The Popular World of General Trade Books: Hardcover

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Let's define the word trade as it relates to book publishing. Trade books are books of general interest sold to individual readers in bookstores. The category also relates to books borrowed from libraries. Trade has two subcategories: general trade books in hard- cover and trade paperback books. Each of these categories has about 650 publishers. Some are small, publishing fewer than a dozen titles each year; others are large companies, often owned by conglomerates.

The trade category is further subdivided into adult and juvenile. Adult trade is, of course, the larger of the two categories. To illustrate this wide range, we list below a number of books from a recent Simon & Schuster trade books catalog and, alongside each title, we designate its classification:

Publishers list a book's classification below its description in their catalogs as a guide to booksellers and libraries. In a large bookstore, books are often separated according to these and other classifications.



In making up a list, a publisher seeks diversity and balance, with fiction often the leading classification.

Within a trade publishing house, there are specialists in the acquisition and editing of various classifications. Some large publishers have separate imprints for particular trade classifications. For example, Macmillan's Howell Book House deals primarily with books on animals and pets. HarperCollins's imprint, Harper San Francisco, publishes only inspirational and religious books.

The Publisher's Backlist

Trade publishers issue new catalogs on a seasonal basis. These catalogs contain their new books and may also include their backlist books. Backlists are a publisher's books from previous seasons that continue to sell, and are reprinted as needed. Some publishers maintain a backlist ratio of five or ten times the number of current books.

Obviously, publishers promote their backlist because these are books whose editorial and production costs have already been paid for, and thus yield a handsome profit. One major trade publisher, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, claims that its backlist accounts for 45 percent of the company's business.

When a publisher publishes a distinguished author, it will often maintain all of that author's previous works on its backlist. This not only strokes the author, but results in solid sales on a continuing basis. About half of all books at a bookstore are backlist books.

Category Nonfiction

Category nonfiction encompasses the group of trade books that deal with a specialized interest. All the books and products in this category are sold in bookstores and are available in libraries. There are also bookstores that specialize in individual categories such as cookbooks, mystery and crime, and New Age. We offer a description and background on a number of these categories.

Self-Improvement and Self-Help

Self-improvement and self-help books have been a mainstay of publishing for a long time. Recently, we have also seen a proliferation of books on codependence and recovery. One publisher, Health Press, has a list indicative of this trend. In 1992, it published Suffer the Children: A Pediatrician's Reflection of Abuse, When You're Over the Hill You Begin to Pick Up Speed, Addiction: The High-Low Syndrome, and In Sickness and in Health: What Every Man Should Know About the Woman He Loves. Melody Beattie's Codependent No More sold more than three million copies.

Vanity Presses and Self-Publishing

If you read Writer's Digest or the book review sections of large news-papers, you will see ads proclaiming "Publish it Yourself," or "Personal Publishing Gives Control/Profit to You." Self-publishing is a euphemism for what has been called "vanity presses." Basically, here's how it works. For an agreed fee from the author, a company will edit, proofread, typeset, design, and print a book. Some publishers also claim that they will handle sales to bookstores. Without vilifying these publishers as a group, we do urge caution in dealing with them.

Self-publishing can be accomplished effectively. Some self-published books have even made the best-seller list, but to be successful requires energy, know-how, and financing. An article in The New York Times discusses a success story in self-publishing.

In 1992, Craig I. Zirbel self-published a book he wrote on his Kennedy assassination-conspiracy theory. The book took off and made the best-seller lists for many weeks. Of course, Zirbel had invested almost $100,000 and much time in the venture.

Most self-published books do not make it to the bookstores' shelves. Their authors inevitably use them as giveaways. If you choose to take this perilous approach to authordom, we recommend reading The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing by Tom and Marilyn Ross (Writer's Digest Books).

These fields of special interest show the diversity of trade book publishing. They also present fertile outlets for talented people with knowledge and background in particular areas.
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