Original trade paper is now the way to go with many debuts. Hardcover is a tough sell and no one wants to be placing their authors out of the market.
The traditional approach (hardcover release followed by paperback a year later) is now an exception, not the standard rule.
I know it’s hard for many authors to get their heads around the idea that they won’t be published in hardcover, but I frame it as something that has to be earned and worked up to right now.
If a project is not amazing, editors aren’t buying. Editors see a lot of good things they might have bought 10 years ago, but right now books need to be remarkable to stand out in acquisition meetings and on bookshelves. That’s why agents are also extremely picky; we know how hard it is out there.
Writers no longer have to simply compete with other writers, they are competing with all the other things that divide consumer attention–movies, magazines, TV, the internet. Part recession mentality, part reality of the competitive marketplace, commercial fiction has to be engaging and high concept to stand out in the crowd, warrant a purchase, and warrant spending what limited free time many consumers have on reading fiction.
So delight and entertain, writers! We’re waiting for that breakout book that will shine through the acquisition process and garner the media attention that will simultaneously make it stand out in bookstores, no matter what format your publisher thinks is best for you.