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Trade vs. Mass Market vs. School 'n Library:
Basics of the Biz

A book is a book is a book, right? Not in the publishing world. It helps to know about the different kinds of children's book publishing if you want to find the right publisher.

Trade: I work in trade publishing. Trade publishing is called that because the books are sold "to the trade"--to booksellers or to the wholesalers who supply them. Trade books, then, are books intended for this market, typically hardcover and jacketed, and fairly expensive. Recently, trade paperbacks have become an important part of this market: these are reissues of trade books in paperback but of a similar quality (in size, paper, etc.); or they are original releases, again of better quality. Trade publishers usually pay a royalty to their authors and keep their books in print for some time, though cost-cutting in the industry now means that increasing numbers go out of print in only two years. Trade books are often also sold to schools and libraries and are usually contrasted with:

Mass market: In this market, books are sold through other channels, such as supermarkets, drug stores, perhaps mall stores, and some do make their way into book stores. Distinctions are becoming blurred, but it is still true that mass market books are usually less expensive, either paperback or in a jacketless hardcover (such as Golden Books uses), intended to be impulse buys by consumers. Mass market books are often written as "works for hire" or by house writers, or are reissues of previously published trade books in a less expensive format; a successful novel by Judy Blume, for example, may be published as a rack-size paperback for the mass market.

School 'n Library: Overlapping with trade is the school and library market. Once the mainstay of children's hardcover publishing, budget cuts have led publishers to move more into the trade market, but they still hope to sell to this market. Trade books are sold either in the same format or in special bindings to this market, which has its own network of wholesalers. Some publishers, notably those of nonfiction series, specialize in this market, but those budget cuts have forced them to diversify also, often by publishing trade paperback editions of their books in addition to their library-bound hardcovers. School 'n library publishers typically paid a flat fee to their authors in the past, but are increasingly moving to royalties, though rates and advances are often lower than in the trade.

Other Channels: There are of course other channels in the industry, such as direct mail, warehouse clubs, bookclubs, and the like, but for the most part these books either originated in one of the three primary markets or are product created specially for the alternative markets, usually in-house, and if not, then by a packager.


Writers are best advised to find out what publishers produce the kind of book they wish to see published. Trade publishers will not want proposals for series about cute animals that teach good manners, and mass market publishers, if they work with outside writers at all, will not want a subtle, psychologically acute story likely to appeal to reviewers but not someone in the check-out line.

Children's publishing is a business: See my article on Trends in Children's Books for more information.

Copyright © 1996 and 1999 by Harold D. Underdown. Comments?
Last modified 2/15/99.

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