Saturday, November 17, 2007

A Hard Sell

Well, that's it - the Bitch is unlikely to have a book published in hardback now, that dream she first conceived in the libraries of all those small towns she lived in as a child, which was all she could conceive, because that's all the libraries had then - stacks of hardbacks and nothing else. (Hardback fiction is on the way out according to Picador, who are to begin putting literary fiction straight into paperback.)

Up to now the only hardbacks I've ever been in have been anthologies; my books have come from publishers who have published in paperback from the start, setting the trend which Picador is now to follow - along with other mainstream publishers, it's predicted.

'A moribund market' is what Picador calls hardback fiction, and some shockingly dire hardback sales figures for one of our top authors, Graham Swift, have been revealed. Well, the writing has been on the wall for some time. From Richard and Judy to my reading group, people no longer consider books not yet in paperback, and retailer discounts have impacted on the format.

There are some dissenting voices. The Guardian quotes Weidenfeld and Nicholson's Kirsty Dunseath: 'Coming out in hardback is a statement of confidence in a novel and gets the reviews. It doesn't say much for your confidence coming out in paperback.' Well, that's certainly always been the assumption: hardback good, paperback first imprint bad; and the pioneering independent publishers haven't found it easy to get press coverage for their first imprint paperbacks. (The same prejudice could work the other way too: once, when I was starting out, I was invited to send stories to a prestigious showcase anthology for new writers, but was then told not to send them after all as my work had already appeared - in a different anthology - 'between hard covers': a simplistic hierarchy which categorized me as more established than in fact I was.)

Scott Pack, ever pithy, gets it right, telling the Guardian: 'They should be reviewing on the basis of content rather than the binding', which made the Partner of the Bitch practically fall out of bed laughing when he read it this morning at the thought that it needed to be said.
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