Question: would you rather read a book by an unknown author slotted in your favorite genre (in my case, epic fantasy) or a book outside your genre written by an author whose work you enjoy? I’m tempted to run a poll to find out, but I think I already know.
I suspect the author you know and whose work you enjoy trumps the genre you love written by an unknown. For one thing, most of us are not tied to one genre. If we are readers, we may have a favorite and even some I-could-care-less categories, but we aren’t reading exclusively in a single genre.
When I was young, for example, I had some favorite authors. Perhaps the first was Carolyn Keene who turned out to be a pen name for the group of authors hired to write the Nancy Drew mysteries. Later I found Walter Farley who wrote The Black Stallion. I read all the books my library had of his, including ones that we not about the Black. Next was Louisa May Alcott of Little Women fame. I discovered that I actually liked some of her lesser known works more than the most famous offering.
These don’t prove the point, however, because each of these author stayed within their genre, as most do. But I can think of a handful who ventured away from their first success, and which I for one followed.
Karen Hancock is the first in this group. I read her debut novel Arena which is a sort of science fantasy/allegory, but I became a fan when I read The Light of Eidon, first in her Guardian-King tetralogy. Four books later, Karen shifted gears and wrote Enclave, a contemporary science-supernatural stand alone. I dutifully followed and have every intention of reading her next book when it releases.
I’ve done the same with Jill Williamson. She first published By Darkness Hid, a 600-page installment of her epic fantasy Blood of Kings trilogy. While the ink was still drying on the final book, she published New Recruit, first in her contemporary, with a dash of supernatural, young adult series aimed primarily at tweener boys. Next cane Replication, a soft science fiction young adult stand-alone. Next came her dystopian young adult Safe Lands trilogy. She’s planning a spring release of the next Mission League book and has a new fantasy in the works with Bethany house. And the newest? She and her son wrote a children’s chapter book called RoboTales, and if all goes well with their Kickstarter campaign, the book will be out later this year.
Then there’s Stephen Lawhead who has written epic fantasy, alternate myth, historical, science fantasy, and probably others I don’t know about. Chances are, with Stephen Lawhead’s name on the book, it’s guaranteed good sales no matter what the genre.
So here’s the question: given the tight hold established authors have on their readership, how do new authors, especially self-published authors, find their audience? Who will take a chance on a new author when they could spend a few extra dollars for a book by one of their favorites—an author they have enjoyed in the past and who they trust to deliver the kind of story they love?
Are new authors doomed?
I can think of a group of authors who released their debut novels with much hope, only to complete their contracts with established publishing houses and not receive a new offer. They haven’t found their readership within the length of that contract, and the publishing house isn’t giving them more time.
How about those who started as self-published authors? Has their fortune proved more successful? I think not. I don’t have any numbers to back this up, but I know what self-pubbed authors have said about their efforts to market and promote their books. It’s hard work, first of all. But it also seems to yield few dividends. Sales numbers remain small.
Of course a small number of authors have broken out from the pack and give writers everywhere the hope that their book will be the next phenomenal success to be discovered. But discovery seems to be more a result of time than it does instant success. Unfortunately few publishers in the present writing climate seem willing to give authors the time to build a solid following.
Is there anything readers can do? How can we support small press authors or self-published authors when we don’t know if what they write is to our liking? Should we try? Or should we be content to let traditional publishers narrow their offerings while we scramble on our own to find the books we like—books we hope are out there but can’t know for sure if we’ll find?
I have hoped that Spec Faith would be part of the solution. We’re in a position to let authors and friends submit their books to our library where readers can find them. We also are in a position to let readers shout loudly about the books they like by writing reviews.
The problem is, only a few authors/friends submit their books and even fewer write reviews. Is anyone using the Spec Faith Library as a resource to make reading decisions? Is this tool viable or should those of us at Spec Faith spend our time elsewhere?
And if creating a listing of books and reviews to go with them is not something that helps readers find good books, what is? What can we do that will connect readers and books?