This past weekend much of my family gathered at my house for our 45-minute PowerPoint Seder (now in HD!), a ceremony that dates back at least six or seven years and celebrates our limited attention span as well as a few jokes to keep things lively. It's our way of upholding the longstanding tradition while jettisoning the parts of it that we have always considered, well, to say any more would be to annoy people for whom such things are sacrosanct and the one thing we do agree upon is that such people are entitled to their opinion. I have no desire to sound oppositional.
But that's not the point, anyway. At one moment during the evening, one of our guests noticed the box of copies Crooked Lane Books generously sent last week of WRITTEN OFF, E.J. Copperman's soon-to-be-published first edition in the Mysterious Detective Mystery series, of which you will no doubt be hearing quite a bit in coming weeks (trust me). And he picked up one of the copies and said, in very impressed tones, "Oh! Your new book is in hardcover!"
Yes, it is. I'm not sure why people think that's the interesting aspect of the novel, but it is undeniably being released in a hardcover edition rather than the trade and mass market paperbacks that the Haunted Guesthouse and Asperger's Mystery novels (not to mention the late lamented Double Feature series, of which you also might be hearing a little something--or not--in a few months) have been.
Now, I enjoy the hardcover editions as much as the next guy, assuming the next guy would love to have a novel published even if it were carved in stone or written out in whipped cream. Someone wants to read my words and I'm a happy man.
Still, I am a little concerned about the lack of respect the paperback book is getting these days, particularly as it pertains to mystery novels.
It is no secret that the number of paperbacks, especially mass market editions, is shrinking in the publishing business. I was not a business major in college and I hold absolutely no knowledge of marketing strategy, as any attempts I have made to publicize my work might indicate. But as an entertainment medium I defy you to find a better value on this planet than the mass market paperback book.
Think about it: Movies are now about $15 a ticket in many areas and usually come in around two hours in terms of entertainment time. TV was free when I was nine years old, but now comes in the form of a cable or satellite subscription, a streaming service, Netflix or Hulu or some other Jetsons-style video-on-demand medium I was writing about as a futuristic dream in trade magazines in the 80s. Bottom line, if you're not picking up the networks on your rabbit ears, and even if you are, you're paying for television. And I know there are some out there who refuse to acknowledge they watch television because they're just too sophisticated for the witless fare to be found there, but they are mostly lying. If you don't think so, look at the comments section on any web site that covered the last episode of Downton Abbey and see if you find some unexpected names there.
Anyway, you're paying for TV. You're paying for music--or you should be, if you don't want to deprive artists of compensation for their work (and you really should be listening to Circe Line and Christian Nesmith if you're not already). An album (remember those?) of music will cost at least $10 on iTunes, for you old fogies who go that way, or more for a (gasp!) CD of the stuff. They last under an hour in most cases.
A paperback book? Depending on your reading time, the average experience has to be at least six hours. Paperbacks cost about $7.99.
That means, from a writer's point of view, you have to sell more books--a lot more books--to be profitable to a publisher and collect royalties above the advance you were (hopefully) paid when you signed the publishing contract. It means you have to work harder to please more people while still writing the book you wanted to read in the first place. Yes. Mass market paperbacks are a harder way to make a living for a writer than hardcovers.
And I love hardcovers. They feel great in your hands, the spines don't wrinkle and splinter, the words are larger and there's an actual dustcover, which is nice because... it avoids dust? I love hardcovers. But I'm also a huge fan of paperbacks and hope they remain with us for a very long time. They are the literary medium of the masses and that should count for something. More people read your book. What's better than that?
Fight for your paperbacks, America. And everywhere else. Keep them coming and keep them cheap. They're minute-by-minute your best entertainment value anywhere. They deserve to be saved.
P.S. For those who are attending the Malice Domestic conference in Bethesda, Maryland next weekend, but E.J. Copperman and I will be attending, and depending on how you look at it, it'll be impossible either to see us in the same room or not to see us in the same room. Your call. Whichever one of us is there will be on a panel called Ghostly Murder Saturday morning at 9. One or both of us sincerely hope to see you there.