Do you know J. K. Rowling? Neil Gaiman?
No? Me neither.
I know the settings they created as well as I know any place on the solid spinning world my body inhabits, but I’ve never met them. I know their characters with an intimacy I can’t claim of most living, breathing people, but I can’t claim to know more about the creators than their names. I’ve lived in their worlds, I have conversed about their stories and shared my love of their universes with hundreds of people over the years, but I know the writers not at all.
I don’t know those famous authors, but I’ve sold their books to friends, to family, to total strangers perusing cover blurbs near me in bookstores. When an author captures my imagination and holds it hostage, I ransom it back with my recommendations. Joy shared is joy multiplied beyond measure, and when a story brings me happiness, I want someone to hold my hands while I jump up and down making squeaky gleeful noises.
Nothing sells like satisfaction. I am an enthusiastic fan, and I share my passions. I sell Neil Gaiman’s books; American Gods in particular. I sell Harry Potter like crazy.
“J. K. Rowling hardly needs your help,” some may say, scoffing in that snooty, sneering, internetty way, “nor does Neil Gaiman. Everyone knows them. They’re bestsellers. They’re award-winners.”
As usual, my strawman brings up a lovely point for me to knock down and flame to ashes. It’s true that J. K. Rowling needs no help now, but how did she get to be a bestseller? (Hint: not because her writing is good. It is, but that isn’t the secret.) I’ll give everyone a second to ponder the conundrum.
The answer is this: J.K Rowling, Neil Gaiman, and hundreds like them became bestselling authors because people bought their books. Period. Not so long ago, no one knew who J. K. Rowling was. When HP1 came out there was no fanfare. NONE. Not even great reviews. Not bad ones, but not gushing raves, either. I was selling books for a living at the time. Crickets.
Best-selling authors become famous because enough readers discovered an unknown writer whose words spoke to them. Those readers recommended the work to other people who read and recommended it. And so on. When enough people noticed, it got onto lists where it was noticed by more people who picked it up from curiosity, and then it was famous, and being famous leads to being noticed for being famous…and the authors never looked back.
That’s how it works.
The enthusiasm of a trusted friend can make up for a bad cover, a dull blurb, and even a questionable first chapter or two. If someone I respect says, Yes, really, it’s worth a look, I will spend my precious time to puzzle out where that worthiness lies. Honestly, it’s the main way a lot of introverted readers like me socialize. Shared reading lists give us common experiences without all that pesky human interaction. All it takes to make book famous is enough people putting that power to use.
It’s fun, too. You earn bragging rights. I was pushing Jim Butcher from Dresden Files Book 2, and pointing people to Laurell K. Hamilton back in the days when some librarians put her books into the YA section. (Seriously.) I sold George R. R. Martin when Game of Thrones was in a plain silver wrapper.
I’m not saying I made them famous. I did not. No one person can accomplish that task. (Although someone with money to burn and an existing media platform can come close. See: Oprah Winfrey.) I didn’t do it alone, but it was the work of the people who took recommendations and made recommendations in turn, and the people who took their recommendations, and so on. Sharing is caring.
Word. Of. Mouth. Handselling. Pass it on. It’s that simple, not that simple means easy. Visibility in the arts doesn’t happen by magic. It only happens when people care enough to do work on behalf of the writers/musicians/artists they know and love. You know that incredible artist who does napkin sketches at the bar. You know the singer who does the bar circuit? You know a writer who self-publishes? You knew ten of them? You do. I know you do. We all do. Never underestimate your power to start unstoppable momentum on their behalf.
See where I’m going with all this yet?
Maybe you don’t dish gossip with Neil Gaiman, maybe you don’t hang out with J. K. Rowling, but you do know at least one author.
(Hint: you know me.)
Beyonce says, if you love it, put a ring on it. I say, if you love it, sell it.
Buy, love, share, repeat. You will know someone famous, someday.