Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Importance of Format

One of the reasons my literary agent and I sought out Midnight Ink as a publisher was format. I wanted my books to be published in the two formats that Midnight Ink produces simultaneously--trade paperback and ebook. Why? Because readers were asking me for those formats. At the time, my mysteries were only in hardcover and large-print, both expensive formats that were hard to sell in a down economy.

Ideally, I'd love for my books to be available in all formats simultaneously, including hardcover, trade and mass-market paperback, ebook, large-print, audio, etc. so readers could choose the format they prefer. However, because of the costs involved and the low returns-on-investment of producing books in so many formats, most publishers only produce a subset of the possible formats. By restricting your book to only some formats, you're losing potential readers that prefer others. Of course, you want your book to be in the most popular formats. That's why the choice of publisher--and the formats they produce--is so important!

For a fiction author, ebook is becoming a more and more essential format. As discussed in this Publisher's Weekly article, fiction is the lead driver of ebook sales, accounting for 61% of sales and 51% of revenue in 2010. And by genre, Mystery/Detective is tied for fourth place with Romance, behind first place Literary/Classic (because of all the free classic books available), second place Science Fiction and third place Christian Fiction. So, as a mystery author, I am very, very glad that my most recent Deadly Currents mystery is available in ebook format, and even more pleased that they can be read on the entire gamut of devices, from Kindle and Nook to iPads, cell phones, and computers.

My new format goal? Downloadable audio! And yes, my agent knows I'm itching to sign away those rights. :)

As for what I prefer to read, I'm old-fashioned and choose paper over electronic, because I already spend so much time on a computer. And my favorite paper format is trade paperback. What about you? What book format(s) do you prefer?


Darrell James said...

Beth- I still prefer mass market paperbacks. Something comfortable about them.

Susan M. Boyer said...

I never thought I'd say this--I was one of those who thought they'd always prefer hardbacks or trade paperbacks. But, I am an ebook convert. The convenience and the instant gratification elements won me over, I'm afraid. :)

Terry Odell said...

Although my library is full of all formats, I'm moving more and more toward e-books. I've found that (and I'm assuming it's price constraints) that so many print books run the print into the gutters, making it an actual physical effort to read. Trade paperbacks are too big to be comfortable. Hard cover tend to be "easiest on the hands" but are priced way too high.

My price point for book buying is mass market paperback unless it's a very special author. And it irks me when e-books are priced beyond that point.

As for audio - I'm not sure I could keep my mind from wandering. I'm much more a 'visual learner' than an auditory one. But if someone wanted to put my books into audio, I'd definitely agree!

Terry's Place
Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

Beth Groundwater said...

The mass markets are easier to carry around in a pocket or purse. However, I find it hard to hold the thick ones open.

I have a feeling that I'll be getting one for travel, so I don't have to lug around a bag full of books. However, I'm waiting for the screen technology to improve, so its easier on the eyes.

Jessie Chandler said...

I am stil in love love love with mass markets. It fits in my pocket, is very portable, and is easy to hold. Alas, I fear they are eventually going by the wayside, however. I always thought seeing my book in MM format really meant I made it. Guess I won't be seeing it in that form, but I'm certainly happy with trade. Ebooks haven't caught on too much with me yet, but I do love the super portability of reading on my phone.

Beth Groundwater said...

Thanks for your comment, Terry! I've only listened to audio books on long car drives, like across the Kansas prairie. When you don't need your attention for making turns and finding street names (as in city driving), the audio books sure help pass the time on a long, boring highway drive.

Beth Groundwater said...

Hi Jessie,
Now, reading on a phone is something I've never done, and I don't think I'd like. With my poor reading vision (i use 2-power reading glasses), I think I'd have trouble reading on a small screen. I know a lot of young people prefer to read on their phones, though.

carl brookins said...

Beth, I love the illustration for this blog. as a reader, I don't have a preference. I can remember the boon as a young reader when Pocketbooks and others began to issue 60 cent mass market reprints!

Today I have an e-reader, apps on my computer and a house full of books! I'm not big in audio, although I published an anthology on CDs. I'm of the opinion today that all formats are good for fiction. We must try to reach all our potential audiences.

Beth Groundwater said...

I'm with you, Carl! Different strokes for different folks, and even for different situations. So, it's important for an author to have your books available in as many formats as possible.

Robin Allen said...

Interesting post, Beth. Maybe it's the old aspiring author in me, but I like the heft and importance of a hardback. I also like trade paperbacks and am glad to be published as one. A bookseller once told me that he would have an easier time selling my book vs. a similar cozy author in hardback because of the $10 price difference.

Like Jessie, I haven't embraced ebooks, but I do enjoy audio books for long trips or long knitting sessions.

Nancy Naigle said...

I'm a trade paperback kind of girl, too. The size just feels like the perfect fit, and the font a little bit larger (or is that just an optical illusion?).

I admit I own a kindle and I do buy e-books. I love that ebook prices are low and that stretches my book-buying budget. I also enjoy the free sample of books by authors I've never read before. I've discovered quite a few new authors this year because of that feature.

Best wishes, Beth,

Carlton Boudreaux said...

As a first time author investigating all publishing options on a limited budget, I'm doing lots of reading on this subject.

I'm seeing that even eBook publishing varies as to manuscript formats necessary for each publisher. It seems that lots of tweaking of MS Word is necessary.

I've been playing with Sigil, which outputs a nicely formatted ePub version with a table of contents, but then what about Kindle and Nook formats?

Lots of research to do here.

Kaye George said...

I like them all. It doesn't much matter how a print book is made, except that I like the price of non-hardcovers better. But I love to browse yard sales for interesting books and those are often hardcover. I have lots on my e-reader, too, and I usually have an audio book going in the car. I just like books!

Anonymous said...

I'm all for reading ink on paper. I don't care if it's hardcover or paperback. Like you, I spend so much time looking at a computer screen that my eyes get tired. They don't feel as tired when I read printed books. But, it's good to be able to publish in other formats, for those who prefer something other than ink to paper.

Nice post, Beth.

Jonathan E. Quist said...

I'm very particular about the books I read. My preferred format is whatever I happen to hold in my hands, exclusively.*

The thought of signing with Five Star is tantalizing, for the simple reason that they produce something I'd be proud to have on my shelf. But now that the relatives who'd care have passed, that's not much of a motivation.

Exposure to readers is a motivation, however, and have my words stored as bits on someone's phone than as a nice typeface between boards in a remainder bin.

*I must give credit where it is due. I stole that joke from Professor Peter Schikele, the musicalologist who unearthed the best-buried works of P.D.Q. Bach. When on tour, Prof. Schikele plays whatever piano is available, exclusively.

Beth Groundwater said...

Yes, Robin, I've found that, particularly in this down economy, it's a lot easier for a non-bestseller author to sell trade paperbacks than hardcovers.

Thanks for your comment, Nancy. As for the trade paperback format, I've heard that it was a favorite of book club readers, which is why a lot of literary, women's fiction, and mainstream books were frontrunners in the format. This is true of my own book club--most members prefer trade pb.

Beth Groundwater said...

I agree. You don't want to limit your ebooks to just the Kindle or Nook format. You should cover all the bases, including formats that can be displayed on cell phones and laptop computers.

Thanks for your comment, Morgan. It's nice to know I'm not the only one whose eyes get tired after staring at a computer screen all day!

You said it well. Don't we all "just like books"?

Five Star does produce high quality hardcover books and markets them well to libraries, but they won't appear on the NYT bestseller lists. You should consider them, though, because they're a good starter press. I think their new contracts include buying ebook rights, and that would be a plus, to come out in that format, too--as long as the price point is reasonable.

Cricket McRae said...

I'll read a book in any format, but trade paper may be my favorite. For a while libraries seemed to avoid them because they were paperbacks that didn't fit on the MM shelves, but now there are so many they're shelved with the hardbacks. Yay.

You also make a great point that the prices for trade paperbacks and ebooks make a significant difference for sales.

As for audiobooks, I don't buy them but do check them out of the library for long car trips and to listen to while doing yard work.

Shannon Baker said...

I love reading on my Kindle because I can stand up (Like a shark, I fall asleep if I quit moving) and hold a glass of wine and turn pages all at the same time.

Beth Groundwater said...

Hi Cricket,
Isn't it nice that our favorite format is one of the ones produced by our publisher?

Hey, Shannon, I often like to read with a glass of wine in my hand, too! :)

Dru said...

I like reading hardcovers, trade paperbacks, mass market paperback and my e-readers. Which one I prefer, I'm leaning towards mass market paperback since it easy to carry in my purse.

Beth Groundwater said...

Thanks for your comment, Dru. Yes, those mass markets are the handiest for carrying around in a purse.

What about those who don't carry a purse? What say you?

Ricky Bush said...

I bounce back and forth, to and from between what's on my Kindle and what I've yet to read on my bookshelf. I do like the trade paperback format. I don't think an e-book only pub could entice me into a contract.

Anonymous said...

All formats are a great idea. I don't own a Kindle but I understand that they have an audio feature. If so, your books are already available for those who wish to listen while on a road trip. The voice is metallic but easy to get used to.
Maggie Bishop

G.M. Malliet said...

I travel a lot which means I like mass market paperbacks, preferably already used and beat up so I don't worry about them. I'd worry about losing an e-reader.

Beth Groundwater said...

Thanks for your comments, Ricky, Maggie, and G.M.! Yes, G.M., an ereader is a lot more expensive to lose on a trip--or get splashed on at the pool--than a mass market paperback.

Jenny Milchman said...

I love a good hardcover, but am happy with paperback, too. I hope it's not old-fashioned not to prefer e--my thought is that the two should live happily alongside! I love the way Midnight Ink books look...