Quickies No Longer Quick Enough

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

Arguably the first instant book in modern history was First American Into Space by Robert Silverberg. It was published in 1961, when “instant” was measured in months and not moments. They were called “crash” books then, but they were glacial compared to today’s headspinners.

The story of its creation is an entertaining one. After plans were set to send the first American astronaut into space, Charles Heckelmann, editor of a paperback publisher called Monarch Books, devised a plan to publish a book to celebrate the event. He hired Robert Silverberg, a reliable paperback novelist who has long since gone on to fame, fortune and honor, to write it. Filling – some would say padding – his manuscript with the history of rocketry, astronaut training, biographies of the astronaut candidates for the flight, etc. etc. Silverberg delivered everything but the last chapter. The book was set into type and while Alan Shepard rode a capsule for fifteen minutes before parachuting back to Earth, Silverberg typed the final chapter, taking it right off the television set in real time. He rushed the chapter to Heckelmann who in turn rushed it to the printer. “The flight was on a Friday,” Silverberg reminisces, “and I seem to recall they had the book on sale by the following Monday or Tuesday.”

Three or four days to produce and release a book? That now seems like an eternity, especially after reading Jeremy Greenfield’s posting on DBW, Jeremy Lin Hits E-Bookshelves With Quick Turnaround Book, Linsanity. For those of you who have been living in a coal mine for the past month, Jeremy Lin is the New York Knicks point guard who went from just-hatched to giant-killer in two weeks, taking New York and the media by storm – and engendering several instant books that were truly instantaneous.

Greenfield is right that the Lin instant books signal “new realities in the book business.” It’s hard to believe that a headline-driven book that comes out four or six months after an event will find much traction or make a lot of money when the e-book and vook producers can get their editions out in a matter of hours. Indeed, an editor told me today that he’s been flooded by proposals for Jeremy Lin books and he’s told the authors and agents to forget about it; the window closed a week ago!

While Jeremy Lin was electrifying fans on the basketball court, agents for Amanda Knox, cleared, after a sensational trial, of murdering her housemate, signed a book deal for $4 million. It will take months for Knox and her collaborator to write the book and months more to edit and publish it. By the time it’s released, what newsworthy information will be left? Before you answer that question, click on this page of Amazon listings for books about Amanda Knox.

We think the Linsanity story has a lot more legs than Knoxsanity. But the truly big story is that digital media have in all likelihood closed the window on the instant book of yesteryear.

See our piece about the “instant” book created after the ditching of Flight 1549 in the Hudson River, Not a Quickie, Exactly, More Like a Slowie.

Richard Curtis

Expert Publishing Blog
Richard Curtis

About Richard Curtis

Richard Curtis is a leading New York literary agent (www.curtisagency.com) who foresaw the Digital Book Revolution and launched an e-book publishing company early in 2000. E-Reads (www.ereads.com) is one of the foremost independent e-book publishers in the industry, specializing in reprints of genre fiction by leading authors in their fields. Curtis is also a well-known authors advocate, author of numerous works of fiction and nonfiction including several books about the publishing industry, and prolific blogger – see his hundreds of other blog posts here.

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