discussions genre stuff

What’s The Best Way To Enter An Author?

Think about it. You suddenly hear about Author X from a friend, but when you get to the bookstore you find out you’re ten years late to the party. Author X has a dozen novels under his or her belt, and a vast career stretches out before your eyes. They might have written series or stand-alones. Some novels might have sold massively, others titles not so well but might have won an award or two.

If you want to get into Author X, where do you start?

Traditionalists might say you should start at the beginning and work your way through Author X’s career, tracking the developments of their themes, observing the subtle nuances of prose, and how they develop over time.

Others might equate high levels of sales proportionately with utility, and will say you MUST by Author X’s bestselling title to date because that’s the one EVERYONE loves and ZOMG by definition is TEH BEST. And by bestselling, I mean the one that got the most review coverage / advertising spend / award noms / best cover art. You get the picture: it had everything going in its favour.

Booksellers might direct you to their latest 3 for 2 offers. Publishers to the one most recently published (and if you wouldn’t all mind buying it on the release week so it stands a better chance of hitting the charts?)

What do authors think?

Perhaps those with commercial sapience might point readers towards the novel at the highest price-point. Hardcover royalties, if you please. Artistes might suggest their latest offering as something truly representative of the accumulation of their career. Authors with an anarchistic bent might direct you to torrent sites. (Me, I’d actually point to City of Ruin, because I think I’ve grown massively since Nights, and I would want people to enter me somewhere that shows me on my best form. First impressions count.)

What approach do you take when discovering a new old author?

Note: this was prompted by a conversation on Twitter with Next Read, when recommending where people should start with a particular author.

By Mark Newton

Born in 1981, live in the UK. I write about strange things.

15 replies on “What’s The Best Way To Enter An Author?”

I tend to go for a mix between what is considered their best/most challenging and whether the synopsis sounds like it would be my sort of thing. Praise/blurbs from authors that I already like tend to help as well.

I generally start at the beginning of a career, though if they wrote a number of stand alone and then a series, I may start with the first of the series.

If I were an author though, with a dozen titles to my name, I would probably be offering my first novel for free download on my site. Let people get a taste of me before they try to eat me, er, or my novels.

That said, obviously it’s only sensible if that first novel is say 10 years old at minium.

Title of this post sounds like the start of dirty joke. Sorry. Can’t… resist… innuendo…

I would simply go with whatever the friend recommends – they’re the one pointing me toward said author and so they’d be able to suggest whichever book makes Author X (first ever lit-oriented superhero/villain btw?) worth recommending for most in the first place.

Also, if I have to start with one book in a series – one meant to be read in a continuous, linear fashion – then I always go for the first. Always best to read in order. This doesn’t necessarily mean reading the first book by an author that was ever published, mind you – just sticking to chronology/continuity in terms of narrative.

When it comes to new old authors, particularly those who did mainly short stories or novellas, I tend to buy great big volumes with as much of a writer’s work in it as possible – e.g. the complete Severian of the Guild by Wolfe, the Fantasy Masterwork collections of Vance & Lieber, so that if I really the first few bita I read then I don’t have to hunt around and buy another book to get more.

If the author’s been recommended by a friend, I ask for a book to start with. If it’s an author with 75 titles under his belt, I try to start with a compendium with a few of his best known or best regarded books. If I really take to him, I go back and begin at the beginning with his earliest works, and try to read him in chronological order. This isn’t always possible, especially with the prodigiously productive mid-century pulp authors who are now by and large out of print, but I can at least develop a rough sense of an author’s development and trajectory.

If the author only writes book series, as is often the case with fantasy writers, then I will start at the beginning of the most recent series. Otherwise I would probably start with the authors most recent work if I see that it has received favorable reviews.

Honestly, it’s a mixed bag with me, depending on the author, the kind of works being written, and so on. If the author wrote a bunch of fantasy series, I’ll start at the beginning of the most recent series, unless they are all interconnected, in which case I will go all the way back to the very beginning. If the author writers standalones, I’ll simply go for whatever I find most interesting and start from there.


I’m sorta with Alex@5 (except for the innuendo; I guess it’s the kind of phallic that don’t work for galls):

It all depends what is being praised and how.

Some authors I’ve read when the divide between England as main source of English novels (and choice therein) and the mainland was way deeper, a time when you were glad to be able to get your hands on something of a specific author, no matter chronology (e.g. Zelazny, Vance, PKDick…). I remember when my older brother came back from a trip to the US and brought back *gasp* new titles of the Amber series. Christmas! Early! And all that. The internet certainly changed that experience.

Other authors stood (or still stand) unread in the shelf–the curse of being married to another booknut. The decision on “in which order” is made on the author’s style or the type of series. Iain Banks was into the 8th title before it got read; I did so in chronology of publishing date, since it’s the only order there is. And it does sort of makes sense; I don’t mind growing as a reader with the author (I would completely ignore your direction towards Nights if I hadn’t read City of Ruin already). Besides, in all things it’s always more interesting to experience improvement than the other way around.

IMO, directions to Hardcover will only help if I’m already convinced it’s worth it. Just yesterday I spent about 60 euro on paperbacks to get to know five authors I’ve never read. Most of the titles I chose after reviews for that specific title/series convinced me to check them out. There was one more title on my list present in Waterstone’s, but it was still HC, and I’ve held out on it in favour of the paperback omnibus of Moon’s Paksenarrion.
I mean seriously, one book (by unknown author, might always be a dud) or three (by already read author) is a non-question. And, in fifteen years time and the nth reread HC and PB all just look like the same sort of mangled dog-eared collections of printed paper anyways. A HC might protect the printed paper better, but there’s no guarantee that the paper used will actually still be white (and this by comparing luxury thick white paper editions to crappy toilet-paper PBs of not even ten years old in our library). The hubby and I find HC annoying for a myriad of reasons, of which “stupid dustjacket always gets damaged no matter what” and “when you get home you find this particular edition is 4mm to high to fit in the library” span the crown…

Lots of interesting answers here! Mark, I knew you’d say something like that. πŸ™‚ But yes, it makes a difference doesn’t it? An extra boost for the new books reflect well on an author.

George Stirling – that’s a positive way of going about it actually!

Paul – do you think author blurbs make a difference?

Daniel – I think I’d agree about the free book, actually. Ten years is a pretty good time. It’s fallen off the frontlist radar by that point, and possibly even out of print.

Alex – I left the title open to interpretation… πŸ™‚ Good to see the old-fashioned “what a friend recommends” still being so influential, actually. And aren’t those Masterworks great for that?

Anne – I always marvel at how you guys go about reviewing some of the pulps. They must be very tough to find. Is Abebooks your friend?

Simcha & SMD – I’m thinking with series authors, it’s rather limiting, isn’t it? You’ve got only a few starting places.

Anna Wildheit – sorry the innuendo didn’t work out for you. πŸ™‚ That’s quite the detailed response there. You raise a very interesting point about the internet. It *has* changed the way we can access books, especially the second hand market. (On hardcovers, I find that US ones are vastly superior in quality than UK ones – and I’ve no idea why this is.)

By the way, the nonsense at the end of my comment was meant to be “so that if I really like the first few bits I read then I don’t have to hunt around and buy another book to get more.”

Re. US & UK HC & PB btw, while I don’t have much experience with American HCs, I’ve noticed that quite a of the mass-market paperbacks I’ve got from over there are relatively shoddily put together – bad quality paper, small margins and fonts so that the text can be crammed into as few pages as possible…

Anna: I’m a big HC fan but I know what you mean about the dustjackets. I find it’s best to take it off if you’re reading the book and especially if it’s ‘travelling’ (e.g. when I keep it in a bag to read on the train). A while ago I took the monumentally geeky step of covering my most prized ones in see-thru plastic, to the utter derision of friends, family, and probably authors too when I brought them to signings. Never felt so much like the Comic Shop Guy in my life.

Mark: The Masterworks are amazing – only pity is they’re not in hardcover… but I won’t get started on that again!

Do you reckon that ‘Best Of…’ collections are a good way to get a taste of an author btw? The only thing that’s stopped me getting them in the past is that I’ve always seemed to be able to find more comprehensive collections and would rather trust my own judgement on what ‘the best of…’ is.

Mark : by “detailed” you wouldn’t mean logorrhoeic by chance? ;-P
And of course I switched titles, scatterbrain that I am.

On HC quality, paper-wise: very era-sensitive, IMO. When I look in our library, where most HCs are UK versions, I find the old ones (30y and older!), even if at the start their paper quality must have looked cheaper, come out on top in comparison to newer ones (around 10y) with thick white paper which is already yellowing…

+ agreeing to Daniel@4 with you. Doesn’t even have to be a full novel, chapter samples work great, especially when there’s a choice of novel titles. Been taught to never depend on one source when making decisions. I only buy online if I’ve been able to check out the author’s style (like say certain samples set in the city of Villjamur) or if it are dirt-cheap second-hand books (1 euro + shipping at Abebooks costs about the same as 2 beers, so what the heck). Or I wait until I’ve got a list for a shopping spree in Brussels so I can check out style in other titles by the same author.

Alex@12: I always take the dust jackets off when I read (got small hands and jackets make reading a slippery business). Should add, I’m not a neat person, so I’ve been known to put a pile of books on top of the jacket put aside for safety.
My biggest beef is, and this is where I do get why you would protect them with plastic, that their material defeats the point, sorta. Seems a bit strange for publishers to spend money on design and artwork and then not spend money on the material; it’s not like you’re going to buy a new HC if the jacket is ripped. Now, if they’d set up a channel for ordering new dust jackets for old books, I could get the marketing strategy. Would make more sense strategy-wise though if they put the artwork on the cover directly since the tech currently exists, this way you’d be rather forced to replace a damaged book. And if GURPS can do it for their 4th edition, surely it should work for novels.

Good lord, my verbose-button seems to be stuck of late…

I’m with Alex on finding the innuendo amusing.
Most authors I’ve met who I’m new too – always reccomend their latest outing. I guess this makes sense as you’re probably only as good as your last book (unless your last book was Rowling/Meyer selling).

Otherwise if it’s a series it has to be from the start of it – unless it is completely stand-alone eg I started with Small Gods with Pratchett (then gave up and went to his kid books).

I debated getting hold of “the reef” first; until it became clear it wasn’t essential to the world of NoV. Plus Mark said he may throw it out for free online someday…

Depends on the author, what they write, how big is the back catalogue. Id say you could start Kelley Armstrong’s Otherworld books either with Bitten (no.1) or Frostbitten since it’s back to just werewolves mainly and allows newcomers into the series without having to go back to the start. A number of books in the same series I would actively recommend not trying to read out of sequence.
If the writer produces a number of stand alone novels then the first may well not be the best or most accessible and might put people off reading other better books. Or maybe they cross genres and you have strong leanings to one particular genre, in which case start there, I wouldn’t tell a horror fan to start Clive Barker with Weaveworld or a fantasy fan to dive into Damnation Game, but he writes well for fans of both.
So, depends on both writer and reader where is best to start, but there is no straight forward answer to this one.

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