The good thing about book clubs that send you books unless you tell them you don’t want them is that you can sample a bit. I started The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb the other day, because it was a very large paperback tome and it interested me to see who this Lamb brother was, writing these big long books and the like. And while the Quality Paperback Book Club’s books are now on their way back to the publisher, I’ve become a reader of our friend Wally.
The first thing I did, after a little interneting around with his name (something I would consider a one-upping of the term “googling”), was to look up what I could find by him at the local Borders. Some people like Barnes & Nobles, most do, these days, it seems (quite a few even annoyingly give it the misnomer Barnes & Nobles, but that is neither here nor there), but I don’t particularly care for their store style, at least the closest one by here.
What I found was quite delightful, actually; it appears that Wally Lamb is quite the popular author (something I picked up from the fact that his first two books have been a part of Oprah’s Book Club, or whatever it’s called and Oprah’s name is, rightly so, synonymous these days with popularity) and he has his first two books out in mass market paperback, an edition that I think more books should be released in.
I mean, the MMP has become the mainstay of the genre market, with old skiffy paperbacks and John D. MacDonald books, but really, this is only a publishing company created doom. Obviously if you only publish a limited number of books in a certain format, then that format is going to be assumed to be fitting in with the rest of the small group published. And it’s a shame, really, because for someone like Wally Lamb, I think this works particularly well.
Even though he has ridden the Oprah Book Club train a few times, I’d say that Wally isn’t a household name, no Stephen King, not even a John D. MacDonald, for that matter. The benefit of writing a book to be published eventually as an MMP is that a prospective reader is shelling out half as much money to decide whether he (or she as the case often is) might be interested in your work.
What’s funny is that in these times there is a somewhat booming business in the publishing business of doing rough, career-spanning anthology books for different popular writers. The idea is to put a little bit of everything they’ve ever done into one place. Now in all actuality, a marketing plan like this could only work completely successfully in my mind, if the company was willing to eat the cost of these books and release them free. Because if the reader actually does like this author, all of the individual books are still to be bought, paid for at rates of ten to fourteen dollars. Now, of course, libraries and used book stores can alleviate this problem for readers, customers, but not for the publisher, itself, in fact quite the opposite occurs.
It would seem, then, that this would not be an overly successful business plan, but I have no way of testing my theories and am going to leave them as just that, theories, thoughts, and blog posts. However, the lack of use of the mass market paperback outside of the airplane novel is something that truly bothers me.
Trade paperbacks are perhaps more for the book fetishist, the kind of person that any book reader will be in, oh, probably the next fifty years, but still, they can be bulky and useless, and just from the heightened price tag, illicit more care from the constant reader. An MMP is the best type of novel for a long walk, for transportation of any kind, really, and in my mind hardcovers are best suited for reading in the home, in that strange place between being completely awake and dreaming that reading allows us to escape to.
And yet, here I am divided, since I feel that I want to try out some sort of self-publishing within the next year or so, and I, myself, are considering the trade paperback above the mass market. But I am no publisher, and I wouldn’t really be going into this with any sort of goal as to make money or anything, but rather to have a product, something to show for what I’ve done, written.
“Quod scripsi, scripsi,” I have quoted Anthony Burgess quoting Pontius Pilate many a time, surprisingly, not in works that have really lived to see the day. But here I am again. “What I have written, I have written.” And it’s a true thing to say, but I think that to some extent, in this day and age, the physical is actually going to mean more than it does now, an idea I don’t think many people share. I’ve written earlier this month about how I felt about the future of the title of “writer,” which I said was not going to vanish, but rather expand and become everyone, to some extent.
What I mean to say here is not so much a revoking of that, but an addition. Because I think less tangible things will be made by most everyone, blogging will continue to grow steadily, podcasting will only rise in popularity, the tangible things like books or radio station broadcasts will find themselves on some sort of pedestal, not because they are the best of what there is now, or even the best of what there is then, but because they are different, and dying away, going extinct. Like how a lost dodo bird showing up in a zoo would receive more care than the usual chimpanzee.
And here comes the hard part, since this post began as a caution to publishers who fear using the mass market paperback edition—the portable half-price version of your favorite book, I say—and has now gone elsewhere. For me, as a nothing writer with very few ears out there, I have to think that I’d rather not be first put into print in an MMP. The trade paperback is snazzier.
But once again, a good thing this time, I’m not running a publishing company.
12:21AM Fri 8/14/09
Def: 0-1pp [depends on how you look at it]