Okay, how many of you out there actually know who I am? Raise your hands, I’ll wait… I said, I’ll wait… oh, okay.

A few.

How many of you know who J K Rowlings is?… Or Stephenie Meyer…? I’ll wa… okay, I see you… and you seven back there… and the twenty six of you in the back… and the couple of hundred of you who just poked your heads around the door to nod… and yes, I realise that those open hands mean that you know four or five… hundred… more people who can say that they recognise those names…

There are several issues inolvled with “fame” when it comes around in a writerly guise. In the beginning, young writers are often afraid of bad reviews – but the real enemy of the writer isn’t infamy, it’s obscurity. Walked into a bookshop lately? How many THOUSANDS of hopeful authors can you picture holding their breaths as you rake the shelves with the look that belongs to a buyer who came in with book-buying dollars in their hand?

How many of those authors have you ever really heard of?

How willing are you to give those dollars to somebody whose name is unfamiliar to you, and whom you have never read before? Does buzz matter? What if the only thing you’ve heard about a certain writer or a certain book is a bad review, perhaps from the pen of somebody you have learned to trust, at least on the basis that the only things that reviewer likes you reliably loathe and vice versa, or a gushy review which swears the book is utterly perfect but which makes it out to be SO perfect that it couldn’t possibly live up to the hype…?


There’s the word.


“Hype” and “buzz” are the watchwords of today’s bookselling business – if hype and buzz build up to a sufficiency of sales the author may be granted the chance to write (and publish) another book. But in a world where a book has a four-week window in a bookseller’s shelf – and if it doesn’t leap off said shelf, gets returned to the publisher from where it can be “special ordered” while still in print but only if you already know about its existence – you have to catch the wave of buzz/hype early and ride the damned thing until it throws you off.

Advertising is part of this, if your publisher is willing/able to do some, or if your own pockets stretch to some.  Swag such as bookmarks, pens, magnets, whatever comes to mind – the kind of stuff those of us who are familiar with conventions are used to seeing on the “freebie tables” – can work up to a point, as reminders to look up the book next time the potential buyer is in need of something to read. But the one thing that works best, that goes viral fastest if it works, is word of mouth – the word passed from one reader to the next, “That book was FABULOUS!”, that kind of thing. It’s something organic, something that you can’t buy, something visceral that you are either lucky enough to hit… or you are not.  Even Harry Potter was not an instant phenomenon. But the first book caught somebody’s attention, and then the movie came, and then the buzz built, and, well, they didn’t print ten million copies of the seventh book in the first printing alone by accident. YOu know that the buzz has worked for you when booksellers throw midnight parties to appease those fans of your books who can’t wait until 9 AM the next morning to get their hands on a copy.

I have friends at all levels in the writing business. I have the yet-to-be-published, who are watching and waiting and learning and hoping to hit the buzz when their time comes. I have those who are newly published as well as mid-list-published who are still waiting for their buzz-ship to come in. I have those whose names are well-known in the buzz world. I have never met Rowlings or Meyer or Gaiman, not personally, and I don’t really know anybody in THAT bracket – but I do know people whose books have been made into movies or optioned for same, I know Hugo winners, I know brilliant writers who write because it’s a labour of love and whose every published work is a hard-won victory, relished by a handful of loyal die-hard fans, but which will never hit the literary stratosphere.

So, I have something for y’all who read this blog to do.

Go out and talk to a friend about a writer you know about and they do not. Start a buzz. If you have the occasion, opportunity and means, you can stretch so far as to buy a friend another copy of a book which you yourself have loved (and pass on the injunction that, if they enjoy it too, they might consider doing the same thing).

Go spread some love. Lots of good reading out there to be found… if you know where to look. And sometimes it takes the hand of a friend to take you to places you might not have known the way to before.

Happy reading.

Filed under Uncategorized. You can also use to trackback.

There are 6 comments. Get the RSS feed for comments on this entry.

  1. 1. Lydia Sharp

    There are several issues involved with “fame”…the real enemy of the writer isn’t infamy, it’s obscurity.

    That’s a really good point. I have yet to read anything of Meyer’s Twilight series. I’ve heard a lot of good things about it and I’ve heard a lot of bad things about it. In order to have my own opinion, though, I’m going to have to read it. And without all that talk amongst people I’m in contact with every day (in addition to all the media attention), I wouldn’t have considered it. It’s just not something I would normally read.

    I suppose when you look at it that way, the hype is a good thing. You open yourself up for bad reviews, but when it comes down to it, people are reading your work. LOTS of people. As a writer, that’s all I would ever ask for.

    I also enjoying “discovering” unknown writers, so to speak. They’re really not unknown because they’ve actually won awards and — look at that! — they have ten best-selling novels that I’ve never heard of. When I fall in love with someone’s writing, I tell everyone. And then I look for more work by that same author. Word of mouth is incredibly powerful, and I have yet to see any one publicity tool that surpasses its influence.

  2. 2. Nathanael Green

    I can’t say how many times I’ve wished for a personal recommendation for something new and different from an unknown. So I’m going to heed your call and tell my friends about an obscure author I’ve found.

    Now, the question is, which of my favorites do I talk up first?


  3. 3. Alma Alexander

    Lydia: yes, word of mouth is still the ultimate promotional tool. You can stuff a full-page ad in the New York Times and it can still mean less than twenty people who are REALLY in love with a book telling twenty friends each about it….

    Nathanael: I’d say start with the one whom you think the least number of people might know, and who – in your opinion – deserves a wider audience than that…

  4. 4. Allen

    A book co-authored with a writer that I trust will often prompt me to explore what else an unknown (to me) author has to offer. If they’re good I will go back for more.

    Recommendations from writers have also often persuaded me to part with my cash in exchange for a journey with some writer I had not heard of before. If they’re good I will go back for more.

    But there is one thing that has led me to more new experiences than any other. It’s a dirty word to some but I’ll say it now: Free.

    We’re talking Sci-Fi & Fantasy here which implies “Trilogy” and even if it’s a singleton, if I can try some new author’s first work without cost (and they’re good), then in me, they have found a paying subscriber for whatever else they want to put out there.

    There are many paths from obscurity. All of them start by being good. But in the face of the internet’s disruptive opportunity there is a new one and it starts with free.

  5. 5. Adele

    I love discovering new authors, often through book review blogs, pretty covers, interesting titles and quite often through authors I know I like linking them on their websites or community blogs like this.

  6. 6. Andrea

    i am constantly, constantly taking risks on new authors–at least in part because I read so much that there’s nothing left by my ‘favourites’ in the bookstore–and constantly talking them up to my friends. My favourite way of doing that right now is facebook’s visual bookshelf; good books get good ratings and nice, long reviews, and if I really love it I’ll forward it to a couple of people.

    I may be in the minority on that, however.

Author Information

Alma Alexander

Alma Alexander is a novelist, short story writer and anthologist whose books include High Fantasy ("Hidden Quen""Changer of Days"), historical fantasy ("Secrets of Jin Shei", "Embers of Heaven"), contemporary fantasy ("Midnight at Spanish gardens") and YA (the Worldweavers series, the Were Chronicles). She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and two cats. Visit site.



Browse our archives: