Coffee Table Tapeworms? The Harsh Realities of Book Economics

In the comment thread for my post about Microcosm’s rave review in Publisher’s Weekly, outeast writes,

There’s been something I’ve been dying for, and here’s as good a place as any to mention it: real coffee-table editions of your books, meaning lavishly illustrated throughout rather than with a couple of meagre (though nice in themselves) wedges of pictures in the middle. When I’m reading about the different stages parasites go through and so on I want to see it – I want to see the flukes pouring from the toad and all that. And I want books that visitors will ohh and ahh (and eww) over, books that will last for years and that my kids will stumble across a decade from now and show to their fascinated and horrified friends… Pretty pretty please, do tell your publisher!!

First off, everyone should know that writers love this sort of stuff. It keeps us going. Look at your bookshelf, go find the web sites of your favorite living writers, and email them to let them know their books matter to you. Left to our own devices, we get mopey and complain to each other about writer’s block and the death of the novel and all that.

As to outeast’s suggestion, that would be lovely. It would also be a good way to keep guests from eating too much at dinner…

But there is, of course, the matter of economics. It’s very expensive to publish books with full-color pictures throughout–not just the ink, but the high-quality paper it has to be printed on. My book, Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea had lots of color pictures in the original hardback and paperback. When those ran out, my publisher reissued the book without pictures. (My text does well enough without them, in my humble opinion, but those were some nice pictures…) Monster best-sellers, like A Short History of Nearly Everything, make that equation easier to solve.

On the other hand, in 2010 it will be 10 years since Parasite Rex came out…maybe time for a revision… hmm