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The NY Times on Obstacles First Time Authors Face: ‘There Was Absolutely No Buzz’

Using the case of The Cuckoo’s Calling, The New York Times looks at how tough it is for debut authors to break through, asking why J.K. Rowling’s murder mystery received scant attention when it was published under the pen name Robert Galbraith.

James B. Stewart notes that in the U.S. the now-bestselling book landed reviews only in trade publications before its real author was revealed. He also quotes R.J. Julia’s Roxanne Coady:

“There was absolutely no buzz,” Ms. Coady said. “There was no direct correspondence from the editor or a publicist. We didn’t hear anything from the sales representatives. They’ll usually tell us that there are five to 10 books on their list that we want to make sure you read. They know our customers and what they like, so we trust them. This book wasn’t one of them. I don’t know if we bought any copies. Maybe one.”

To illustrate that debut titles with zealous publisher backing can get attention, Stewart quotes Grove Atlantic president and publisher Morgan Entrekin, who famously shepherded Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain into blockbuster status.

“’There’s no question, if a publisher decides to get behind a book, to invest its publishing capital, to use its traction with the chains, with Amazon, fight for the promotion money to get the book into the front of stores, you can do a lot to bring attention to a worthy first novel,’ he said.”

Entrekin cites Matterhorn, by first-time novelist Karl Marlantes, which he published in 2010, as another success. He says he, “re-edited it, cut 300 pages, got advance quotes from prominent authors, introduced the author to booksellers and hosted a media lunch in Manhattan,” enabling it to sell over 400,000 copies.

Nevertheless, the piece ends on this fatalistic note.

“Mr. Entrekin agreed that many good books don’t achieve the success they deserve. ‘There’s no formula,’ he said. ‘A publisher can only do so much. A book’s fate is ultimately in the hands of the book gods.’”