The Authors We Leave Behind
On December 1, 2001 the day of my first book signing for the release of The Depths of My Soul, one comment that stuck with me was said by my publisher Dr. Rosie Milligan when she mentioned too many people who have not written a book have taken their stories to the grave. Unfortunately, that is true. What we also fail to notice is the flip side, the authors who before us have published books but the masses have not paid attention to for whatever reason.
I operate a mobile and online bookstore and on occasion I receive donations from readers who claim they don’t have enough room for any more books so they wind up having to give them away or it’s a family who’s moving out of town, state, etc. So I store a number of books that fill up my space to hold them and recently, I acquired a number of boxes filled with books from one family who had a lot to hand over to me. When I take used books to sell them to a weekly farmers market, I discovered most of the patrons who support our bookstore have already read the same books or they have a preference for newer, cheaper books. This particular shipment gave me pause for a moment and take a look at what I received.
For example, how many of you have heard of the book By Sun and Star? Okay, how many of you heard of an author named Vanya Oakes? There wasn’t an extensive biography on her on Goodreads, Amazon, and although I did find a short mention on eBay, from White Man’s Folly, I discovered I didn’t have to look very far. I found out who Ms. Oakes was by simply reading her preface. If you allow me to be technical for a minute, the function of a preface as defined by www.patmcnees.com gives the difference between a forward and an introduction. Briefly, a preface’s purpose is: “To talk about how you came to write the book, especially if that will help draw the reader into the book. Perhaps best in the preface.” and “To talk about how you got the information — what your main sources were.” The picture below is an example of that.
Besides Ms. Oakes, how many of us have heard of the author Ronald Farquharson? If you haven’t, that’s okay. He was the author of his one and only book, Confessions of a China Hand written in 1951. His publisher was William Morrow & Company, which after changing hands quite a few times, ended up with HarperCollins in 1999.
In this stack given to me, I have the old favorites such as Edgar Allen Poe, H.G. Wells and a few favorites like Dumas here and there. It’s the unknown, less recognized author who gets lost in the sea of published books throughout the years. This before the explosion of the internet, self-published and Print on Demand books. The question that everyone of us who writes books has to ask is how do we stand out over time?
It is rare that readers remember an author strictly just for the work. It is known Hemingway served in two World Wars, traveled the world and hunted in Africa, but who’s to say Ms. Oakes (or Mr. Farquharson) didn’t live an extraordinary life of her own? As a journalist in the Orient, she wrote about her experiences in her novels, but it’s not as mentioned or romanticized as we would hear about our classic writers today. The vast universe of books throughout the centuries has its share of good or perhaps not so good stories or tales filled with prose or verse with artists using the written word.
In the year 1900, about 6,000 titles were published. A century later, it’s safe to say that’s the number of books published per week. If your name is not any of the well established names from Hemingway to Patterson, Morrison to Zane, as an author, you will be lost in the shuffle. Perhaps there will be someone in the year 2098 in a swap meet (provided they still exist) plucking out a novel or non-fiction book wondering who the name of the author was, before returning the book back in a pile with several other authors whose books have suffered the same fate.
The American Dream of Authorship is to gain enough publicity for your book for our target audiences, have it made into film or a play and ‘rake’ in the millions and millions flowing in our bank accounts. That’s the ideal situation all authors aspiring, new or established would like to be in. There are authors who succeed in that plan, not everyone does. That’s the reality.
We live in a consumer driven society and books have always been a part of that culture. Books are written to fulfill a need; to be entertained, to be educated and edified. When one or all of these reasons are replaced by another outlet, they don’t seem to be as important to the masses as we make them out to be. Authors will always try to write in a genre that has broken new ground or has proven to be successful like romance and believing that their book is the one, the book that will ‘break the mold’ and have all eyes looking at it to see which of the three requirements it has.Then again, it might wind up in someone’s basement, garage or attic just sitting there. For how long? Who knows? Maybe until it winds up in a blue bin or in the ‘last chance’ section of a bookstore before it is pulped out of existence.
For authors in the 21st Century, this either serves as a wake-up call or just provokes a shrug. Whatever direction they go in, realizing that one to hundred years from now unless they make a name for themselves, all of the promotion, social media advice and egotism won’t matter. Their hard work will just cease to exist in the minds of the readership. It’s just that simple. Now that the case has been made, one question remains for the literary artists of today:
What will be your legacy?
Authors N Focus Extra