This morning Facebook reminded me that six years ago I was celebrating the release of my verse novel, Toppling. Six years! In some ways it feels like yesterday. But then I think of things that have happened in my life since that particular came book out: writing wise, including having lots more published, and personally, including moving towns, becoming a grandmother, returning to university, travelling… Oh wow, only six years?
Anyway, the great thing about realising Toppling is six years old is the fact that, in spite of its age, it’s still in print (here in Australia, with Walker Books, and in the USA with Candlewick and in the UK, with the title John and Dom) .
Six years is a long time for a trade book to still be in print. Even though being in print doesn’t guarantee that it is sitting on shelves in very many brick and mortar bookstores (who change their stock regularly), it does mean that it’s available for purchase through online stores, and most bookstores will get it in when asked.
So what is it that keeps a book in print – and what part can an author play in that?
- Publishers need books to sell (just like an author does), so if copies of a book continue to sell, it is more likely to stay in print. From my perspective, this means making sure prospective readers still know about the book and where they can buy it. To do that, I blog about it, talk about at school visits and festivals, have it visible on my webpage and so on.
- Winning awards is fulfilling, but it also means the book is likely to be sought out by readers, librarians, teachers
and parents. . A shiny sticker on the front, especially from an organisation such as the CBCA adds an implicit recommendation to the book. Which in turn leads to sales, so it is kept in print. Luckily for me, Toppling won the children’s literature category of both the Queensland and WA Premier’s Literary awards, as well as being shortlisted for the CBCA Book of the Year and other awards. From an author’s perspective, you can’t do much about winning these awards (apart from making sure your publisher nominates them) but you can spread the joyous news both at the time and in your profile for years to come.
- Timelessness or, at least, longevity of the story. A story that is all about the latest gadget, or about an event that only happens once (say, for example, this year’s Rio Olympics) may sell really well in the short term, but not so well after the event or gadget has faded away. (NB – this kinds of books are not necessarily a bad idea – just not so relevant in a post about keeping things in print). Stories that deal with issues or topics or experiences that are always relevant have a chance of appealing to readers for a long time. Toppling is about friendship and about childhood cancer, both subjects which remain current six years after the book first came out. As an author, I wish that childhood cancer would stop being relevant (because I’d like to see it wiped out of existence), but since that isn’t happening, I’m glad my book is able to tell a story which connects with readers six years down the track.
- Undated content. This is kind of similar to number 3., but is about how the story is told. Using trendy words, or
games, or clothes, that change rapidly can make a book seem outdated very quickly. We all know (or, perhaps, like me, ARE) people who use what they think are young-people words that result in eye-roll from kids so they are so outdated. Rad? Cool? Groovy? In books there is a danger not just of putting those rapidly changing words into character’s mouths, but also using them in the text for description and narration. It could be not just the dialogue, but the latest game I have my characters play, or the television show they watch or a million other details which make the book seem ‘old’ but not historical fiction (which is another matter entirely). This is not to say a book will go out of print just because a character watches Masterchef and then Masterchef stops being televised, simply that sometimes details can date a book. So, as author, you can’t try to make a book completely devoid of small details, but you can avoid being too trendy.
- Writing other books. I mentioned that I’ve had other books come out since Toppling. Having multiple books helps to keep the older ones in print. This called a backlist. When a reader discovers your latest book and likes it, they often go looking for what else you’ve written. So, for publishers (especially if it’s the same publisher), keeping the older books in print is worthwhile. Roses are Blue, my next verse novel after Toppling, came out 4 years later, meaning that many of the young readers who read Roses had not yet read Toppling. But many of them did (and still do) go on to read Toppling, and my other, earlier verse novel, Pearl Verses the World). As an author, of course, what I can do here is to make sure I keep writing new books, and perfecting them, so they keep getting published.
Not every book will stay in print forever, and there can be lots of reasons for this. But I’m glad Toppling is still around, and I aim to do my bit to keep it in print for a bit longer yet.