Thursday, December 3, 2009

Whither Thou Taylor Caldwell?

Flower, my little friend!  

Did you read Taylor Caldwell back in the day? I am a touch too young to have enjoyed her heyday, but hers were some of the books that floated around the house when I was growing up. Great big, chubby mass markets with floating head covers of people in emotional disarray and titles done in curvy typography. They had a lot of allure for me.

The books also belong to that era when publishers used color or the page edges. Do you remember that? Do you know what that was called? I liked it then and I like it now. I wonder why publishers don't do that anymore. You would think that in the last 25 years some popular enough author would have requested colored page edges.

I remember reading The Captains and The Kings (and seeing the mini-series), Pillar of Iron, This Side of Innocence and probably others I cannot put a title to. I loved them. They were juicy page turners jammed to the tip top with generations of back stabbers, the righteous, takeovers, adulterers, all sorts of out of wedlock shenanigans, and closets filled with secrets. ~~~sigh~~~ Heaven.

When you work in a bookstore you sometimes get asked for books that turn out to be out of print. In my bookstore the most consistently asked for author whose books turn out to be out of print is Taylor Caldwell. Caldwell wrote bestselling novels from 1938 to 1980. Real bestsellers. I do not use the word bestselling lightly. Caldwell's books were genuine, actual on best selling lists, people plucking done hard earned money for bestsellers. So why aren't they in print?  

Well, her most famous family saga novel The Captains and The Kings is available from a major publishers and one of her religious novels, Dear and Glorious Physician, is available from Ignatius Press the country's leading Catholic press. And? That's it. After 42 years of books clamored for and beloved, two are still in print and available as new. I haven't investigated what the second hand market for Caldwell is like.

Why the fall from publisher's grace? I don't really know. It's been my experience that publishers are delighted to be reminded of past successes that can be repackaged and reintroduced into the retail world. I have often told sales reps that customers ask for Caldwell and I have no doubt that those messages are passed on. Maybe it's an estate/rights issue? Maybe publishers don't believe there is an audience for Caldwell books? If that's the reason I think it's a bad call.


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