My daughter told me tonight that author James Patterson is running a TV commercial in which he threatens to kill his protagonist if people don't buy his new book. I think Stephen King already did that once in The Dark Half and it didn't work out so well for the guy (wait, no, twice, he did it in Misery, too.)
Maybe it's a joke, but getting all Abraham with your readership is like telling your editor what you really think of him. Just don't go there. Ever.
I know the steady decline in hardcover sales is costing the big names lots of bucks (according to Publishers Weekly, adult hardcover sales were down 13% in 2008 as a result of a 5.3% drop in gross sales plus 10.8% increase in returns, and while I don't have any reliable figures for 2009, friends tell me it's been a bad year for the hardbound.)
I buy mostly paperbacks, but I'll admit, I didn't buy as many hardcover novels in 2009 as I have in years past. 99.9% of what I did buy were for blog giveaways or were copies I passed along to friends with tight book budgets. It's always been tough for me to pay $27.00 for a hardcover when I can get three paperbacks for $24.00, and I only do it for a couple authors like Mary Balogh and Linda Howard. I'm also now having trouble holding heavy hardcovers for long periods of time, and most of the big fat ones like Stephen King's latest I read from a bookstand or from the tabletop, which sometimes gives me a neck crick. Since I can't use an e-reader, paperbacks really are the most comfortable reads for me.
I think most readers are being pretty cautious when it comes to buying hardcovers, too, as I'm not seeing the booksellers moving much of their big name stock. I saw one novel by a critically-acclaimed author marked "Clearance -- 50% off" at BAM last week, which was a huge shock. Why? This particular author was advanced millions, had a multi-million-dollar marketing campaign, plus the book was just released this fall. I'd heard that it tanked, and badly, but to hold a firesale before it's even had three full months on the shelf? That is troubling.
To be published in hardcover is nice -- I've had about ten books debut that way -- but these days they're just not selling (and with the economy the way it is, I doubt that's going to change.) I'm sure the big names have enough in the bank to weather the storm, but until prestige pays the bills the working writer has a better chance of earning out and even making a profit in paperback -- and even more so in electronic format. If I were ever given a choice (most authors don't choose how their books are printed, btw; publishers decide that) I'd pick paperback every time.
Another downside to hardcovers is the short shelf life. I've notice a lot of paperback reprints of hardcover titles being released within six months of the hardcover (it used to be a year or more) which pretty much kills the sales of hardcover editions. With less time on the shelves, it's likely that a larger percentage of hardcovers are being remaindered sooner than they should be (which may also explain why the returns in 2008 were so high.)
That day at BAM I almost bought a sympathy copy of the millionaire author's 50%-off title. I know, it's weird, but in the past I have bought books because I felt sorry for their one-hit wonder authors. But evidently the economy and the plight of too many midlist authors has changed my attitude. As I picked up the book, I thought of two paperbacks I wanted that I could buy for the same price as the one hardcover. In the end I went for paperbacks instead, and honestly? I didn't feel guilty at all. I felt I was being supportive of two authors who interested me and who I know don't have millions in the bank.
As for James Patterson, I never followed any of his series books so it doesn't make any difference to me if he kills this character or not. I bet his fans feel differently, though.
I'm curious -- what, if any, hardcovers are you guys buying these days? Do you have any criteria as to what you will buy in hardcover? Do you find you're more inclined to wait for the paperback, or buy books that are first released in paperback versus hardcover? And last but not least, would an author threatening to kill off a character compel you to buy their book? Let us know what you think in comments.