My first article for Publishing Perspectives went live this morning and is all about the advantages (and disadvantages) of the paper-over-board format.
I have a visceral hatred for dust jackets – I strip them off, I crinkle them, I lose them. So in 2007, when in the process of launching Open Letter (a new publishing house at the University of Rochester dedicated to international literature), we had to decide whether we wanted to do our books as paperbacks, traditional hardcovers, or some third, more unique design, like “paper-over-board.”
Basically, paper-over-board books are hardcovers without a dust jacket. But not those musty, dowdy books you might find in an abandoned corner of a library . . . Printing technologies have come a long way, and now paper-over-board books can be as vibrant and attractive as any paperback, and printed in the same trade size as well.
This format is pretty common among European presses: Proa Editions in Barcelona produces a gorgeous line of paper-over-board books, as does Wydawnictwo W.A.B. in Warsaw, another Polish publisher, Swiat Ksiazki, and Karolinum Press in Prague (which also uses some of the most buttery paper I’ve ever stroked).
It’s not very common in the United States though. Lemony Snicket’s “A Series of Unfortunate Events” books are paper-over-board, and for adult fiction, HarperCollins USA published both Toby Barlow’s Sharp Teeth and Dubravka Ugresic’s The Ministry of Pain as paper-over-board titles, but those are the rare exceptions. (One independent bookseller who’s a big fan of this format showed a copy of one of Open Letter’s books to sales rep from a major distributor, who then replied, “Well, it looks pretty European” in a way that was probably pejorative.)
Marketing was the primary motivating factor in our decision making process. Our paper-over-board books would definitely stand out in the bookstore and would be very classy (or so we thought). And we also thought (although as you’ll see below this gets a bit complicated) that readers would appreciate being able to get a nice looking, durable hardcover at a very reasonable price.
Unfortunately, as is explained at the end of the piece, this format can be a bit baffling to customers and bookstores alike, falling in between the traditional hardcover market and paperback buyers. And since our mission really is to reach as many readers as possible with our books—and since we think we’ll be able to reach more with paperbacks—we’ve decided to do all paperbacks for the next season. This isn’t saying that we won’t go back to paper-over-board at some point (man, I really do love that format), but for the sake of our authors, we’re at least going to try this out.
Originally published in French in 2007, We’re Not Here to Disappear (On n’est pas là pour disparaître) won the Prix Wepler-Fondation La Poste and the Prix Pierre Simon Ethique et Réflexion. The work has been recently translated by Béatrice Mousli. . .
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