By Mark Alpert
My third novel, Extinction, will come out in paperback on Tuesday. I’m a big fan of paperbacks in general; of all the books I buy, only about twenty percent are hardcovers. The main reason is the price difference. Whereas the list price for the hardcover of Extinction is $25.99, the price on the cover of the mass-market paperback is only $9.99. The difference isn’t quite so extreme after discounting — Amazon, for example, sells the hardcover for $18.80 and the paperback for $8.99 — but it’s still pretty significant for all but the wealthiest book-buyers.
Paperbacks are also lighter and more portable. They fit inside the pockets of my winter jacket. They’re easier to hide (in case you’re embarrassed about what you’re reading). And they take up less space on your bookshelves, which is an important concern if you live in a smallish apartment with a spouse, two kids and all their paraphernalia. (Electronic books would be even better in that respect, but I just don’t feel comfortable reading them. I can’t really relax when I’m holding a screen. I can’t ignore the screen’s presence, which makes it hard for me to get lost in the story.)
Don’t get me wrong — hardcovers have their place. When I buy a book as a gift, I never get a paperback if the hardcover is available. And I love certain authors so much that I just can’t wait for their paperbacks. (I’m talking about you, Lee Child. And you too, Dennis Lehane.) But I’m a pretty patient guy. I’m dying to read Gone Girl, but I’m willing to wait a few more weeks until the paperback comes out. I’ll bide my time by reading a classic or two. (I’m reading Blood Meridian now. What a freaking amazing book!)
Speaking as a writer now, I love being published in hardcover. I’ve been lucky to have gorgeous book jackets for all my novels. And it feels good just to hold the hardcover — it feels substantial, weighty, lasting. But I’m a relatively unknown writer trying to reach new readers, so publishing paperbacks is crucial to broadening my audience.
Over the past year I’ve noticed that a few very famous authors are eschewing the hardcover route for some of their books and putting out paperback originals. Stephen King did this last summer with Joyland, which was a fun read (definitely not weighty!) and had a great pulpy cover. Taipei, a serious literary novel by Tao Lin, also went straight to paper.
And there’s one more advantage to paperbacks that I haven’t mentioned yet: the teaser. After I finish reading a fantastic paperback, I love turning to the last pages of the book and getting a sneak preview of the author’s next novel. I’m pleased to say there’s a teaser at the end of the Extinction paperback, previewing the prologue and first chapter of my fourth book, The Furies. That novel will be published — in hardcover — next month.