Publishing/Writing: Insights, News, Intrigue

02/08/2010

Posthumous Publishing and the Dead Authors Society

Filed under: Google Books Platform,J.D. Salinger,posthumous publishing — gator1965 @ 6:50 pm

Did J. D. Salinger, author of the best seller Catcher in the Rye, REALLY do a lot of writing and elect not to have it published? If the one-novel writer, recently deceased…God bless his soul, DID write in his seclusion, then his works will be a bonanza for all readers when and if they do come to light.

Will Gompertz, BBC Arts Editor, had an interesting and insightful conversation with a publisher about possible Salinger unpublished works:

While I was discussing the death of ­JD Salinger with a publisher the other day, he speculated on the possibility of unpublished Salinger manuscripts coming on to the market.

If they were around, he would like to see them, principally to understand why Salinger chose not to publish while apparently still writing. “Writers”, he remarked, “have egos. They want people to read their work.”

If the manuscripts exist, and if they ever come to the market, they are likely to become the next posthumous publishing sensation – regardless of how good they are. Of course, posthumous publishing is not new: novels by Jane Austen were published after her death, including Northanger Abbey. But I am told by publishers that they sense a growing trend.

Recently books by Vladimir Nabokov, Irene Nemirovsky and Siobhan Dowd have captured a great deal of attention. And in the near-future, two of the most hotly-anticipated new books come from authors who are no longer alive: a new Roberto Bolano following the success of ­2666 and David Foster Wallace’s Pale King.

But that is the tip of the beyond-the-grave publishing iceberg. Tens of thousands of books by authors long-since dead – and correspondingly out of copyright – will be available this spring in a new initiative of the British Library. Readers will be able to see 65,000 books from their collection, 35-40% of them unique to the library. This can be for free using Amazon’s Kindle device – I am told they are talking to other suppliers – or as a purchase of a print-on-demand physical book from Amazon.

Meanwhile Google is driving forward its Google Books platform, which is the subject of an ongoing wrangle between retailers, executors, publishers and lawyers. The debate centres on Google’s ambition to digitise the millions of books that are out-of-print, but crucially, still in copyright. Google presents the plan as a public service and as a revenue-generator for authors and their estates. Others, such as the US Department of Justice, are concerned that it may be monopolistic and market-distorting.

We may be looking at a new boom in publishing, though some think there are already too many books published each year; it will be interesting to see the effect on new novels by new authors.

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