There was a conversation this morning on Twitter about collecting and collectible authors. Lavie Tidhar has already given his thoughts on the subject here. I collect books by certain authors myself – just see my irregular book porn posts on this blog – but I collect those authors because I like and admire their prose. Any future value is an unlooked-for bonus. And given my taste in fiction, a not very frequent bonus…
Who knew back in 1991 that Stephen Baxter’s first novel, Raft, would one day be worth around £300? I was fortunate in that I was sent a free copy. And of his next two books, Timelike Infinity and Anti-Ice, which are also worth about £200 each.
Around the same time, I bought a first edition copy of Michael Blumlein’s first, and only, short story collection, The Brains of Rats, from Scream Press. (And it was harder in those days to buy books from US small presses.) That book is worth approximately the same now as it was twenty years ago.
Other authors whose books I collect, and own in first editions (often signed), are often worth little more than I paid for them. When it comes to choosing authors to invest in, I’m rubbish.
But then I tend to avoid popular authors – and it’s authors who have small print runs for their first few books, but then pick up a large following, whose books tend to be worth something. Authors that are hyped from the start could conceivably prove good buys – although such marketing campaigns usually involve huge print-runs of the book in question. Like Justin Cronin’s The Passage. Which isn’t very good, anyway.
For the true collectible author, you need someone whose first few books were recognised by the cognoscenti – a few approving reviews here and there – but didn’t make much of a splash. They need to be regularly published – Baxter has churned out one or two novels a year since Raft, while Blumlein has managed three novels in twenty-two years. As novelists grow in popularity, so people start to seek out those earlier disregarded works. And are willing to pay good money for them.
Paolo Bacigalupi – well, The Windup Girl caused too much of a splash, I think, and his abrupt jump to YA might have scuppered his chances. Hannu Rajaniemi’s debut may also have landed with too much noise. Though I’m not a fan of fantasy, NK Jemisin is a possibility; her first two books seem to be very popular.
Unfortunately, thanks to the success of some marketing campaigns I can’t think of other new authors whose books might prove collectible at a later date. Because, by definition, not much fuss was made about them. I’m trying to think of a few authors whose debuts were published in the past two years, garnered a few positive reviews, but didn’t otherwise set the blogosphere alight. Ian Whates, perhaps? Gareth L Powell? Chris Beckett? Aliette de Bodard? Two paperback originals, one small press, and one that’s actually a reprint of a small press edition. Perhaps that’s the problem, perhaps the blogosphere has changed things such that it’s a rare debut which can slip under the radar.
And now I’ve said that, no doubt people will think of lots of examples…