There are just four types of authors in this world Pt.2
If you are an author or a publisher, you don’t really want to be classifying yourself in either of these two categories. Because it either means that you are literally dead, or ‘literary’ dead. Wordplay is fun.
Continuing from the last blog post, ‘Authors Who Play Dead’ and ‘Dead Authors’ are now up for discussion. I’ll save the most interesting for last, so up first is –
Category Three: Authors Who Play Dead
These authors are not physically dead, but it’s a frightening category to discuss, let alone be in. Eagar also refers to them as “zombie authors”, because they walk around lifelessly, complaining and sucking the life out of their publishing houses. They don’t contribute towards their marketing or promotional efforts, and inevitably, their sales begin to slump.
These zombie authors kill publishing houses by draining resources – both talent and financial – that would be better spent creating successful authors. Some publishers who are contractually tied to these authors are left with the option to do their best not to allow more money to be wasted on them.
Writers from Categories One (Unsuccessful) and Two (Successful) both have the potential to drift into this category, if they are not careful. Some people simply cannot handle success. Others become bitter at the fact that their book never sold well to begin with. Often enough, once an author starts playing dead, there’s no bringing them back. Sometimes the kindest thing to do is to just chop the zombie’s head off (metaphorically speaking).
Category Four: Dead Authors
This category is fascinating. Keep in mind that yes, many authors are dead, but that does not make them a successful dead author. We’re talking about the successful kind right now. Dead authors obviously cannot perform any roles such as promotional appearances, book signings, interviews or social media marketing. Yet their books are consistent sellers, and their names live on in literary ‘Best Of’ lists.
I’d be willing to wager that if you have only read 10 books in your entire lifetime, then at least one was by a ‘dead author’. Some that spring to mind include Tolkien, Austen, Lewis or Christie. And if book sales are not enough to convince you, then look at all the television and film adaptations of these authors over the last 50 years – that should tell you that these are successful authors.
How do dead authors become successful if they don’t already have a ‘Penguin Classics’ label affixed to their front cover? Many ‘dead authors’ achieved recognition in their lifetime, which are carried over in death. Stieg Larsson’s Millennium series were not published until after his death in 2004, but six years after his death one of the series titles was declared the highest selling book in the UK of the year. In my mind, the answer is genius marketing on the publisher’s part, and word of mouth by consumers.
Connecting with a fanbase is vital for publishers in creating a dead author. Niche markets like Facebook pages and fan clubs are communities that are naturally flocked to by fans, so it’s fairly simple to market to them. Relating dead titles to modern events also greatly help in marketing, according to Eagar, as it shows that the content can provide lessons or insight into today’s events. Even announcing the 500th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death can help sales.
Creating, rather than maintaining, a dead author’s success is quite a feat. It helps if, like Larsson, you had some notoriety while alive, as it gives something to build off of (he was a Swedish journalist). Being dead can create an aura of mystique around the author that helps sales and increases word of mouth. Often enough, people do not take into consideration whether or not an author is alive or not when choosing a new book next, but they are thinking about the content of the book. Publishers often put a premium on a title depending on how they want to appeal to a customer’s loyalty, sentimentality and trust.
Not having to work around an author’s schedule is clearly a positive when promoting a dead author’s work. That’s why it’s so interesting that publishers can still successfully sell backlist titles without a physical presence to promote it. Considering that promotional appearance by physical people is so essential in any aspect of the entertainment business, the film and television industry could probably learn a thing or two from publishers, and make a mint out of revitalizing products from decades ago.