It’s Not That There’s No Author, Unless, Gasp, This Is One of Those Naked Came The Stranger Things

August 8th, 2005 · 6 Comments
by Booksquare

We are bemused by the fact that The Traveler didn’t catch fire with audiences. Because the author “lives off the Grid” — apparently that statement always requires quotes, possibly even air quotes if said out loud; this leads us to believe most who write this phrase don’t know what it means — Doubleday tried creative marketing approaches. We think it’s a case of the publisher swimming in the shallow end rather than trying the big kids’ pool.

We don’t want to see a book fail, but we do so enjoy Monday morning quarterbacking. In this case, it’s the anonymity of the author that lead to the book’s premature demise (though there is hope for resurrection in the form of sequels and/or paperback release). It suggests that this book, unlike all others (including a certain bestseller that the publishers hoped to emulate here), was somehow immune to the need for good word-of-mouth.

But the novel’s disappointing start illustrates the risks and advantages of having an unknown author. With luck and the right story, an anonymously written book can seem like a secret everyone is dying to learn, a book that sells itself. Otherwise, the publisher has to depend on the slow, uncertain process of reviews and word of mouth.

We have done yet another Booksquare poll of unwitting readers. As it turns out, none of them have a) heard of this book, b) knew that the author’s name was a pseudonym, nor c) asked what “living off the Grid” means. This non-scientific poll tells us that the book failed to reach a certain audience.

Would more publicity effort by the author help? It couldn’t hurt. But can we suggest something radical: a New York Times review only reaches a small audience. By all accounts, this book was aimed at the mainstream, and the NYTBR doesn’t cater to that element (not a bad thing, just something to consider). In this case, Doubleday tried to create mystique via book-related websites, models at trade shows, and garnering press about their efforts…yet each of these approaches were akin to preaching to the choir. Widespread discussion of the book, which Doubleday surely wanted, remained, to our discerning eyes, within the books community. That is until news that the book failed to reach sales expectations hit the streets.

File Under: Books/Mags/Blogs

6 responses so far ↓

  • jmfausti // Aug 8, 2005 at 8:17 am

    Does no one remember “Primary Colors?” It was an anonymously written book and took the US by storm. All the press I read on this “off the grid” guy gives me the sense that he is intentionally trying to play mysterious for the attention. I, for one, am not impressed.

  • Kevin Holtsberry // Aug 8, 2005 at 8:23 am

    Marketing buzz can work if the book is especially tuned to the marketing in tone and style and/or the marketing hits at just the right moment. In this case the marketing was heavy handed and the book simply didn’t live up to the hype. I read the book and found it so-so. It wasn’t terrible but it wasn’t great either. By hyping the book so much, the book was given an artificially high standard. Plus, the silliness of it all turned off a lot of people.

    Perhaps the Da Vinci Code, which I haven’t read, was just a fluke; a cultural epiphenomena that can’t be repeated.

  • David Thayer // Aug 8, 2005 at 9:12 am

    The old Broadway saw is we bombed in New Haven. The branding of Twelve Hawks went awry, and the NYT says fiction is dead. It’s August. Fiction lives after Labor Day.

  • Booksquare // Aug 8, 2005 at 10:29 am

    Kevin, unless you have a few hours on a plane, I will absolve you of any and all need to read The DaVinci Code (g). It is fast-paced and a somewhat interesting (if not terribly original) plot. However, it isn’t that well-written — though I will admit that I tend to read as a writer rather than a reader, which makes me more cognizant of the craft.

    Primary Colors played on the insider’s scoop anonymity thing; this is just mysterious for the sake of being mysterious. Living off the grid, traditionally, doesn’t mean you don’t have access to things like computers and telephones; just that you don’t connect to the main, traditional power source. And it’s a weird concept for a dude who wrote a high tech thriller, if you know what I mean. Now if they were to market this as a guy who has to protect his identity because The Man is after him, well, then there’s a mystery that might intrigue me.

    I do think the marketing campaign was silly — if only because it was so blatantly commercial. Viral marketing is a great concept, but this was a little too branded to achieve the goal. It truly bombed in New Haven, though now that I realize there will be a resurgence of fiction after Labor Day (does this have anything to do with wearing white shoes? One gets so confused about fashion these days).

  • Alex // Aug 8, 2005 at 10:53 am

    Whenever the press for a book is about the innovative marketing campaign and not about the book you’re in trouble. I read a number of articles about Doubleday’s marketing campaign, but nothing interesting about the book. By contrast – the historian emerged over a few short weeks and a few ads as the book to beat for the summer.

    I don’t think it was the anonymous author that was the problem though – the book just didn’t deliver.

  • Lauren Baratz-Logsted // Aug 8, 2005 at 4:25 pm

    This news comes at an interesting time for me, having just finished reading the latest novel by another mysterious nonpromoter, Trevanian. Back when I was an independent bookseller, I loved Shibumi and The Summer of Katya, not only because I could sell the hell out of them but also because they were, for their time, smart and fun. Maybe the Twelve Hawks book is neither smart enough nor fun enough?