Tuesday, October 21, 2003

The power of word of mouth 

No matter how hard publishers try to market books, whether by making up new plans, bombarding newspapers and magazines with ads, using television, radio and internet promotions, in the end, a book gets into a reader's hand because somebody--be it a reviewer, a bookseller, a sales rep, an editor, an agent, a fan--tells someone else that this book is the one to read, to enjoy. What makes things interesting is that it's not just anyone who can be the one to spread the words. For whatever reason, some people are listened to more than others, their judgements valued above everyone else's. Malcolm Gladwell's THE TIPPING POINT went into much detail about the epidemic nature of buzz and word of mouth, and it was a fascinating read because in the end, it's true.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Bouchercon heralded the arrival of many authors and many new books, but only a select few were considered "buzz worthy." Based on how quickly the copies sold out and were replenished, the top buzzed-about book was Sean Doolittle's newest from the gents at Uglytown, BURN. It was such a pleasure to see the things that happened. Friday morning in the book dealer room, I ran into one of the main crime fiction editors at a UK publishing house as he scanned the book racks of one dealers. I asked him what book he was looking for after he'd said he didn't see it on the rack. "Something by Sean Doolittle?" was the editor's response.

As I had just picked up my own copy of the book the previous day, I expressed a good amount of enthusiasm, in part because I'd loved Sean's previous book and because people I trust had been extremely positive as well.

"Oh yeah," he said, "Everyone's been talking about it and telling me to pick up a copy." So I knew what to do.

I ushered said editor to the dealer which had a single copy of the book left, and soon after brokered an introduction between editor and said author.

Then more things happened. An agent I know mentioned he was looking for authors to represent. In due time another introduction was brokered. A rising star heavily promoted in the UK and only starting to gain ground in the US picked up a copy and after 30 pages found it hard to put down. Things like that.

A few days later, as Bouchercon came to a close, I sat by the pool to get some R&R and read my newly acquired copy when an editor from a different publishing house came by to do much the same thing, except she held a manuscript in her hand and had proofreading to do. We said hello and spotting the book, asked what I was reading.

"I must write that down, so many people have been telling me about this book," she said.

I gave her some more information and duly noted, we both went back to our respective reads.

But this isn't about me. All I do is tell people when I love a book, or help out when I know others love a book and I think I will as well. And I love to be proved right.

I finished BURN on the plane ride home and it's everything it is cracked up to be. This is a book about a murder, but it's more than that. It's a book about a missing brother, an arsonist running from his past, and a health fitness empire on the road to ruin, but it's more than that. It's about family and loss and love, the ties that bind yet also are horribly frayed. It's about redemption and friendship and rage and tragedy. There's so much packed into this 380-odd page novel but it moves so fast that instead of feeling padded, felt far too short. I'll be thinking about this book for a long, long time.

I'm sure you all will as well.

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