Are You a Paperback Writer?

Happy Tuesday, everyone!

Reading last week’s comments on what you’d like to see here on WG2E, I was struck by the questions on CreateSpace and the like. Why? Because releasing paperbacks has been so far from my mind lately, I put all relating issues right out of my head. Out of the three novels I’ve self-published, I only formatted one for paperback . . . and I have to admit, given the low number of sales, it wasn’t exactly a great use of my time.

It’s not that the book hasn’t sold well. To date, I’ve probably sold almost 30 thousand copies of that title, yet less than one per cent of those sales were paperbacks. And despite selling more than 150,000 ebooks now, I can probably count on both hands the number of times anyone has asked if I have a paperback available.

So what gives? Is it just me? Are my readers strictly of the e-variety?

I don’t extol the ‘print is dead’ mantra. I know there are many people who prefer to read hard copies, and print sales – while not as strong as they once were – are still bringing in revenue. So I’m curious:

Are you a paperback writer? What are your print sales like compared to your ebook sales?

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  1. I offered print versions in 2009 and 2010. I gave up on it in 2011, when I noticed my print sales had fallen off substantially, but I didn’t realize just how dismal they’d become until I received yet another email from a reader pleading for me to put out my books in print because she didn’t own an eReader (she even asked me to run a contest with a Kindle as first prize). I did a study of the previous four months. I sold less than $20 worth of print books, yet in that same time period made more than $7K in eBook sales. Add to that the expense of an ISBN number (I put my eBooks under my publisher name, not wanting Create Space to show as the publisher), the time it spent to format with drop caps, print offset, different odd/even page headers, the aggravation my cover designer had fitting the spine to order, paying for spine and back covers…the choice was obvious. And the reader who kept pleading with me to publish in print? I explained my reasons for no longer publishing in print, and I’m happy to say that she has since become the proud owner of a Kobo reader.

    Yes, I know that some leading names in the business are bullish on offering print versions as well. Listening to what mega-successful authors have done is fine–they have much to share–but common sense and what is right for your own situation should always prevail rather than blindly rushing to follow someone else’s advice because they’re selling boatloads of books.

    • Talli Roland says:

      Bettye, I am on the exact same wavelength as you. My print sales don’t really justify the time or effort to convert the files.

  2. Sibel Hodge says:

    I do have paperbacks of my novels but sales only equate to around 0.5 – 1% of ebook sales. It doesn’t take me very long to format the standard novels (without illustrations or pics), so I think it’s still worth doing for those few readers who want it in paperback.

    • Talli Roland says:

      I might do a paperback version if the covers didn’t take me sooooo long to format! I must admit, I find formatting the text quite tedious, too.

  3. I do produce paperback copies of all my novels (not my short stories) because I am a paperback reader. I personally know only one person who owns an ereader, which means none of my friends and family would read my books if they only existed in ebook form. It’s hard to sell an ebook at a market, an event or at a tourist centre.

    And, paperbacks make it more real for me. They’re on my shelf. I can see them now and if fire doesn’t destroy them, I’ll read them forty years from now without the need to convert to a new file format.

    • Talli Roland says:

      I agree that having your books in paperback makes it more real. It’s lovely to be able to look at them and hold them – tangible proof of your hard work. And yes, it is hard to sell an ebook at a market!

  4. Sue Fortin says:

    I self-published my first novel last year in both formats. I have sold some paperbacks but they were to friends and local book club, everything else has been digital. Athough, it is nice to ‘stroke’ my own book, I’m not sure in future I could off-set this pleasure with the pleasure my bank account would get if I saved the cost of printing.

    • Talli Roland says:

      Yup, I hear you, Sue! Although I used CreateSpace, which is practically free, the time I save by not doing paperback versions is worth it.

  5. There are two reasons why I will always make my novels available through print-on-demand in addition to the ebook version:

    1. My mom loves having printed copies to show off and give to friends/family (and so do I).

    2. I think it adds a touch of ‘real writer’ to the novel when the customer pulls it up on Amazon, and there are multiple versions of it available on the screen, instead of just one glaring ‘Kindle Version’ line item to choose from. To me, it’s worth the extra hours to gain that little bit of ‘pro’ vibe, especially since Createspace allows me to do it for free.

    • Talli Roland says:

      Alex, I agree – that’s part of the reason I did my first novel in print, too (the extra versions adding a more professional touch). However, I wonder if readers really notice? Hmm…

  6. I’ve published both of my novel in paperback as well as digital. While there are many people who prefer ebooks, I’m finding that there are still quite a few people who will buy my books in paperback.

  7. Tamara Ward says:

    Thanks for the post. My ebook sales far outpace my paperback sales, but I plan on still publishing paperbacks. They’re so cheap to produce (I do the formatting myself), and I get the return in the investment fairly quickly between online paperback sales and sales through book events I go to from time to time.

    • Talli Roland says:

      Hi Tamara, yes, I suppose if you go to a lot of book events etc, then it would definitely be worthwhile having paperbacks. Plus, if you can recoup the cost, it does makes sense.

  8. Julie Day says:

    This is interesting. I have just uploaded my second YA fantasy short ebook on to Draft2Digital to do a print version with CreateSpace, and was wondering whether to do the same for my romance ebooks, too. Some of you say that you have only got a v small profit from print and others say they do it anyway.

    • Talli Roland says:

      Hi Julie, it does seem to vary from writer to writer! Let us know your experience – keep us posted!

  9. Amanda Egan says:

    I think times have definitely changed. When I first published (almost two years ago) SO many people were asking for hard copies so I took the easy (cheap!) option and went with Lulu print on demand.
    Now I think so many people have eReaders there is less demand for paperbacks. I may sell a couple a month.
    I have to admit, there’s nothing like holding a physical copy or your own work in your hand though – so I would always print with Lulu too.

    • Talli Roland says:

      Amanda, I do love holding a copy in my hand, but… right now, to me, it’s just not worth the extra time and headspace to do a print copy.I reserve the right to change my mind!

  10. Liz says:

    My two full lengths are in paperback and like you they are less than 1% of my sales. But using the Goodreads Giveaways really helped drive sales especially since I was so unknown. Also Amazon shows how much the reader will save buying the Kindle ebook versus the print and the reader feels like they are getting a bargain.

    • D.D. Scott says:

      Interesting point here, Liz:

      “Also Amazon shows how much the reader will save buying the Kindle ebook versus the print and the reader feels like they are getting a bargain.”

      • Talli Roland says:

        Yes, that’s one of the reasons I did print to begin with – because I wanted the reader to see how much they were saving with the Kindle version! :)

  11. Bill Beaman says:

    There’s still a very strong market for a reasonably priced paperback, especially if it is signed by the author. I’ve sold about 5000 the last three years since I started my self-publishing journey. Marketing these paperbacks is something positive I can do while I wait for the ebook versions to catch up. Every paperback sale I make is equal to selling 15 ebooks at $.99. I wish I had audio books for sale as well and plan to follow up on that venture. It’s a business as well as an art. Print books in stores and on people’s coffee tables are like little billboards. If people don’t know about your books, they won’t buy them. But don’t print paperbacks if you don’t know how to take them out of the box and make a real effort to market them.

    • D.D. Scott says:

      Another great point, Bill:

      “But don’t print paperbacks if you don’t know how to take them out of the box and make a real effort to market them.”

      You’ve got to be able to do your own hand-selling.

    • Talli Roland says:

      Yes, you do need to invest time and effort into selling paperbacks, I agree. Very impressed with your sales!

  12. I am a paperback writer. I sold my first book, “Tempting Jonah,” to small press in 1998, and it was in paperback. My other three books are e-books. My short stories were in magazines, but later appeared on the Internet. I agree with you, Alex, that my mom and some of my friends (especially one who says he doesn’t know too much about computers) would love to have copies of a book. My sales of e-books aren’t going so well since I’m so unknown but I think eventually they will pick up (I hope). Even though I probably won’t make as much from the print books, I’m thinking of trying Createspace so my family and friends can have those printed copies. Is it really free? I’m skeptical.

    • Talli Roland says:

      Nancy, CreateSpace is a great tool to get your book into print, and yes – it is mainly free (you do need to pay something like $25 for extended distribution).

      • Thanks, Talli — it sounds good, especially for people I know who don’t have computers like my parents. I also love having a book to hold in my hand, but since I downloaded Kindle for my PC, I’m enjoying all the new authors I discovered.

  13. Angela Brown says:

    Oddly, I haven’t sold very many paperback editions either. Although my experience is still rather limited. The new series I’m introducing, I don’t plan for it to go to paperback until I do it as a collection of the stories/novella, but e-books have been the main thing that sales. Otherwise, the paperbacks have mostly been giveaways.

  14. LM Preston says:

    Yes, I am a paperback writer. I write Middle Grade fiction and that mostly sells in paperback. Not by a landslide but decent enough for me to have to do at least 1 printing a year for the title. Once the series ends I’ll move it to POD since my distributor seems to keep pushing it to stores and libraries. The ebook sells for my MG are decent but not over the top. However, my Young Adult novels ebook sells out do my print. But I still do print since my distributor seems to push those to other venues and I use them for signings I enjoy doing at BEA and ALA. I also have my short YA Romances in just ebook format. I will move them to POD with Lightening Source next year with my other Middle Grade Titles. My distribution is varied. I have some offset print copies distributed through my distributor, I’m moving some to POD that have been in print for over 2 yrs, and I have all in ebook format. I’m lucky in that my print book cost and sells break even so it’s not a big expense. However, if I wanted to streamline and cutback to focus only on profit, I’d stop printing books.

    • Talli Roland says:

      LM, I think Middle Grade is perhaps a different kettle of fish than my genre. Interesting that different formats sell differently across the genres. Can you tell I like the word ‘different’?

  15. Glynis Smy says:

    My ebook sales are much higher than paperback. I create the paperbacks for mother, and those friends and family who want a copy on their shelf. Other than that, I wouldn’t bother. The fact that it costs next to nothing to publish a paperback is the reason I do so. If it meant I was out of pocket, I would buy mother a Kindle! :)

    • D.D. Scott says:

      LOL…that’s what I did, Glynis…just bought my mom a Kindle Fire!!! :-)

    • SK Holmesley says:

      One of the things that I ran across with my mom and dad was that both had reached the stage where it was very difficult for them to read the small print common in paperbacks. The one book that I put out in print (softbound, but not technically a paperback), I self-published through a Canadian company (Trafford, since sold to another group, so different contracts) as a large print book. (That was before eBook readers were common, standardized on formats, or even affordable.) I know that the publisher sold 1 copy of the softbound to a library, and I sent a copy to my dad, and a copy to my mom. Otherwise, I placed a number of copies on bookshelves in various coffee houses that had small libraries so their patrons could read while they were there. That was for advertising. I know at least a few of those copies were picked up, because I’ve since seen them for sale on Amazon as used books. :-) Later though, we got my mom a laptop and a Blackberry. She was reading on those, because she could make the print larger, so it was easier for her. I really regret that she didn’t live until eReaders came of age, because she loved to read and the modern eReader’s would have made that activity so much simpler for her.

      In any case, I can barely see the print on a normal paperback myself (haven’t been able to for years), between the grayish paper and the tiny print, so if I were to print publish again, I would still go to softbound, large print. Even then it would be principally for advertisement (copies in coffee shops). Since I only read on the computer (so thankful most technical manuals are available on line from whatever vendor and for O’Reilly’s Safari), and the majority of my friends and family have digital readers, other than advertisement, I’m not likely to go to print. I do like now that the POD is available that I can get single advertising copies without having to commit to a print run if I decide to go that route.

    • Talli Roland says:

      Luckily my dad finally got a Kindle so I didn’t have to buy him one!

  16. PJ Sharon says:

    I love having print copies to offer at signings, in giveaways (Goodreads doesn’t allow e-book giveaways yet), to send to reviewers, and to have available for “paperback” readers. For me it’s just one more step in the process and one more way to get the books out there. Holding that hard copy in my hands is always such a thrill for me that its worth the effort, even if I don’t sell many.

  17. Ansha Kotyk says:

    I’m with LM in that I also write Middle Grade, so my sales are primarily paperback. This has allowed me to do a number of things that I wouldn’t be able to do if my books were solely epubs. I’ve been able to donate books to children’s organizations, schools and libraries. I’ve done giveaways on Goodreads and Library Thing. I’ve had signings at toy stores and plan to do more events in the summer.
    Being an unknown author means it’s paramount that I get my books and name out there to people. I’ve found that having a paperback to hand out makes it easier for me.

    • Talli Roland says:

      Ansha, yes, paperbacks are critical to have if you attend author events and school talks, I agree! They’re a great marketing tool.

  18. Diana Layne says:

    I plan to have paperback for each of mine, but so far only have one and working on the second. However, I was reading reviews yesterday and one reader complained and gave a one star to a writer because the book wasn’t available in paperback.

    • Talli Roland says:

      Diana, wow, that’s harsh of the reviewer to do that! Interesting to know that some people still feel that strongly about the issue.

  19. D.D. Scott says:

    I’m with you, Talli, in that I don’t even think about paper copies anymore. In fact, I’ve never bothered to take the time or spend the money to create the paper versions for any of my books!

    For one thing, I write shorter novels/novellas, for the most part, so I’d have a very thin, weird sized paper book.

    And without the kind of distribution that gets your paper copies into major outlets – groceries, drug stores, big box stores, as well as book stores, it’s just not a viable market for me.

    My time and money is better spent writing and producing my next Ebook.

  20. It is no effort to format your text suitable for paperback in the first place. Set your margins to mirror margins with the appropriate templates they have posted on CreateSpace, 6×9 paper with .5″ margins, and start typing. Keep your text clean, no weird tables or anything. Use Normal styles to type your text and Heading 1 each time you create a new chapter, and when you’re done, it takes very little tweaking to translate it all into POD. You can spot as you write when your paragraphs are getting too long, too dense, or line up like little same-length soldiers, reminding you to speak with your characters and not your exposition, because it looks they way it would in a book.

    You can print it at Createspace without costing a penny, not even an ISBN. Their cover creator works well to create your own cover art, and if you opt not to do expanded distribution and sacrifice your profit margin you can get the cost down to the point a hardcore paperback reader can buy a print edition not too terribly more expansive than a mass market produced one of the same size and length. If you typed it clean, using styles, you can then add your MSword table of contents, save it as filtered .html, and convert it to .epub using calibre or upload it directly to Smashwords, Kobo or Kindle. No frills … no cost … not a big deal. The benefit is that your ebook then looks exactly like a ‘real’ book, even though it is electronic. It ‘feels’ like a ‘real’ book because, before you converted it, it was.

    The benefit of POD is that you can use it for a Goodreads giveaway. Nearly all of my reviews came from Goodreads, and readers trust them more. I use them for book signings, to donate to libraries, and as Christmas presents for friends. It feels ‘real’ on my shelf, and when I tell people I’m an author and they say they’ve never heard of me, I can pull out my book and hand it to them. As a practicing attorney, you should never underestimate the weight people give to things they read in print. There is a reason the Federal Rules of Evidence bar newspapers and books as proof of facts in legal cases … the human mind is conditioned to give weight to things that are read in books and newspapers … more so than any other medium. Electronic media are harder to get people to believe … they are ethereal … not real … and people are more prone to distrust it.

    Print books also make a nice price comparison for a ‘bargain’ when the print title cost is listed next to your ebook on Amazon, and people are more willing to assume you’re a ‘pro’ when you have a ‘real’ book listed as well as an ebook. Perhaps that bias is changing, but as an unknown author, I need every advantage I can get!

    The nicest advantage, however, and an unintended benefit, is one of my strings of most rabid readers originates from a single print edition given away on Goodreads that passed through perhaps two dozen hands. I have a little mini-epicenter of fans originating out of the middle of Michigan where sales of ebooks cluster, all word of mouth originating from that same book that was passed around. Although I have given away thousands of the ebook edition, word of mouth was not so great. I think perhaps it is because when someone asks ‘what are you reading’ and you hold it up, it’s a lot easier to see it is a book, and what the cover looks like, and ask questions, versus an e-reader (which these days are becoming iPhones or tablet devices) which might be a video game, a document you are reading for work, or just plain web-surfing. An e-read book sits on the device once your reader is done with it, but paper copies tend to be passed around.

    When ‘Prince of Tyre’ comes out, I will be ordering an entire case and giving them away, hoping to find more such fans.

    • Talli Roland says:

      That’s fantastic, Anna – looks like doing print has really paid off for you – literally! :) I wish I could say as much, but I haven’t seen the advantages. My books that aren’t in print have done as well or even better than those that are, although I do agree it doesn’t cost much – if anything – to put the book out in print through CreateSpace. It does take me quite a bit of time to format the cover, and unless I can see tangible benefits like you have, it’s just not worth it.

      • Have you tried CreateSpace’s free cover creator? As long as your cover artist provides you with an image that is 300 dpi or more, you can just upload the front cover as is to the ‘blank front’ template of Cover Creator and then use their template to put in your author name, title, and back-cover matter. You’re unlikely to ever get your book into bookstores where a perfect all-around cover is critical, so it’s acceptable to only have the front-matter match your online thumbnail.

  21. This is a fascinating discussion for me since I’m waiting for my first proof copy from CreateSpace to arrive in the mail. Others have stated my reasons for doing a paperback version–giveaways on Goodreads, the ability to be included in a raffle basket of books my Sisters in Crime chapter is doing, to show multiple versions of the book on Amazon with the ebook savings, and to reach the audience that doesn’t have ereaders. I belong to one writers group which has a large contingent of very vocal people who swear they will never own an ereader. Since this group forms a core part of my target audience, I thought it would be a good idea to have a paperback available.

    I’m looking at the paperback primarily as a marketing tool, so the fact that it is costing me additional money to produce doesn’t bother me. Well, not much. However, I’ll be watching sales carefully to decided whether to do paperbacks in the future or not. It did take a long time to format the book (and my novels change way too much between first draft and final version to type directly into a Word template) and I’ll have to decide whether the time and effort are worth it for me to do this on future books.

    • Talli Roland says:

      Elise, I think looking at it as a marketing tool is the best way! As others have said, if you intend on doing author events and fair, etc, it’s very difficult to give away or sell an ebook.

  22. Lily silver says:

    i have my books available in both digital and print. I have a family who are strong printed copy advocates, and who prefer print copies of my books. I have also used the print versions for goodreads giveaways, for blog promo giveaways, and for gift baskets for my statec conference. I also donate a print copy to the libraries in my area. on ocaasion, I have been to book sales events (local craft type fairs), and sold a few copies.

    that said, I feel print copies are more for promo than anything else, and yes, I do have a print copy of each title (4 to date) on my shelf. That feels great. Bottom line for me is that print copies don’t really make you any money, not compared to ebooks. 99% of my sales this past year has been in ebook format. Print copies cost you only if you order copies yourself to sell/give away as promo. I might be. a wee bit old fashioned, as I work at a library, but I do still like the solid feel of a book in my hand. So, when I go about my small town in northern Wisconsin and say I am a writer, and people ask where I’m published, and I tell them my books are digital, they kind of go “eh, thats nice.”. But if I pull a print copy out of my pack and show them, the response is so different. Its more “Wow, you’re an Author! ( capital A intended). How awesome, I cant wait to read your book.” Granted, I live in a small town that is still for the most part stuck in the 1990s, but the perceptions of people without ereaders seems to be that digital books are just ethereal, floaty, things in cyber space whereas a solid print book is real to them, and proof that I’m not just a super blogger claiming to be an author. I will do print copies, as my husband, kids, and inlaws and friends always insist on having a print copy of each title for their shelves, but that is just what works for me.

    If someone is debating the issue for themselves, realize that print copies don’t sell like ebooks, you won’t be making oodles of money on them, but they are a nice compliment to your ebooks, nd can be used for promo and gifts. I could barely fill my gas tank once with what I made last year with print copy sales, but I made several thousand on my ebook sales. The choice is personal for each writer.

    • Talli Roland says:

      Lily, I think you have the right mindset when it comes to print! Thank you for that last paragraph – you’re right: the choice is down to the individual and what they’re looking to accomplish.

  23. Doug Welch says:

    The whole discussion of print sales verses unit sales is misleading. Most publishers and their tame blog sites (whose names I won’t mention) talk about dollar sales when comparing the two. Since eBooks are typically cheaper than print books it’s natural to show higher dollar figures. To get a better comparison, the contrast should be in unit sales. Even if the unit sales were split 50-50 the dollar figure for print books would be higher because print costs more. In addition, if the market for eBooks is expanding but the prices are decreasing, the figures will show a false slowing of eBook sales.
    I’ve only formatted two books for print, and only for my own purposes.
    Regardless of what people say about the slowing of eBook sales, eBooks still represent the future. There are hidden demographics that many people are not taking into account.
    For example, the aging part of the Nation’s population needs eBooks to continue reading. Two years ago I was solely a print book reader. Now in my advancing years I find print books impossible to read with any comfort. I’ve switched to eBooks and will never switch back.
    Speaking of eBooks, some authors seem to want to fix their offerings in terms of the formatting. If you plan to sell to the baby-boomers I’d advise to not do it. Fixing the format makes it impossible to increase the text size in most eReaders. We need to have larger text to compensate for failing eyesight. When I find an eBook in which I can’t increase the text size I typically put it away, even though I might desire to read it.

    • Talli Roland says:

      Doug, thank you for that – interesting point about older readers and ease of use with ebooks. I hadn’t thought of that angle.

  24. Gail Kushner says:

    I have printed and Kindle versions of my book. I love the physical books because I often set up at events and sell printed books. It gives the customer the immediate gratification of buying the book. They don’t have to go home and download the file. My concern is that by the time they get home, they will have lost the motivation to purchase the book. However, I think e-books are a huge market, so I have both printed and e-versions.

  25. Celina Grace says:

    I’ve got both print and Kindle versions of my books and while I agree that the effort, time and money involved in creating print copies doesn’t really make sound business sense (well, not so far for me), there really is no feeling like it to be able to hold a REAL copy of your book in your hands :) Having said that, for my next novel (coming in at a fairly short 50K) I probably won’t get the print copies done unless my readers demand it. Or until the eBook sales have paid for the upfront costs!
    Have linked to this discussion on

  26. Darlene says:

    I’m just getting started, and so far, sales of print and digital are about even. I suspect that’s because my friends and family want a signed copy. Even if sales drop off, I’m planning to offer a Createspace digital version of my next book as well. For me, if no one else.
    I love having a printed copy. Plus, I like having it in a couple of bookstores and the library.

  27. deniz says:

    150,000 books? That is AWESOME. Congratulations!
    I think if I self-published I would do paperback, if only because I still prefer reading paper books…