Thursday, July 22, 2010

Celebrity writers and forgotten authors

by Jessica

Apropos of Jane’s post earlier this week, in which she discusses advising a client to turn down an offer from a major New York house in favor of an offer from a smaller company far from the epicenter of publishing, I’ll add another note of praise for the small press. In the following series, indie publisher Melville House discusses “How do you market a book written in a foreign language by an author who’s now dead, that was originally published 60 years ago, and has been overlooked by mainstream publishing ever since”. Good question, and it’s fairly extraordinary that they venture to ask it. Conventional wisdom has it that exhuming a forgotten title (one in translation no less) is about as effective as attempting to resuscitate its dead author. Unless there was some extraordinary circumstance involved, few mainstream commercial houses would take this kind of chance.

The campaign that Melville House came up with is thoughtful, innovative, and in this era of celebrity-dominated book publishing, (check out this article in The Daily Beast and pray that this era is ending)  exceedingly rare. There are scores of reasons that books are seldom re-launched, but one oft-cited problem is that book releases are treated like “news,” and getting traditional media coverage for older books can be all but impossible. Most media outlets are also desperate for readers/viewers, so from a sales perspective, lavishing coverage on juicy, star-studded stories makes more sense than writing about old, forgotten books.

Are there any obscure/overlooked books that you’d point to as worthy of a Melville House-style campaign? What do you think of celebrity books?

5 comments:

  1. I want Kin Platt's "Sinbad and Me" to come back so badly I actually have a pain in my jaw when I think about it! (I never read his other books, so I'd like them all to come back.)

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  2. Katherine Kenny's Trixie Belden series! A few years ago they brought back numbers 1 through 15, but there's more than 30 in total. I've been hunting them down in second hand bookshops for years, but the higher the number, the harder it is to find :(

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  3. Mary Renault's 1944 The Friendly Young Ladies has not been reprinted since the early 1980's. She is better known for her novels set in ancient Greece, but while the contemporary Young Ladies isn't necessarily her best writing, its somewhat stilted style brilliantly captures the tenor of lives touched by the secrecy of a closeted relationship. The reader experiences the thrill of these women who are so bold, fun, lively, and also the frustration of knowing that they will never share everything with us. We will always be kept at arm's length.

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  4. Trixie Belden! I read stacks of these novels, which were originally the property of my oldest sister. Not sure what happened to them, or the Bobbsey Twins books, or the many volumes of Nancy Drew that she had also amassed.

    Also in the children's lit category, I'd nominate Tom's Midnight Garden, all books by Edward Eager and E. Nesbit.

    --Jessica

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  5. I would second the motion to have Trixie Belden back into print!

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