Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Mass Market Paperbacks Are Perfect

I was in the city yesterday to play some music--but before I did, I had an errand to run. I won't elaborate upon it here, but it was extremely dorky and necessitated my getting a large black flight case from Orchard Street to West 26th. And I am cheap, so no cab. I took the train.

As I was getting my case out of my bandmate's car, I saw, lying on the seat, the book I had been reading. (Remainder, of course, which so far I love.) I thought, should I take it with me? You never know when you're going to be stuck with nothing to do for ten minutes. I actually picked it up--but I knew it wouldn't fit in my coat pocket. It's a medium-sized trade paperback, and half the thing would have been poking out. So I left it, and hauled my case to the subway.

I got on the F at 2nd Avenue, and halfway to Lafayette Street the train ground to a halt. The lights flickered. The smell of acrid smoke began to filter through the crack between the doors. As it happened, a train up ahead had met some reeking demise, and we would be held up, confined in the tunnel, for nearly half an hour. Eventually, we would make it far enough to the next station to be able to evacuate through the front car--but meanwhile, I was stuck. With nothing to read.

If Remainder had been a mass market paperback, I would have thoroughly enjoyed the wait. But like most books I want to read, it wasn't. What's our beef with this wonderful invention? Why can't all books be published this way? If there were a decent publisher out there who would put out my stuff exclusively as mass market originals, I would fall over myself to get on board. It's the perfect format--small, cheap, egalitarian. It doesn't last forever, but it lasts long enough. Let libraries have the hardcovers, and fill the bookstores with books you can stick in your pocket. There are times when I have decided to read something exclusively because of its format, choosing it over books I actually wanted to read more, but would encumber me on my travels. I have actually re-read bad books for this reason.

Sometimes I have to stop and remind myself--what's this whole thing about? Writing, I mean. Am I doing it just to amuse myself? Sure--but I don't want to amuse myself in a drawer. I want people to read it. I want LOTS of people to read it. I want my blathering-ass self promulgated as efficiently as possible throughout the nation and world. Mass market paperbacks cost half what trade paperbacks do. Half! Why can't we all drop the charade and embrace them? The human pocket should never be without one.

26 comments:

HilariousMan 2: Return of Hilarious Man said...

Sounds like you need an e-book reader. All e-books are the same size, but the readers are a bit big for a pocket at the moment.

Hilarious Man 3: Return of Hilarious Man 2 said...

Just checked e-books.com. Why isn't Mailman available?

myles said...

Or you might carry a notebook and a pen, so you could write a great short story about a man trapped in the subway with an important but cumbersome suitcase and nothing to read.

5 Red Pandas said...

It seems that only the biggest literary books ever get the MMPB treatment. If Oprah hadn't given her approval I doubt The Corrections would have gotten the treatment- but it needed it! The hardcover on that is ginormous! I wish Tree of Smoke was already in pb because I know I'm not taking that one on the subway, and that's stopping me from starting it.

BTW- My husband and I did catch your "hippy" band yesterday. We enjoyed it, but he had to work in the morning so I didn't stop to say hi. Maybe next time.

rmellis said...

Why are you bitching at publishers? Shouldn't you be bitching at garment manufacturers? I mean, how hard is it to make a trade-paperback-friendly pocket? Not very.

In fact, my next pair of home-made jeans will have five of them.

AliciaABeale said...

trade paperbacks have better cover art than mass market, and mass market usually has that print you can easily smudge with your thumb.
taking the issue up with garment makers seems best.

no wonder you had to skrimp on a cab, because flight cases are really expensive. my boss plays bass and he's been hoping for one under 2 grand.

jrlennon said...

Hey pandas, thank you for coming to our thing! Indeed, I had a sixth sense, up on stage, that the audience had reached the double digits. Sorry we couldn't meet...

There's no reason that MMPB covers couldn't be as nice as trade ones! Publishers would have commit to them, though. And literary covers could be cheaper to produce than, say, thrillers--we could eschew the gilt embossing.

As for the case, it was for synth stuff--smaller than a bass case, thankfully, and a far cry from two thousand bucks.

And Mailman the e-book? Everything of mine is out of print in the US...you gotta have a publisher to have an e-book. Someday, though, I hope!

gmunroe said...

I think Rhian has a point. I bought my pea coat in part because of its XL book-friendly interior pocket. That sucker held a hardcover ed. of Don Quixote for a month and a half without issue. The only problem: in the same way that Costanza sits at a slant because of his oversized wallet, I think I've developed a slight list to port.

spockpicasso said...

Why didn't you just put the book inside the flight case?

jrlennon said...

Simple! Because I AM A IDIOT.

Anonymous said...

I used to have a coat with exterior pockets big enough for a QP. But it was 3 sizes too big in every other regard. Now I carry a small satchel everywhere. I don't think I have any pockets big enough to fit a "pocket size" paperback, to be honest. Although if you wear those hip hop or goth style pants, you could probably steal an entire airport book rack.

5 Red Pandas said...

Rhian, please do not encourage the garment industry to make pockets larger than they need to be. This might bring back the popularity of a certain fashion I thought would never die: The cargo pant. Please! No more cargo pants! When I see someone wearing them, and they actually put stuff in those pockets on the sides of their legs, it just looks like they somehow took a dump in their pockets. If you've ever seen a baby's diaper with a full load then you know what I mean.

I don't think most women have this problem with not having room for a book because we almost invariably carry some kind of bag. I have various sized bags for various types of outings. I always have a book, and sometimes I even carry hardcovers with me. In NYC most men carry some kind of bag, whether it's the backpack, messenger bag, or leather briefcase. Better yet, somewhere along the way it even became okay for certain young men to carry canvas tote bags. Now, I'm sure I couldn't get my husband to carry around the canvas tote that I lovingly put a panda transfer on, but when he wants to bring a book along he brings his trusty messenger bag.

Back to pockets. My mother, a former seamstress, obsessively sews mugger-proof secret pockets into all of her jackets. Her highest phrase of praise for any garment is, "Oh! It has a secret pocket!" She also makes secret pocket belts to wear inside your shirt, in case you have to bring along a government document. So, if any of you are in the market for extra pockets, please contact me. My mother is the right person for the job. Let's do business.

Anonymous said...

I love cargo pants! But secret pockets are, I must admit, even cooler.

Mr. Saflo said...

Absolutely shocking alarmist post ahead: mass markets, mainly those on the bestseller list, are being slowly pushed toward extinction by the new "premium paperback" format, which is slightly taller and awkward and cheaply made and fucking stupid and, despite the "designed for comfortable reading" sticker that came on the early versions, devised solely to earn an extra three or four dollars a pop. So instead of a regulation-size cheap novel you can fit in your pocket, you're paying ten dollars, yes, ladies and gentlemen, ten dollars for a book the size of a Frommers guide that you'll finish in a couple of hours and won't want to keep because it's ugly as sin. I hope someone from a big publisher is reading this, and is moved by my rage.

Dan H. said...

http://books.guardian.co.uk/news/articles/0,,2241443,00.html

The British have it all figured out.

You can roll up your sleeve and carry a book around like a street kid in the 1950s.

"Hey man, can I bum one of those off of you?"
"Sorry man, it's a Kafka."

Hilarious Man 4: Return of etc. etc. said...

You can publish an e-book yourself as long as you still have the rights...

Put it on digg.com, do a little free online marketing -- shouldn't be too hard. Set up a paypal account and either a donation system or an online shop.

Not very difficult at all.

jrlennon said...

Hell, I'd smoke Kafkas!

filled with water said...

Check this out:

http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20080109-beta-testing-a-novel-using-amazons-kindle.html

jrlennon said...

Ach, and digg.com...to be completely honest, I am not ready to go completely indie with my stuff. I don't want to throw publishing overboard entirely, I just want it to be better.

Self-publishing on the internet is a pretty much foolproof way of guaranteeing that nobody will put your book in physical print, ever, and that it will never be reviewed by anyone from any of the "legit" reviewing organs. Certainly I question the value of some of these institutions, but I still long for their approval. Such is the shadowy inner world of the literary novelist.

Ultimately, I DO value the physical book quite a lot. Unlike with music, where digitization doesn't hugely detract from the experience--at least for me--reading a book on a computer feels rather unsatisfying. There is the physical self-publishing route, as well--but then you have to do all the promotion yourself...and worse, you might learn precisely how unpopular you really are. Writers complain a lot about how publishers will never tell them how their sales are going, but in all honesty, we don't really want to know.

Anonymous said...

Off-topic, but I thought you might be interested in this: It's an article in Slate about whether or not Dmitri Nabokov should destroy Vladimir's final, unfinished manuscript. Personally, I'm torn. It's sounds extraordinary and I'm a big fan of the man, but...still. Here's the link. I promise it's safe.

Anonymous said...

My understanding re mass market, is that the benefit for the stores is that they simply rip off the covers and return them to the publisher: there are no real "returns" like with trade. That's why mm is so cheap: the bookstore orders them, then what they can't sell they trash. In the trash can. Your book. Sigh.

If your press run was 50K, they sell 25K, they trash 25K, everyone's happy and makes $$$.

rmellis said...

Hey, it's true about those absurd tall-format mass-market pbs! Our store doesn't sell a lot of mass market, so I never really noticed the trend, until I checked it out last night. They're taking over, and cost two extra bucks!!!

My bookstore does indeed tear off the covers of mass market pbs, and it used to bother me a lot. But I now accept that not every single book in the world deserves to live forever... indeed, some books are probably more useful reconstituted as pizza boxes...

Anonymous said...

When I worked at Borders a few years back, the mm paperbacks we had ripped the covers from didn't even get recycled. They literally went into the trash. And we had to rip the pages out of the first few chapters as well, so that no bum could pick one out of the trash and still read it. I always hated that job. Although, to be fair, most of the books in question were romance novels. Do they even count as books?

By the way, I am not the same person as any of the previous anonymous posters. Totally new anonymous.

rmellis said...

Welcome, new anonymous!

Hey Pandas -- after a decade or so of making fun of cargo pants, I actually bought a pair from the thrift shop last summer. That I would even consider it should have alerted me to their complete overness.

jrlennon said...

I think there has to be an Ellis Exception to the no-cargo-pants rule. She looks smokin' in 'em.

5 Red Pandas said...

I'll grant Rhian an exception to the cargo pant band, but only as long as she does not actually use the cargo pockets.