The humble book cover was initially designed to do nothing more than protect the valuable pages it encapsulated. At a time when a monk could spend a literal lifetime creating a perfectly crafted copy of the King James Bible, you didn’t want Gary from accounting strolling through and spilling his morning coffee on the lovingly handwritten pages.
Thus the hardcover was born. And when we say hard, we mean hard; two railway sleepers that not only covered, but compression-sealed the pages away from everyone, including that clumsy bastard Gary.
A combination of economic pressures and advances in printing technology saw the introduction of the paperback in 1935, and it proved an immediate success. Authors have since been offered two options when taking their book to print – the classic hardcover, or the cheap and cheerful paperback.
So which should you, the self-published author, choose?
Hardcovers are expensive. The print costs can be up to 5 times more per copy than a paperback, and while you can pass on the extra cost to your readers by charging far more for a hardcover, many may not be willing to pay it. Highly anticipated books are generally released in hardcover months or even years before a paperback version is released to make the greatest amount of profit possible.
Paperbacks, however, are a cheap and cheerful option. A fraction of the cost, they also have the benefit* of damaging more easily or wearing out with repeated use, compelling the same reader to purchase another copy.
*This is very much a benefit for you, not for trees.
Functionality will mean different things to different readers. A paperback is light, compact and easily transportable, able to be bent and stuffed into the corner of a bag.
A hardcover, on the other hand, is the strong and beautiful option. They are far more durable than paperbacks, and their beauty and collectability means that they hold their value far better too.
Think of your audience. There’s a reason that Encyclopaedia Britannica is printed in hardcover and Mills & Boon novels in paperback (although a more wipeable surface may at times be more appropriate for the latter.)
The appeal of your book’s cover choice is indelibly linked to its functionality, so it’s vital that you think of how your readers will be using it. Further to the above point, the appeal of your book will also be tied to the expectations of your audience. If you publish in a sphere that favours hardcover books then a paperback will look cheap and nasty. In contrast, a hardcover in a paperback world seems unnecessary, and will kill sales. Check what your competitors are doing, and aim to do the same.
All market considerations aside, however, most people will happily admit that hardcover books have an appeal that paperbacks simply can’t match. If you’re looking for something that people will want, and can price it in a way that they won’t be put off buying it, a hardcover is a great choice.
Unfortunately, though, self-publishing a hardcover is becoming more and more difficult. A select few printers both deal with self-publishers and print in hardcover, and their minimums often exceed the author’s maximums. Check that you have access to a capable printer before you set your hardcover plans in stone.
In terms of cost-effectiveness, exposure and simplicity, nothing compares to ePublishing. Even for the most tech-phobic of authors, it’s an avenue worth considering. Sure, you won’t be able to sniff it, but you will be minimising the risk and maximising the reward of your venture into self-publishing, and if you still want a physical book you can simply organise a printing run later!
Which option is right for your book? Let’s face it, this article was never going to give you a hard and fast answer, but hopefully it’s got the cogs whirring in the head. Ask yourself the questions above, and see what answers you draw from them.
If there’s one firm statement that this blog can make, it’s this: Whichever printing option you choose, keep your books away from any coffee-laden Garys.