Wednesday, September 10, 2014
Giving Books a Second Chance
A couple of months ago, rummaging through one of those recommendation lists Amazon sends out, I spotted a book called Crossover by Judith Eubank. I had never heard of either the book or the author, but I read the description of it and checked out the first page. It was well written, and the price was right, so I bought the e-book version.
On Labor Day, looking for a short book to read, I came across it on my iPad and went with it. At only 172 pages, it was just right for the day, and I flew through it. It was a highly enjoyable read, better written than most of the bestsellers I see today, and I thought I’d discovered a promising new author who had self-published on Amazon, like me. In the Kindle store, the publication date showed as April 2014.
Then, at the end of the book, I came to the copyright page, which showed that it had originally been published in 1991 by the now defunct publishing house Carroll & Graf. What I had been reading was not a new book, but rather an electronic reissue of an older one.
Not Dead, Just Resting
I’m guessing, since it appears Ms. Eubank has written only one other work of fiction, that her book didn’t do terribly well from a commercial standpoint, and that she eventually moved on to other things. That happens. There are good books that sell poorly and bad ones that sell quite well. But like many other authors, Ms. Eubank has gotten a second chance from Amazon and the e-book.
Not all the authors who have done so are living. I’m noticing a lot of reissues of mysteries from the 1920s and 30s on Amazon. In fact, one of those, The Cornish Coast Murder by John Bude, is on my schedule for this month. The first e-book I ever read, Murder at Bridge, was a 1920s American mystery novel that someone put up on Kindle for 99 cents, apparently after discovering the copyright had expired.
And my own first mystery, The McHenry Inheritance, got a second chance on Kindle. Passed over by agents and publishers in the 1990s, it has sold modestly but steadily since I put it up on Kindle in July 2012. In fact, this August, more than two years after publication, it had its best month ever in paid sales on Amazon, and this Monday it had its best-ever free promotion, with nearly 600 downloads worldwide.
The Library Vanishes With a Click
There are quite a few good authors whose work has long been out of print. In the mystery genre along, I can think of Father Knox, John Dickson Carr, Richard and Frances Lockridge, and so on. Sometimes a long out-of-print author gets a revival, as Earl Derr Biggers did when the University of Chicago reissued his Charlie Chan novels. But that’s the exception. E-books offer a way for good writers whose audiences would be limited today to stay in circulation, if not exactly in print.
Still, I can’t help remembering the Library at Alexandria, which burned in ancient times, leaving us without many of the great works of antiquity. With everything on a computer somewhere, fire won’t be an issue, but some day a rogue computer virus could wipe out much of the literary canon, and a lot of secondary good stuff, too. I try not to think about it.