Friday, February 4, 2011

Novels and Novelty: NYC Publishing and the Relentless Drive for the New

Free-form Friday

In January, Agent Janet Grant published a  post entitled, "Stuff You Need to Know for 2011: Hold Back Those Book Trailers and Book Covers."

Janet suggested that we should resist the impulse to release trailers and book covers when they're created--which is often as much as a year before the book will be published.

If, as a reader, I’m exposed to these promo items (yes, that’s what a cover is), I soon start to think that the book is old news. Heavens, I’ve watched the trailer, I’ve seen the cover several times…didn’t I read that book already? If I think I haven’t read it, well, I just dismiss the book. I want to read what’s new.
It's no accident that we call long-form works of fiction, "novels." The word comes from Latin, via Italian, and means new, as in a new story (as opposed to retellings of Greek and Roman classics).

But, "novel," is even more appropriate in a business whose engine is a relentless drive for something new. Partly because of the curious consequences of an industry where the product is 100% returnable, and partly because of the publisher's roll as a risk aggregator and the consequent pressure to make big releases, it's the new thing that matters most.

This is one of the fundamental ways in which the interests of authors and publishers diverge: authors, like soaring birds that glide for hours on a single wing beat, strive for books that will provide royalties for decades to come; publishers must constantly flap (with each release) to stay in the air because they need the constant boost of short-term revenue.

"So," you ask, "are you complaining about the situation?

No. This is about understanding the true nature of the situation so that we can have proper expectations.

Don't grudge other authors their moment in the spot light. Prepare for yours. Expect the moment to be brief. Then get busy on the next "new" thing.

Image: Photography by BJWOK /

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