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…