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Rationale for the reissuing of old titles
Peter Mayer Publisher
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Rediscoveries have been part of my publishing life.  I don't know that anyone should be interested in what I was interested in as a publisher; of course I was and am interested in new books, but new or old, does not seem to me to be a useful distinction.  You have to publish new books as a publisher, because that's what gets the media attention for the most part.  But the real issue ought to be: is the book readable, is it valuable, is it good, and who cares if it's old or new; if you haven't read the book and it's an old book, it's actually a new book, it's a new book to anyone who hasn't read it.

So this issue of rediscovery is almost a publishing or a journalistic concept; they're just books to me.  I probably have restored to availability 30 or 40 books in my life, maybe more, if you include my Penguin years, where not only I, but wonderful editors that I had at Penguin also discovered older books and brought them back to print.  But at both Overlook and Duckworth I've done the same, and will always do it because, as I've said, I don't know what old or new even means, I only know, does it have a role for readers or doesn't it?  Sometimes I'm wrong, and an old book is reissued, and sometimes nobody cares.

There's one book, a very good book by Crawford Power called The Encounter, a Catholic… an American Catholic novel, which I've reissued three times, thinking it's a great book, nobody has ever paid any attention to it whatsoever!  I think it's great and I keep trying, I think Irving Howe, an American critic, no longer alive, thought it was a wonderful book, but I don't think anyone else did, and he never wrote another book.  I did meet him once.  But other books like Henry Roth's Call It Sleep, which was probably the first book that I ever – I don't like the word rediscovered, but ever brought back – which made the front page of the New York Times Book Review, and sold much more than a million copies since it was reissued.  That was probably the first book that inclined me to think that there was newsworthiness and a contribution to readers in something that was just good and was not available any more.   And I've always liked that role, but you can't build a publishing company on older books, but you can have it as an ad mixture, as part of an ad mixture. 

And you very often get cultural kudos for just doing that, and sometimes the attention leads people to read it again, and then there's word of mouth.  We've never spent, I've never spent a lot of money marketing an old book, but just making it available, somebody notices and my God, that book is back again, I loved it 20 years ago when I read it, I'm going to write a review about it.  So it's not money, it's somehow getting it right, because just to bring back a good book doesn't make it work.  It's got to be a good book, published at the right time, when the circle has come around again.  And as we all know, publishers often get it wrong, including me.

Born in England 1936, Peter Mayer is an American independent publisher who is president of The Overlook Press/Peter Mayer Publishers, Inc, a New York-based publishing company he founded with his father in 1971. At the time of Overlook's founding, Mayer was head of Avon Books, a large New York-based paperback publisher. There, he successfully launched the trade paperback as a viable alternative to mass market and hardcover formats. From 1978 to 1996 he was CEO of Penguin Books, where he introduced a flexible style in editorial, marketing, and production. Recently, Mayer financially revived both Ardis, a publisher of Russian literature in English, and Duckworth, an independent publishing house in the UK.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: The Encounter, Call It Sleep, New York Times Book Review

Duration: 4 minutes, 33 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2014-January 2015

Date story went live: 12 November 2015