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PUBLISHING IN UNUSUAL FORMATS

November 18, 2020

            This reminds me of the old warning about sending out query letters to agents. “Don’t get cute.”

            By that I mean, don’t use frilly stationary, soak it in perfume, or send a tattered note with a bad typewriter key on it, coffee stained, with a cigarette burn…things like that. Agents usually don’t appreciate when the author goes into character for their query letters.

            How about the book when it gets published?

WHAT’S AN UNUSUAL FORMAT?

            This should go without saying, but not everyone is on the same wavelength. Any book that does not fit on the shelf is the simplest way to put it.

            When you go to the bookstore and you see row upon row of books, and something sticks out because it looks like it doesn’t belong on the shelf, THAT’S an unusual format.

            In the past few years, maybe more, the only games in town (brick and mortar bookstores) have narrowed so that nowadays, trade paperbacks are now mixed with mass market paperbacks as well as hardbacks. A long time ago, things didn’t used to be that way. Each format had their own shelves. With shrinking brick and mortar space, and variety, that’s no longer true. It’s all mixed together.

            Still, when you browse the shelves and see something that looks like it doesn’t belong, it’s going to stand out.

            For instance, when the shape and size of the book looks like it should be in the art department, or sewing, or maybe crafts, that’s going to stand out.

            When the binding is three-ring, or spiral-bound, we have something unusual.

            When it looks like it has foldouts or appears to be a children’s story in the adult fiction category, uh oh…

CAN THIS WORK?

            There can be significant hurdles to such an endeavor. First off is why? Does the story fit the unusual format? If so, can you get the publisher to go along with the format?

            Another big if is will the public go along with it?

            Think of this. Consider the extra expense involved in publishing something in this unusual format. Will the public be willing to spring the extra bucks for it?

            Now, consider those that collect books at home. They’re going to have to figure out where to place your “masterpiece” on the shelf.

            Have you considered whether this “experiment’s” really going to be a hot seller, or just a novelty that’s going to fall flat?

WHY I BRING THIS UP

            I just read an icky bug novel that I’ve seen on the horror shelf at Barnes & Noble a few times but have skipped for a while. The format was like an art book. It was set up as a furniture store catalog, a very familiar furniture store catalog. The difference is that the text was a highly entertaining haunted-store icky bug story. Each chapter had a heading with a piece of furniture just like out of a real catalog. I loved the story. The book was a bit pricey, but considering the format and the cost of a regular trade paperback, it was equitable. So, I broke down and bought it.

            In this case, the gimmick worked. The book would still be a bit hard to shelve, as it sticks out and doesn’t quite fit with either hardbacks or trade or mass market paperbacks. Since I now only save signed copies, after having purged a whole room full of books, it doesn’t matter.

            I’ve seen plenty of other gimmick books that I’ve turned my nose up at. Maybe I did that not because of the gimmick itself, but because of the subject matter. Makes me wonder if they were sellers or not.

ARE YOU THINKING OF THIS?

            A big caveat to this is just remember, the e-book wipes any physicality out of it. Then again, I’m not sure how the illustrations would survive. Since I don’t read e-books, I can’t vouch for illustrations to translate to that little screen.

            I only personally know of one case where it worked. I just read it and seen the proof in the many reviews this book received.

            It might be a bit difficult not only to come up with something original, but to get your publisher, or if your self-published, to spring for the extra expense of printing (and/or) manufacturing it.

            Keep in mind that breaking the mold is always a risk. Then again, as they say, you can’t win if you don’t play.

            On the other hand, don’t go through hoops looking for some freaky way to publish a book juss’ ‘cuzz. I’m not. I’ll stick to convention. I have enough to deal with already. If an inspiration hits me one day for something like this, I’ll think long and hard before I ever spring this on my publisher. If I do, I’ll have a real good reason for it. For now, I’m quite happy to keep it simple.

            Happy writing!

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