Autumn in Bookland

I suppose the title here is another pun of sorts. Autumn, leading up to Christmas, is a major, often a defining season for publishers, booksellers and, obviously, authors. Seasons matter a bit less than they used to, many major titles appear in late winter or spring now (rarely midsummer, as media are on holiday too often, frivolous people that they are), but Christmas still matters a whole lot.

My other meaning, of course, is that the book business feels profoundly under siege these days, marginalized, anxious – autumnal, with fears of winter. Some of the literary fights that go on are a reflection of that. And that anxiety spills over in this season in particular, not just as a metaphor of autumn. Year-end sales are too critical.

This is one reason fall’s awards season looms so large. For literary fiction, often the only thing that will generate attention and sales is winning one of the major awards (Booker, Pulitzer, National Book Award, Giller…). Even a nomination is of only marginal sales benefit, usually. It isn’t unusual to see an added print run of 50,000 hardcovers for a major prize winner that had 3,000 (often less, in the UK) before the prize.

For spring books, the Christmas season can be a challenge. The October/November buzz has to be about new titles, and the nominees in the run-up to the major awards. There is nothing surprising about that. So how does an April book get attention or bookstore re-orders in November?

Well, one way is to appear on important Best of the Year lists. That brings a title back to people’s attention just in time for gift buying. And Christmas is usually the  last shot for a spring hardcover, since the paperback, whether trade paperback size, or mass market, will be coming in the spring. (Hardcovers generally get a year or so before the paperbacks appear; e-book prices often drop at that point, too.)

Which is all to say I am really pleased this weekend by some developments for River of Stars. It landed on a major list in all three of the major English-language markets. put it on their list of best books of the year, then The Globe & Mail in Canada did so in today’s paper, and I was just informed by a colleague in D.C. (she woke early with insomnia!) that it is also on the Washington Post ‘Notable Books of 2013’ list, online today, in the paper tomorrow. Too early for single malt, but I’ll have an extra latte.

I’ll also add something. For those writing seriously, this sort of thing goes way beyond possible book sale boosts. The Globe and the Washington Post are among the most respected book pages in today’s sadly diminished newspaper book coverage. We all write, if we’re ambitious, to have our work noted, recognized, ‘gotten’ in places like that. Strong, thoughtful reviews, such as those that came for River in the spring, are reinforced by year-end endorsements, and that matters internally, too, in the long process of crafting a novel.

In other words, a good morning.


One thought on “Autumn in Bookland

  1. Very pleased to see that RIVER has gotten this sort of recognition at a telling point in the year. I may have a single malt later this evening on your behalf!

    Another comment only tangentially related, but it deals with fantasy, and publishing, and law, and Tolkien, so I feel justified… (not baseball, sorry.)

    Janny Wurts left a very insightful comment yesterday on the r/fantasy subreddit where you’ve done a couple (or just one?) “ask my anything” interviews. She revealed that there was a loophole in copyright law that allowed unbound books from the UK to be bound and sold in the US, but only up to 2,000 copies, and anything more would force the work into the public domain. Once that was breached, it was fair game for the publishing equivalent of ambulance-chasing lawyers. Whatever you’d call those.

    When this happened to LOTR, Ian and Betty Ballantine contacted Tolkien to have his works published legitimately and bring light to the legal furor. Gave LOTR a lot of press, and helped the Ballantines pave the way to grow the fantasy genre and introduce it to the mainstream.

    I had NO IDEA any of that had occurred, and found it incredibly fascinating.

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