Michelle (msagara) wrote,

An open letter to Trade Publishers

Dear Trade Publisher or Small Press publisher:

Please do not print trade paperback large format books with flat glossy covers anymore.

As a bookseller, I watch what people pick up and put down. I listen to their comments on covers and cover art (and blurbs; those are sometimes funny, and yes, I know full well that the authors don't write them).

One thing that I've noticed happening more and more often in the store when people are browsing and chatting in front of the New Release Trade paperback shelf is that a customer will point at a specific book and say:

"Is this self-published?"


"Wow, there are a lot of self-published books here."

In fact, none of the books at which they're pointing are self-published.

I finally realized this weekend that the reason they're asking is because of the cover stock used on those specific trade paperbacks. If the trade paperback has a flat, glossy cover, they ignore the art, the type and the cover design. If it's flat gloss, with no foil, no embossing, no textures, they are now assuming that the book is self-published; they won't even pick it up.

I have no idea where this assumption comes from because with very few exceptions, we do not shelve or attempt to sell self-published books; we just don't have the space. But the fact is: more people are now asking if books that are entirely traditionally published are self-published because of the cover stock used.

If the cover has terrible art or terrible type, but is printed with a matte finish without any of the other frills (i.e. no embossing, no foil, no textures), they don't ask the question at all. It doesn't matter what the cover looks like in terms of composition.

At this point, due to the wonders of PoD technology, they're assuming that any cover that is glossy stock is self-published.

I'm certain that not all of our customers make this assumption; I know they don't blink twice about glossy stock on mass market paperbacks. But with the trade/large format paperbacks, there is a growing assumption, and I find it troubling.

The British trades are frequently bound with glossy stock. This week, there were two novels by relatively unknown names -- and the new PYR title by Kristine Kathryn Rusch -- which were pointed out, and which were instantly classified as "self-published" (the latter, I've had four people ask about in the last two weeks).

I know, again, that not everyone makes this assumption. But the fact that more and more people are asking me, specifically, about them implies that more people are thinking this way. And if people are thinking it and asking, I can pretty much count on the fact that people are also thinking about it and not asking.

I realize that there are many self-published writers, some of whom will no doubt read this. I understand that there is a prejudice against self-published books. The assumption that the books are somehow inferior or garbage, however right or wrong, exists in my customer base, and as a retail employee I accept the fact.

So... what I'd like, at this point, is that publishers choosing a trade/large format paperback for their releases choose a matte finish cover stock for everything, because the customers who are not even picking the glossy cover-stock books up are making the subconscious association between cover stock and publishing venue now and I'm not about to put small notes on every single book to the effect of "Yes, I know this is printed with glossy stock but No, it is not self-published."

It would help if some of the self-published authors were more open about the fact that they're self-published, but a number "create" small presses which have "published them" in order to avoid the perceived stigma, and because of those cases, it becomes harder for the consumer to differentiate between small press and self-pub. The easiest way of doing this for those consumers, at the moment, is cover-stock.

Thank you for your attention,

Bookseller in December
Tags: in the bookstore, marketing, publishing
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