From the size given by Amazon, they seem to be +1 to +2cm in length and +3 to +4cm in width, compared to usual MMPBs…

    Do you confirm there won’t be any other (smaller) MMPBs of your books ?


  • stefan,
    it does look nice

    Don’t know what the deal is with the bigger format mass-markets. It just appears to be the way they’ve gone with these books. Gollancz do some of the more standard smaller kind as well – looking at my shelf richard morgan’s and rob grant’s mmps are smaller. I don’t see any reason why they’d suddenly produce an even smaller mmp of The First Law books, as far as I’m aware these are the final editions they’ll do, which will hopefully stay on the shelves until Planet Earth is swallowed by the sun. That’s up to the publisher, though, so I can’t promise anything.

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