It Doesn't Have To Be Right…

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Spotting the next big thing

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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…

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4 thoughts on “Spotting the next big thing

  1. It’s pure luck, because there seem to be so many good authors who slip under the radar, in my estimation. Getting a bestseller seems to be as much about marketing budget as it is about talent. This seems to be particularly true if the book doesn’t have mass-market appeal, either because it’s too highbrow, too violent, too pessimistic, or simply because it doesn’t fit neatly into a genre label. That applies to a lot of the books brought out by small presses like EibonVale.

    • I did consider Douglas Thompson, but as you say his may not have enough massmarket appeal for that to later translate into collectibility. But then Beckett’s books have slipped under the radar, although this new Corvus edition of The holy Machine might just generate the popular appeal he needs.

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  3. I can’t think of any examples off the top of my head, but I do think it is as much about luck and the fickle nature of the buying public as it is anything else, and I think the blogosphere can have, at the very least, some temporary effects on the perceived value of books. I remember about 5 years ago when Neil Gaiman mentioned a beloved author from his childhood, Victoria Walker. Her books were out of print and suddenly shot up in value. Not sure if anyone paid the prices, but if you searched for them at the time they were being listed quite high. Then the buzz generated from his mention and other authors also jumping on board and talking about her lead to her books being republished…which of course caused the value of her out of print books to drop.

    I’m not interested in buying books for their value, largely because of the fact that even if I got lucky enough to own something that ended up being valuable I’m not sure I could part with it, at least if it was a book I really enjoyed.

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