Posts Tagged ‘John Kennedy Toole’

What’s the best way for an author to be remembered?

In books, writers, Writing on April 10, 2012 at 9:18 am

This past weekend, I checked the Amazon listing for Human Game and was pleased to see the sales ranking had jumped from the million-mark to the neighborhood of 200,000. Someone had obviously pre-ordered a copy. To that kind-hearted and anonymous individual, I send my sincere thanks. The book isn’t due out until October 2—indeed, the Amazon listing does not yet feature the cover image—so it’s great to know that someone is eager enough to order the book seven months before its release.

I once read somewhere that for a book to be a bestseller, heavy promotion has to begin about six months before it hits stores. Whether this is true or not, I have no idea—but, certainly, an aim of this blog is to get the word out. I realize blogging alone won’t sell books, but I’m hoping it helps. At this stage, it’s too early to tell. I do find it interesting, however, that several visitors to my blog have got here by entering the book’s title as their search-engine query.

While discussing all this with my wife over the weekend, I said, “What I’d give for just one major seller!” I feel no shame in admitting this. Yes, I want to sell out—I want to sell out an entire print run! I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a writer, musician, or any artist, for that matter, wanting to make money from their toils. Of course, I don’t write solely for cash. I enjoy the process and take great satisfaction in receiving the final product from the publisher prior to publication. I’m just saying one bestseller would be nice!

This all leads to a question: As an author, is it better to be remembered as a prolific scribe who turned out high quality books that never sold in large quantities, or remembered solely for one big-selling book in particular? Pondering this question, I drummed up a short list of authors who only ever produced one book—but, of course, they’re works have the stuff of immortality.

Margaret Mitchell – Gone with the Wind
Harper Lee – To Kill a Mockingbird
Ralph Ellison – The Invisible Man
John Kennedy Toole – A Confederacy of Dunces
Emily Brontë – Wuthering Heights

As for authors who produced numerous works but are remembered primarily for one book, I came up with the following (this, of course, is open to debate):

Hunter S. Thompson – Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Joseph Heller – Catch-22
J.D. Salinger – The Catcher in the Rye
Ken Kesey – One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Henry Miller – Tropic of Cancer
D.H. Lawrence – Lady Chatterley’s Lover
F. Scott Fitzgerald – The Great Gatsby

Honestly, if I were to be remembered at all, I’d be happy to be remembered either way, for it means the work–whether multiple books, or just one–has touched a considerable audience.

The Guardian approached this from a different angle last year and composed a list of authors “famous for the wrong book.” Among them are Kurt Vonnegut for Slaughterhouse-Five and Evelyn Waugh for Brideshead Revisited.

Are there any authors you’d add to the above lists?


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