By Pat Browning
Back in March, Reuters reported that Dutch novelist Hella Haasse, while cleaning house, found a pile of old papers. They turned out to be newspaper tearsheets with her novel, Sterrenjacht (“Hunt for the Stars”) published in serial form in 1950. She showed the clippings to the editor of De Stentor, mostly as a joke, but the company decided to republish the novel in book form.
Haasse is 89 years old, has published more than 50 books, and won numerous literary prizes. The Reuters story quotes her as saying: “(Hunt for the Stars) has absolutely no literary ambitions. I had earlier translated a British thriller as a serial novel, so I knew the genre. 'Come on', I thought, 'I'll give it a try myself'."
Haasse’s story is an extreme example of the wisdom of hanging on to everything you write, or maybe it just reminds me of an advertising slogan of a few years ago: “Everything old is new again.”
Which brings me to a delicious, really delicious, bit of news. My first mystery, FULL CIRCLE, is being republished with a new title, a new cover, and a couple of minor rewrites.
The publisher is a new, start-up operation, but he gave me a nice three-figure advance, and took an option on Book 2, which is almost finished. Target date for publication of the new-old book is December. That’s the kind of turnaround time I like, and one advantage of dealing with a new, start-up operation.
Getting in on the ground floor of something is an exhilarating experience. Right now I’m busy going through the manuscript page-by-page, polishing as I go. For a nitpicker like me, it’s a dream come true—a chance to tweak and polish something I wrote and self-published in 2001.
I'll leave the official announcement to the publisher, when the book has gone to press. Stay tuned.
This idea of repackaging old books is a new and welcome trend, for new authors trying for a foothold, and for midlist authors whose books have gone out of print. The Los Angeles Times recently ran a fascinating story about publishers specializing in reprints. It’s a long story so I’ll just include excerpts here.
If you want to read the full story, let me know, and I’ll e-mail it to you.
REPRINTS ARE KING IN PARTS OF BOOK WORLD
By Charles Taylor, Special to The Times
September 18, 2008
The publishers specializing in reprints have become increasingly important to the people who haunt bookstores searching for the next great read. For some, these reintroduced books are as eagerly awaited as any mainstream house's seasonal list.
The founders of these lines are quick to point out that, in the overall scheme of the publishing business, their imprints are small ventures. But that smallness seems to be a benefit, not just by allowing each a freedom in what they choose to publish, but in enabling them to distinguish themselves in a publishing industry that is just as blockbuster-driven as the movie and music industries.
Charles Ardai, at Hard Case Crime, which has reprinted forgotten novels by Cornell Woolrich, David Goodis and Donald E. Westlake (as well as the final novel by Mickey Spillane), echoes this sense of transcending the canon. Citing the finite number of works by the acknowledged masters of hard-boiled writing -- Hammett, Chandler, andCain -- Ardai talks about the desire to see what else existed, what books, turned out for fast profit to fill paperback racks, might still prove diverting or even something more.
The toughest statement about what role reprints are filling comes from Persephone's Nicola Beauman, who doesn't hesitate to say that modern fiction has lost the art of storytelling, an attribute she distinguishes from plot. "You get to the end of Jonathan Franzen's 'The Corrections' and you haven't been changed in any way," she explains. "You think, 'So what?'"
Whether the increasing number of reprints is because of reader dissatisfaction with contemporary literature or the flowering of an archivist, curatorial instinct, they are certainly part of the decentralization of literary culture. Miller says that, with space shrinking for print reviews and the Web as an overwhelming presence, people are trusting their instincts to figure out what to read. … Especially if the reader has slogged through the pages of some highly praised snoozer.
Reprints may be how new novels that surely deserve larger audiences -- Kate Jennings' "Moral Hazard," for instance -- may finally find the readership they should have had the first time around.