Wednesday, June 27, 2018

On Format

By David E. Sharp

What qualifies as a book?

The word has come to encompass much more than it once did. A series of pages bearing Times New Roman font between two covers? Certainly. But there are also eBooks, audiobooks, picture books, web serials, graphic novels, pop-up books and even an edible cookbook. (True! It does exist.)

My own novel was released first as an eBook. Several people told me they were interested in reading it, but didn't care for eBooks. They'd rather wait for a tangible copy. Now the paperbound edition is out, and people ask me when it will be on audio.

Format is key to reaching readers.

At the library, we know this. Variety of formats is one of the major factors we consider in our collections. Readers have different preferences. And we do our best to accommodate. (Yes, you can check out eBooks from a library. You don't even have to be in the building.) We know that in a diverse community, our best shot at servicing our patrons is to understand that they aren't going to all fit the same mold.

As authors, we also have to consider what formats are important for our readers.

What do our readers want? Should I create a pop-up edition of my memoir? Probably not, but then pop-up books have been known to add a special quality to all kinds of subjects. Here are some things to consider for a few of the key formats.

Not the coziest way to read a book,
but you can have a whole bookshelf
 with you anywhere you go!

There are some obvious benefits here for authors. First, there's a lower overhead since you don't have to print anything. You also don't have to risk ordering more copies than you can sell and having an attic full of paperbacks. And the price-point is usually lower too. Nevertheless, some authors report taking in a higher  profit per copy than a bound book.

Other considerations depend on your audience. Young and reluctant readers find it less intimidating to read an eBook than a bound copy. Readers with poor eyesight can adjust the size of the font. And frequent travelers can tote them along in bags that fit easily in an overhead compartment. There is also the instant gratification factor. Once someone is interested in purchasing your book, they don't have to wait for shipping before they indulge.

Plenty of authors use this platform exclusively, and in many ways it carries the least risk. On the downside, there is very little you can do with the text formatting, and illustrations are tricky to work with. It's also less warm and cuddly than a paper book.

Bound Books
Where eBooks offer convenience,
paper books offer experience.

Once upon a time, this was a risky option. In order to print enough books to make it worthwhile, publishers had to run large quantities and hedge their bets on how many they could sell. With the advent of print-on-demand services, small press and independent publishers can take advantage of bound books without taking on a second mortgage. How viable are these for authors in a digital age?

Turns out, very! A study reported in The Guardian showed readers remember more from a physical book than from an eBook. They were also better able to immerse themselves in the story, experience empathy for the characters and follow a narrative. Physical books are also better to read before bed, because they don't emit back-light that affects sleep.

Bound books also advertise themselves. Have you ever picked up a book because you saw someone reading it in a coffee shop? I have. Your book jacket is your first best advertising medium. Physical books are easy to share, and resell. That may not seem appetizing to an author who's thinking about lost sales revenue, but building an audience is better for the long term.

Just to be clear, this is NOT
the way to make an audiobook.

Have you considered an audiobook? Maybe you should! Many books, even from big five publishers, never see an audio version. But in our digital/streaming culture (and the advent of services like audible), this could be a natural fit for your book.

Recent studies have found that people listening to a story being told have a higher physiological response than they do even from visual media. Good news for fiction writers! If you really want to amp that tension, this may be a great avenue. Nevertheless, it does come with a cost. Studio time and professional narrators aren't cheap. And a low-quality audiobook could do more harm than good.

Still, a smaller pool of titles on services like Audible means that a good audiobook has a better chance of standing out. Is this something your readers would crave? Even if your publisher doesn't include audio rights in your contract (mine doesn't), you can make it happen. Companies like ACX and Author's Republic can publish audio versions of your book and make them available on the major streaming channels.

Edible Cookbooks

No comments, here. You're on your own. Needless to say, we don't include these in our library offerings. We fear the day someone might return them. (shudder)

Need some further reading? Here's a few articles to help you determine which formats are the best for your books.

Author Earnings: Print vs. Digital

Readers Absorb Less on Kindles than on Paper, Study Finds

Books vs. eBooks: The Science Behind the Best Way to Read

Measuring Narrative Engagement

Yes, You Can Record Your Own Audiobook

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