Despite shrinking sales, declining shelf space, and the rise in popularity of relatively inexpensive e-book editions, mass market paperback is still a category that can be used to break out an author—especially in tandem with other publishing formats. A number of publishers contacted by PW said despite the category’s decline, mass market pricing combined with savvy marketing in the right genres—among them romance, westerns, paranormal, and crime/thrillers—can still lift an author’s sales, significantly.

Nevertheless, the category presents problems. “It has become very difficult to launch a new author in mass market,” said Pocket Books executive v-p and publisher Louise Burke. “It appears that the e-book format has filled that void in some cases.” But other publishers con­tinue to look to mass market paperback originals as a way to build a following and establish a writer in the marketplace.

“We love mass market and always have,” said Kensing­ton v-p and pub­lish­er Laurie Parkin. “It’s a great way to break out a career. We love mass mar­ket orig­inals.” Pub­lishers at Harper­Collins’s Avon romance im­print and at Har­lequin agreed. Liate Stehlik, senior v-p and publisher at Avon, said HarperCollins continues to be “enthusiastic” about mass market, contending that the decline in mass market unit sales is coming primarily in the reprint segment rather than from sale of mass market originals. Harlequin’s Loriana Sacilotto, executive v-p, global editorial, said it is still possible to launch a writer in the category: “We still consider mass market to be an integral and viable space for debut authors,” while adding the caveat, “with the right publishing and marketing strategy—and it may not happen overnight.”

All the publishers contacted emphasized that mass market works best with genre fiction, citing such categories as romance, crime/thrillers, family sagas, paranormal romance, and mysteries. They also pointed to the importance of pric­ing, “innovative” mar­keting, working closely with retailers, and digital support—both from e-books and digital mar­keting tools.

“Mass market originals are an impulse buy—they’re cheaper than hardcovers and give the reader great value for the price,” said Parkin. Indeed, Parkin noted that mass market continues to be “great to launch a career or to re-establish a career,” pointing to the house’s strategy to build a following for Nancy Bush, sister of bestselling Kensington author Lisa Jackson. Kensington worked to build her career by publishing a series of novels written by the sisters to be followed this year by the release of two Bush mass market novels, back to back, in August (Nowhere to Run, $7.99) and September (Nowhere to Hide). Nowhere to Run is currently on the New York Times bestseller list. Parkin said Bush sells in the “150,000-copy range.”

Parkin also cited established bestselling author Lisa Jackson, who will publish three books this year, among them Afraid to Die, a mass market original that was published in June; after shipping 600,000 copies it “broke all sales records and continues to sell.” And noting the importance of marketing, Parkin said the publisher placed a teaser ad in the book for her next hardcover.

Sacilotto singled out Harlequin authors RaeAnne Thayne and B.J. Daniels, both launched in mass market: “Both authors wrote for our brand-led series program, so both developed a fan base in genre fiction.” Sacilotto also highlighted three Harlequin authors who have “shown tremendous growth in a changing and challenging mass market paperback market,” pointing to authors Robyn Carr (average book sales over the last three years in mass market have grown from 85,000 to 202,000), Susan Mallery (average sales have grown over the last three years from 82,000 to 157,000), and Sherryl Woods (average sales have grown from 160,000 to 294,000).

At Avon, Stehlik noted that author Alison Gaylin’s And She Was, a suspense novel published at $5.99 in February, has sold more than 116,400 print copies to date (with another 4,515 in e-book format); Stehlik said there are plans to do another Gaylin title in 2013. She also pointed to Avon’s strategy for The Cloud by Matt Richtel, which will be published in February 2013. HarperCollins published Richtel’s Devil’s Plaything in mass market in 2011 and this year released “Floodgate,” a teaser e-book original short story that will be included in The Cloud when it is published next year. In fact, while many publishers worry that the ever-increasing popularity of e-books among romance/genre readers may cannibalize mass market sales, the publishers PW talked with urged the creative use of e-books as well as digital marketing tools to help support mass market titles.

Despite her skepticism over the viability of mass market originals, Burke emphasized, “We use the digital marketing tools available to promote many mass market authors, especially romance, where we can find many outlets to do so. We do this for new and established authors.” Stehlik said, “You want to balance the print market with the e-market,” and Parkin said Kensington has not seen cannibalization from e-books. She said the company has seen sales of its mass market authors grow in both print and digital. “We look on the book and the author as one entity. Digital can build print and print can build digital.”

“There are lots of opportunities to support mass market paperback launches with digital content,” Sacilotto said, “either backlist or original novellas that are connected to the mass market stories. Digital provides a variety of easily and widely accessible sampling opportunities that introduce readers to books in advance of release and gets readers talking about them and sharing reviews. A wider range of readers can discover a book.”