A Publishing Prognostication

Publishing has changed, and many of the consequences won’t be evident for decades. But I’ve got a prediction. I believe we’re going to see a string of stories five, ten, twenty years from now. We’re going to hear from people who gave up on writing who suddenly become bestsellers many years after their most recent publication.

It’s difficult to see this coming, because right now that would be nearly impossible. I’m sure it has happened to a handful of people whose backlist was discovered after they passed away. Philip K. Dick sells better now than he did in his lifetime, for instance. But the reason these stories will sprout up in abundance is because their books will stay just as discoverable ten years from now as they are today. They’ll never be taken off the shelf. I don’t believe we an appreciate how bizarre a development this is because enough years haven’t passed to highlight the power of permanence.

We will one day hear from people who self-published a handful or a dozen titles before moving on to something else. And then their books will find an audience and grow. This will happen to hundreds of people. Thousands of people. Suddenly, they will find that a book they wrote in a different stage of their life is paying for a tank of gas, a utility bill, a college loan. Their stories will take off a decade or more after writing and publishing them. Just watch. Better yet: get writing.

12 responses to “A Publishing Prognostication”

  1. This is a lovely prediction. I can back it up by saying that this experience already happens with artists whose permanent works take time to be discovered.

    Another motivational!

    1. After I posted this, I went back to the H.M. Ward thread to read a post from someone who has already had it happen. :)

  2. You are so right, Hugh. I had a very similar thought recently: that my books might be a better long term investment than an IRA. I discussed it with my mother before she passed away and it only took a moment for her to grasp the concept. You see, she had published a YA novel back in the 1950s and hadn’t seen any royalties in 50 years, after it’s shelf life expired. When I explained that eBooks didn’t have a shelf life she thought it was amazing.

    I read a hardcover copy of her book to her in the hospital and promised to transcribe it into digital format. It won’t be long until young readers will once again have access to it (and several unpublished manuscripts). I hope they will become a legacy and testament to her life, just as I hope that my own books will help to secure my own retirement someday.

    1. Wow. That’s awesome, man.

    2. That is awesome! I hope it works out. What a wonderful legacy that will be to your mother.

    3. That’s just Flat-out Cool, David. I’m in my early fifties and still occasionally read Y-A stories interspersed with Science, SciFi, Fantasy, Mystery, History, Cook books and “Barnaby & Mr. O’Malley”.
      What name did your mother publish under, and what is the title of her book? I’ll keep my eyes open for her book in either format…


  3. Talk about an inspiring post. Thanks Hugh!

  4. I did the IT support for the University of Georgia Press (know for the Flannery O’Conner award) for about 7.5 years and even they’re still learning about how publishing is shifting and changing. The Long Tail also comes into play. I think what you describe is what they hope to see. One thing is for sure…it’s still a very new world out there. (Insert wild west cowboy scene here!)

  5. Nice post, Hugh. I think the publishing “industry” will look much different in ten years from what we have today. Of course, that’s not a bold prediction. Just look how publishing has changed in the last five years.

    Like David, I’m also republishing my father’s novels as ebooks. He was a very popular author in the late fifties and early sixties. I wish he could see how things have changed. I think he’d be very excited about how technology has opened the door for aspiring authors.

  6. I really enjoyed this post, Hugh. It is interesting to think about the shelf-life of digital books. Maybe indie authors need to sort out their “estates” in good time in the event that it is in our children’s lifetime that we hit the big time. Of course, I’d like it to come a little sooner – especially as I have no children. ;O) Thanks again Hugh.


  7. I agree. The possibilities are endless and so exciting! I updated and polished a short story I write over twenty years ago and epubbed it last year, figuring what the heck. Get it out there while I keep writing my new stuff. It’s my bestseller across all the sites. It’s selling faster than anything else I have. I would’ve never imagined that. It’s a small step, but a surprising one.

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