While it may be easy to slip into a kind of dangerous daydream of the better days of yesteryear — ”when people still bought books” — you shouldn’t do that. Because while buying books is important, that “call to action” distracts us from the real problem. Capitalism is not good for small, low return-on-investment businesses that we need in our community. So what are we going to do about that?
Luckily, we have bookstore proprietors like Lexi Beach, the co-owner of Astoria Bookshop in Queens, New York. In a tweet thread on Tuesday, Beach declared: “At a certain point, buying books from the store you love is not going to be enough to keep it open.” She went on to explain that the bigger problem lies in the relationship between capitalism, the commercial real estate market, and the toxic marriage between the two for low-margin businesses like bookstores.
The Number of Self-Published Titles Cracked 1 Million in 2017
The number of self-published books topped the 1 million mark for the first time in 2017, according to Bowker’s annual report on the number of ISBNs that were issued to self-published authors. The total number of ISBNs issued last year rose 28% over 2016, to 1,009,188.
The gain was due entirely to the increase in the number of print ISBNs issued by Bowker last year—879,587, a jump of 38% over 2016. The number of ISBNs issued for e-books released by self-published authors fell 13% from 2016, to 129,601.
While Bowker noted that the 2017 decline is the third consecutive year the number of ISBNs issued for e-books fell, the drop is more likely due to authors moving to Amazon’s KDP self-publishing platform than an overall decline in the number e-books that were self-published last year. Bowker’s e-book numbers are based on ISBNs issued, and since KDP uses Amazon’s own ASIN identifiers, KDP’s titles do not appear in the Bowker data. Amazon does not disclose the number of KDP titles that it releases annually.
Every year, there is a controversy at the Man Booker prize; this year, it is all about the work of editors. Or rather, the supposed lack of work that editors are doing.
Kwame Anthony Appiah, chair of the judges, implicitly blamed editors for the poor quality of some of this year’s submissions while announcing the 2018 shortlist: “We occasionally felt that inside the book we read was a better one, sometimes a thinner one, wildly signalling to be let out.” Fellow judge Val McDermid went further by suggesting modern editors don’t know what they’re doing. “I think,” she said, “young editors coming through are not necessarily getting the kind of training and experience-building apprenticeship that happened when I was starting out.”
As an editor, my immediate reaction was to bite back. Yes, I’ve read a few saggy titles over the past few months. (Two of them crime novels endorsed by none other than Val McDermid.) And when you read a book you think is overlong, it’s hard not to wonder why it wasn’t cut into shape. But I’d still caution against the reflexive tendency to blame editors. A title belongs to an author, first and last. We at the publishing end are there to make suggestions, not to implement changes with an iron rod. If an author is determined to save a few darlings that we want to slaughter, it’s their call. We can’t force a writer to do anything. Nor should we try.