This month, on Thursday, July 21st, I'll be talking about Portrait of an Artist: A Biography of Georgia O'Keeffe to a book group at the Newport (RI) Art Museum, which has an O'Keeffe exhibition. It makes me reflect on changes in the book business since 1980, when the biography was published.
First published as a handsome hardback forty-two years ago, it is still in print and selling well. It has been translated into five languages, produced as a mass market paperback, and published as another hardback for the University of New Mexico Press. It is now a trade paperback, an e-book, and an audiobook.
Like other authors my age, I'm grateful I began writing and publishing before the digital age transformed the book business, a change as drastic as the invention of moveable type. Far fewer books were published in 1980 than today, but they got more attention from publishers and readers.
What happened then, rarely happens now. Then, a junior woman editor at a New York publishing house, who was as influential as the marketing manager, gave me, an unknown young journalist, the go-ahead and a small advance against royalties to write the first biography of an art world icon.
Today writers are expected to bring readers (i.e. social media followers) to publishers, instead of the other way around. It makes me wonder about all the wonderful books that are either not written, or well published, or discovered and bought today because of the increasing selectivity of traditional publishers and the exploding numbers of self-publishers.
With warm wishes,
Publishing guru Mike Shatzkin writes an insightful blog about the book business, The Shatzkin Files. In his most recent blog, he concludes: "The old procedure of 'get an agent, get an advance, let the publisher do the work' is...becoming the exception, rather than the rule..." More books are published, he writes,"but achieving sales success just keeps getting harder and harder."