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The Art of Story Writing : CHAPTER XLIV The Selling Value of Reputation

by Nathaniel C. Fowler, JR   

CHAPTER XLIV The Selling Value of Reputation

SEVERAL conditions go to make a successful book: First, the majority of good sellers reach success because of their intrinsic merit. Comparatively few books, even by the greatest authors, enjoy more than a limited sale, unless they are of high quality. While there are few exceptions, and while the author's reputation may carry a book of mediocre character, it may be said that the selling value of every book is based fundamentally upon the quality of the book itself. Do not allow yourself to feel that, because you are unknown, your manuscript will be turned down if it contains sufficient quality. If what the reading public demands is in your work and if your style, character drawing, and formation of plot are good, the chances are your manuscript will be published, although many publishers may refuse to accept it. Merit, or quality, may be considered the first requisite. Secondly, it is an undisputed fact that the author's reputation or selling value counts mightily, and that the average publisher will often accept a manuscript of fair quality from a popular writer, or from one of great reputation, when he would not be willing to publish it if an unknown name appeared as its author. Commercialism, unfortunately, does not play a minor part on the stage of literature. Publishers are in business for profit and it is obvious that they cannot avoid considering the salableness of the manuscript as well as the quality of it, and will, therefore, publish many a work which would never see the light if it were submitted to them by an unknown writer. This condition, however, should not discourage the embryo author. If he has the right kind of stuff in him, he will succeed eventually, although he may not be able to escape the travail of disappointment, discouragement, and long-waiting. The cream usually rises to the top, unless unforeseen conditions interfere.

The young writer, then, must be prepared to wait, and, perhaps, a long time, for recognition. He must, realize that merit alone is not sufficient to justify the publisher in accepting his work. By merit he must obtain what may be called a commercial, as well as a literary, reputation; but no reputation can be kept intact unless it is founded upon real quality.

While this condition is discouraging to the would-be writer, it exists not wholly unfairly. Reputation, especially one which may be marketed, must be earned; and nothing is obtained in this world without strenuous, earnest, and faithful endeavor, and the consumption of time.

The successful writer has gained his reputation and position by beginning at the bottom and by rising step by step. No matter how successful he may become, he reached the top, or obtained a place near the top, by passing through discouragement, and by overcoming the obstacles which are strewn upon every literary path. Occasionally one book places an author in the front rank, but usually it does not bring him more than a limited recognition, unless he has produced several meritorious works. It is a question of time as well as of ability.

Literary fame and fortune do not always come to him who waits, but they seldom arrive with the earlier efforts, and do not often appear to be in evidence until the author has produced several works of quality.