3. Contracts, Production, Promotion
In the US, fiction comes out as hardback first, then as standard paperback. In other countries, it's often trade paperback first, i.e. a large size paperback. The idea is the same everywhere, to get a double bite at the cherry. With hardback first and standard paperback to follow, there’s more time to get momentum going with reviews and word-of-mouth. And when one format has had its time on the bookshop shelves, another appears to maintain the presence.
A different means to the same end is the advance short run of reading copies, using a short run method of printing. These will go out to reviewers and/or bookshops and/or general movers and shakers within the book industry. With luck, reviews will be appearing soon after the selling copies hit the shops, instead of several months later.
The word ‘trade’ has a further meaning for children’s and teen fiction, where titles are marketed either as trade or as education. Whereas trade sales are made through bookshops in the ordinary way, education sales are made through schools, organized by school-visiting reps. For some reason no one can explain, titles are almost never marketed as both trade and education. The education market has its own requirements; it pays, but it doesn’t do much for an author’s general profile.
Bookshop sales work in different ways depending on the type of shop. At one extreme are the ‘independents’, who make their own decisions and order in whatever they think they can sell. (And don’t we love ‘em!) At the other extreme are the newsagents, that have their books supplied by a supplier like stationery or greeting cards.
Chain stores vary along the same spectrum. Company stores are run by managers who simply stock the titles ordered in by the chain’s head office. Similarly with the book sections of the big departmental stores. Franchise stores are more independent: they have to take certain quantities of the titles ordered in by head office (at a bulk discount, naturally), but they also make their own decisions about other orders.
When the books arrive, they’re categorized according to the shop’s shelves: Fantasy/SF, Children’s/Teen, etc. Bookshops will almost never put a title in two separate places, which can be a problem for a book that crosses between genres.
What about end-of-row positioning, dump bins, special spots? Let’s not get carried away! A publishing house has to offer incentives to bookshops and/or head office to gain these spots. With company stores, there’s payment involved … in fact, they require payment even for putting up posters of a book.
(If this sounds all upside-down, it’s how supermarkets work too. Food makers have to pay for a prominent space on the shelves for their products.)
Lastly, the issue of shelf-time. Groan! The old expectation that a book would stay on display for 6 months is highly optimistic nowadays. It’s sell fast or perish! When you think how long we take getting around to buying a book, how long we take reading it, how long before we recommend it to friends—well, a movie that’s on the screens for a week has more chance of building momentum by word-of-mouth.