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Monday, March 25, 2013

GUEST POST: Word of Mouth: Or Just Let Me Be Read by Shawn Speakman

When Terry Brooks published The Sword of Shannara in 1977, he wanted one thing.

To Be Read!

He didn’t want awards. He didn’t want accolades. He didn’t want to win critical acclaim from book reviewers—even though Dune author Frank Herbert wrote one hell of a New York Times book review for Sword. No, he just wanted speculative fiction fans to pick up the book, read it, enjoy it, and spread the word to other readers.

Remember the time period. 1977. No internet. No social media. No smart phones. There was no simple means to effectively market Sword to the masses of fantasy readers who might be interested. There were reviews in newspapers; there were articles in magazines. That was it.

Instead, editor Lester del Rey relied on booksellers. He knew if booksellers liked the book that they would recommend Sword to their customers—and those customers would tell their friends.

Word spread. Did it ever! For The Sword of Shannara, word of mouth is responsible for making it a bestseller. The debut novel sold 125,000 copies in its first month of publication and remained on the New York Times trade paperback bestselling list where it stayed for five months.

Skip to 2013! Word of mouth is as important as it was in 1977 — maybe more so. More fantasy is published now than ever before and it is hard to choose between the hundreds of new books released every year, all vying for our attention. Most of us have fixed incomes and we must discern what to buy and what not to buy. We rely on fantasy blogs like Fantasy Book Critic to help us. We rely on publishers giving us exclusive excerpts. We rely on authors offering giveaways.

But word of mouth… word of mouth is still the most powerful driving force in the industry. 

I have been Terry Brooks’ webmaster for almost fourteen years. It has been a pleasure. Terry is one of the nicest writers in the field and has a fanbase to match. His wife Judine is fond of saying he has the best fans in the genre. Since I’ve been responsible for his website/ social media and been surrounded by those fans for over a decade, I have to agree with her whole heartedly. 

When I began work on The Dark Thorn, my urban/epic fantasy hybrid novel, Terry fully supported me. He even edited my debut, mentoring me in the craft of writing. Some of it stuck thankfully and I soon had a finished book he said I should be proud of. I am. And during the entirety of the process, many of Terry’s fans followed my progress, their curiosity and need to read the book growing over the last year.

The Dark Thorn is now finished and published. It is available in a beautiful hardcover with Todd Lockwood cover art and a Russ Charpentier map. I am happy with the story and its presentation and I’ve received dozens of compliments from readers and even bestselling authors. The reviews have also been strong. Having access to Terry’s marketing platform, I have had stronger sales that I had hoped. But having a meaningful writing career that lasts longer than a year still comes down to three things:

 1) Is The Dark Thorn a good book?
 2) Will readers give The Dark Thorn a chance?
 3) Will word of mouth sell The Dark Thorn?

I have written what I think is a good book. Early reviewers have agreed so far and said The Dark Thorn is a cross between Terry’s Word/Void series and Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files. Even though I hate comparing in such a manner, I mostly agree with that assessment. If you haven’t read it, feel free to try an excerpt HERE.

And, so far, readers have been giving my debut novel a chance. As I said, sales have been strong despite the limited avenues one can get a copy. Now it largely comes down to word of mouth.

Word of mouth is key. Readers trust other readers and it is the best way to find a new favorite writer. So I give you a challenge today. I want each of you to share with your friends—in person and/or online—what new writers you have enjoyed reading recently. Right now. Open Twitter. Start Facebook. Send a text message, write an email, or make a phone call.

The recommendation doesn’t have to be The Dark Thorn, although if you’ve read it and liked it that would be nice. I would rather see people actively sharing. Ultimately, readers decide whether a writer has a long career or not.

So be a part of that! And share!

Official Author Website 
Order The Dark Thorn HERE 
Order Unfettered HERE
Read an excerpt of The Dark Thorn HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Shawn Speakman is the author of The Dark Thorn and editor for the forthcoming fantasy anthology Unfettered. When he isn’t writing, he maintains the websites for authors Terry Brooks, Naomi Novik, and David Anthony Durham, as well as runs The Signed Page and writes for the Random House sci-fi/fantasy website Suvudu. Learn more about him and his work at!

NOTE: Shawn Speakman picture courtesy of the author himself. Watch out for FBC review of The Dark Thorn next week.


Terry W. Ervin II said...

Yes, there is a lot of competition out there to be read, and word of mouth remains the most effective way to spread the word of a good read.

Trusted reading friends who recommend and reliable reviewers, I suspect, will continue to have strong influence well in to the future.

Anonymous said...

"To be read" should be the answer every author gives to the question "why did you write a book?". It was mine, and it makes me smile to know it was Terry's (and yours) as well, Shawn. Word of mouth is the original, and still the most trusted, form of advertising. It is also the most powerful. Thanks for reminding us all that in the world of books, what should matter most to writers are readers.

M. R. Mathias said...

I wrote my Wardstone Trilogy, and the Legend of Vanx Malic books, just to stay sane while doing time in a Texas maximum security prison. I wont lie and say I wasn't entertaining thoughts of literary fame, but I wasn't fooling myself. It was a few years after I got out of prison that I began learning to type by entering Book One into MSWord. Writing a book "just to be read" is a luxury very few can afford.


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