1.28.2006

Best-selling titles of years past- Where are they now?

I read Michael Korda's Making the List, a book on best-sellers, when it first came out in 2001 and realized I had never heard of most of the books on the lists he provided. I wasn't crazy about Korda's explanations and theories, but it got me thinking about how quickly the books we put out fade away. The Boston Public Library has two books in their collection on best-selling titles and I've pored over these lists trying to understand why these books have disappeared. The subjects that Americans read have not really changed in 100 years, but the books have.

The concept of a book's life-cycle is one of the most compelling reasons why I stay at the publishing house where I work. Our library is filled with hidden gems that trade publishing forgot or couldn't make work so they sold them off. It's why I can spend hours at used bookstores. The way that a book's value fluctuates throughout time and in different markets fascinates me. One day you're on top of the world, the next headed for the pulp house . . . and the next you're suddenly in demand as the world finally picked up on your genius.

And now I know I'm not alone.

Making Light is one of the best resources we have on the web for what really happens in trade publishing, but Teresa Nielsen Hayden's entry on the life expectancies of books is one of the best things I've read on the subject in a long time. You want to know the perils and heartbreak of publishing or what keeps publishers up at night- go read this post.

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