Publication Year and Relevance: Why I Review and Recognize Older Books

“Older books.” A relative term in itself.

In publishing, it often doesn’t take long for new books to become old news, so to speak. A book may only receive “new release” recognition or be eligible for certain new release promotions within 14 or 30 days of its publication. “See What’s New!” a sign in a bookstore or a public library will urge readers with excitement, spotlighting a special display of titles. But ultra-visible placement only lasts a short time before most books are put up on the regular shelves with all the others, usually with just their spines showing. And library and bookstore shelf space is limited, so books that don’t garner enough interest fast enough will be replaced with different books.

Book contests and award organizations tend to accept entries or nominations for books that are not yet published or that have been published within the organization’s current calendar year. Any other books are, well, too old.

Oh, a single book may have multiple releases, in a sense, particularly if the author is popular. A publisher may release a hardback before the trade paperback edition of a book is released, and then a mass market paperback may follow some time afterward. The audio and ebook versions of that book may also become available at different times. Multiple formats releasing at staggered times might help a book to remain “new news” for a longer stretch.

Yet, not every title is an award winner, becomes a bestseller while it’s new, or is written by an award-winning or bestselling author. It may only be a matter of months from the time when a book is released to the point when the publisher stops buzzing about it. I don’t blame publishers for that. If they spent all their time and money trying to actively market every book on their ever-growing backlists, there wouldn’t be enough time and money to push the newer books they’re continually putting out.

Even so, I know that a relevant book doesn’t lose its relevance just because it hits the six-month or one-year mark since its publication. I know that a meaningful novel doesn’t lose its meaningfulness just because the “new release” sparkle has sparkled off. I know that a well-written and profound story doesn’t cease to be well-written and profound just because the initial marketing has ceased or the initial buzz about the story has died down.

Yeah, a book may only have a short time to prove itself in sales and reviews and such before publishers are moving on and promoters/advertisers are looking for the next new thing. But, hey, I won’t even get into all the works through the years that may not have had the best reception or may not have become instant hits after their original releases, but audiences have come to recognize the merit of those works after all.

So, I don’t only seek out and read new, recently published books. I don’t only review new books. I don’t only share and recommend new books. New books aren’t the only ones that show up on my annual book award lists. Yes, I even share my enthusiasm about books that are out of print, and interested readers may have to buy or borrow a used copy, as I did.

A book might have first been published yesterday, or it might have first been published hundreds of years ago. If that book is meaningful, relevant, and well-written, then that’s what it is, regardless of its publication year.

An author may only have so much time or finance to promote their own books, and no author will be able to promote their work forever. But other people—especially readers—keep books circulating, start up new buzz, wield word-of-mouth power to get more people reading and benefiting from an author’s words.

Whether a good story is old, new, or somewhere in between, it takes a community of book lovers to keep that story alive.


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