The Trickle-Down Effect of Genre Bookselling

My latest column on Kirkus Reviews combines a couple of things that I've been looking to talk about for a while now: how did major changes in the bookselling industry change how books were being written and sold to publishers?

There was a bit of a convergence of topics here. Last week, I looked at the rise of paperback publishing and how that impacted the SF world. This week was a bit of an extension of that, looking at the effects of a paperback boom on authors. At the same time, there were a number of other things happening in the bookselling world: bookstores were rapidly changing as major chain stores rose out of suburban shopping malls, while the paperback boom ended, killing a lot of careers.

Some of this has some particular interest for me, because I used to work at a Waldenbooks in college, and ended up getting laid off when Borders went under.

Paradoxically, we see some of the genre's best known authors doing exceptionally well for themselves as the 1980s progressed: authors such as Isaac Asimov, Frank Herbert and Arthur C. Clarke each made millions on their new books, due in part to the way books were sold in the new stores.

Go read The Trickle-Down Effect of Genre Bookselling over on Kirkus Reviews.


  • I, Asimov: A Memoir, Isaac Asimov. Asimov recounts how Foundation's Edge came about, with an encouragement from his publisher to write a new novel in the series.
  • The World of Science Fiction, 1926-1976: The History of a Subculture, Lester Del Rey. Del Rey talks a little about the late 1970s here, which was helpful for this piece.
  • Dreamer of Dune: The Biography of Frank Herbert, Brian Herbert. Brian Herbert recounts how his father was talked into writing more Dune novels.
  • Arthur C. Clarke: The Authorized Biography, Neil McAleer. McAleer talks about how Clarke was talked into writing a sequel to 2001: A Space Odyssey.
  • Reluctant Capitalists: Bookselling and the Culture of Consumption, Laura J. Miller. Miller's book is a very interesting look at the history of publishing, and has a chapter that was very helpful here.
  • Robert A. Heinlein: The Man Who Learned Better, 1948-1988, William H. Patterson Jr. Patterson talks about how Heinlein's books sold in high numbers during this period, but also specifically how they sold in chain stores.
  • Merchants of Culture: The Publishing Business in the Twenty-First Century, by John B. Thompson. This book contains a lot of information on the nature of the bookselling business, particularly towards the rise of chain stores.

Thanks are due as well once again to Betsy Wollheim and David Hartwell, who answered several of my questions.