The Untold Story of Books: A Writer's History of Book Publishing
“People don’t read books anymore. Who has the time nowadays?” – Lesley’s Weekly (1913)
From Gutenberg to Amazon, Michael Castleman’s The Untold Story of Books is the first and only history of publishing told from a veteran author’s point of view. Witty, entertaining, and full of remarkable new insights, it’s a deeply researched, fascinating history of the idiosyncratic book business—aimed at authors, aspiring authors, booksellers, industry professionals, and everyone who loves to read books.
The Untold Story of Books organizes the 600-year saga of publishing into three distinct book businesses, all defined by the evolution of printing: Gutenberg-style hand presses (1450-1870), industrial printing (1870-2000), and digital publishing (2000-?). Castleman explores how each new book business upended its predecessor, forcing authors, publishers, and booksellers to adapt to ever-changing circumstances. It’s a story full of surprises. Why did books become favored Christmas presents? Because of a poem written in 1823. Why is New York the nation’s publishing capital? Because of the Erie Canal. Why are book endorsements called “blurbs”? Because of a satirist’s joke in 1907. And why is copyright often an illusion? Because publishing was founded on book piracy, which today is easier and more rampant than ever.
Arriving at the present day, Castleman paints a compelling portrait of an evolving book business full of new promise and peril. He unpacks the many myths surrounding the writer’s relationship to publishers. As tensions in an increasingly disrupted industry mount, Castleman offers a refreshing perspective, grounded in a truth that few would care to admit: writing and publishing have always been incredibly difficult professions—callings more than livings. Ultimately, The Untold Story of Books equips today’s authors with the understanding they need to survive—and maybe even thrive.
Praise for The Untold Story of Books: A Writer's History of Book Publishing
"Entertaining, fascinating, deeply researched, and crisply written, The Untold Story of Books is full of surprises. I worked in publishing for thirty years and was amazed how much I learned about the industry. No other book provides such a comprehensive and witty overview. The publishing industry is often shrouded in mystery. This book lifts the veil and provides a fresh, new, compelling perspective. A must-read for authors, aspiring authors, and anyone who loves books."
—Mark Chimsky, former editorial director of Harper San Francisco, former director of trade paperbacks at Little Brown, and former editor-in-chief of the trade paperback division at Macmillan
"Castleman has created a unique, highly readable title geared toward libraries, authors, book groups, and dedicated, curious readers. It’s delightful the way he relates the history of the technological innovations that have propelled book publishing. Castleman’s concept of the three epochs of publishing works very well. One of my favorite elements is the way he explains the economics of publishing from a writer's point of view. It’s very clear and you don’t have to be a math whiz to follow it. I’ll be telling many people about this book. It’s a tremendous contribution."
—Laura Lent, retired Chief of Collections, San Francisco Public Library
"Now that I understand how the business of books has treated authors for centuries, I have a context for my own bumpy experiences and a slew of tools for future decision-making. The Untold Story of Books should be immensely helpful to authors both new and established, and to anyone who wants to understand today’s multiple publishing options."
—Nicola Ranson, author of A Slice of Orange and Plant Talk