The return of the instant book

Last week, I witnessed something I hadn’t seen in many years.  It took ten days from the time  the  publishing agreement was signed to being handed a bound copy of Tracey Garvis Graves’ ON THE ISLAND. That is truly amazing and exciting in terms of future publishing ventures.  But publishing instant books, as they were once  called, isn’t new to many of us who have been in the business for years.

In fact when I held my copy of Tracey’s book  in my hands, I thought back to many exciting titles that were published in this way back in the day.  And when I looked back I found this New York Times article which describes some of what took place during that time.

This kind of publishing was inspired in the ‘60s , ‘70s and ‘80s by major news events.  The most popular of the titles was The Report of the Warren Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy; others included  The Pentagon Papers, The Israeli Rescue at Entebbe and many, many more.

A publisher would usually team up with a news organization like one of the news weekly magazines or The New York Times and together they would produce a manuscript, often using material from the government which, of course, was in the public domain.  They would work on this for a week, sometimes less, and then go through the production process, typesetting, printing, binding and shipping the books.

I was actually a part of one of these projects right at the beginning of my career:  I carried a manuscript, after the writing and editing, were completed from our offices in New York to Chicago where I was taken to the printer in Des Plaines, Illinois, where the book was ultimately printed bound and shipped out.  It was all very exciting and very hush hush – most of these instant books were top secret until they were published, which created great excitement.

The problem was that while the publishing company was working on these projects , all other work , especially in the editorial department came to a standstill and, ultimately this led to  the demise of the instant book; the profits they were making didn’t justify what they were costing in terms of the loss of other business.

Now, though, with the change in technology, books can be produced much faster and efficiently – and even more inexpensively.  So the possibilities are becoming very exciting and bode well for the future.

As I like to say, there are no totally new ideas, it’s just the way they are “presented.”  What do you think about the whole “instant” book phenomenon?

3 Responses to The return of the instant book

  1. Kerry Gans says:

    It sounds interesting, and I can see the value of it for current events books. It also sounds a bit like what you get with the POD Espresso machines, although those are books already written and ready to print.

    I wonder if they can use this new technology/ingenuity for getting regular books out faster, so it doesn’t take a year or more after the contract to get your book on the shelf. If they could streamline the process, they could potentially print more books in a year, reaching larger segements of the readship and increasing their chances of getting a book that hit big.


    • Joelle says:

      I’m the first to say that I don’t know too much about the process, so know this comment is mostly based on my own experiences, but I don’t think printing is what holds up books for so long. There was two years between my first and second book, and we were done with edits a full year before my second book came out. It has more to do with lead time, where your book slots into the publisher’s catalogue, and marketing, I think than the printing. The hard copy of my book was done several months before its release.

  2. Gill Avila says:

    My first experience with the “instant book” was in 1967. Less than a week after the Arab Israeli Six-Day War ended Bantam (I think) had a lushly illustrated mass paperback out about it.

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