Hearing Norma Jean Sawicki talk (see Tuesday's entry) about the massive debt behind the publishing industry's mergers and acquisitions made me feel much better about my Visa bill. It also made me think about how much more company is on top of what I personally see at most houses--I might know the editor in chief, the children's publisher, occasionally that publisher's boss, but most often a company goes up up and away into corporate dimensions we just don't see on the ground. Norma Jean and I had a good time talking about what that can mean for which books get published how.
The question that only came to me today is about how much frontlist becomes backlist, and how long it stays there. For example, what percentage of, say, juvenile hardcover fiction published five years ago is still in print? Ten years ago? What percentage of first-novelists get a second crack, and has this figure changed? When I look at the piles of new novels rolling in, I wonder how long an attention span any one of them can command. I worry about those forlorn first-in-a-projected-but-abandoned-trilogy books, their characters left at the breath of the Fire Dragon or in the mouth of the Imponderable Cave. How many books disappear, and how quickly? This is not to say that many of them shouldn't, and not soon enough, but have our expectations of a "normal" literary lifespan changed?