Monday, December 15, 2014
Robert Louis Stevenson and Mark Twain once sat on a bench in Washington Square to enjoy an hour's conversation.
"Can you name the American author whose fame and acceptance stretch widest and furthest in the States?" Stevenson posed the question to the famous author at his side.
Twain believed he knew, but modesty prevented him from answering.
Stevenson quickly burst Twain's bubble, for it wasn't the beloved author. Stevenson then explained how he discovered the most famous author at a bookshop in Albany that displayed a large number of little books written by the same author, Davis. (Twain didn't recall the first name of the author.) All the books were compilations with a brief chapter of introduction written by Davis. Such titles as Davis's Selected Poetry and Davis's Selected Speeches were cheaply yet neatly bound.
Not recognizing the author, Stevenson asked the bookseller about him. It astonished the well-known author to find that the books sold so well that it required freight trains rather than baskets to carry them.
Stevenson's lack of knowledge about the multi-published author didn't surprise the shopkeeper. He explained that no one had heard of Davis for his name didn't appear in print or advertisement as such publicity didn't appeal to him. Davis's books would never rise to the top; one must put on diving gear and plunge to starvation wages where the compilations were found by millions of readers. The author who sells to that market will make his fortune for these readers remain loyal. According to the bookseller, once a writer becomes a favorite in this market, his or her books will always be preferred for the fans pay little attention to reviews. They simply know what they love.
On the other hand, well-known authors must worry about reviews and the weather on the top, for winds of slander may blow and hammer away at their good name.
Stevenson and Twain discussed this kind of submerged fame and decided to call it submerged renown. Authors with submerged renown affect a great number of people they never meet or speak to, but who read their books and develop a fondness for the writers. These readers don't criticize or listen to the criticism of others for the author has found a place in their hearts.
This pair of famous, well-loved authors agreed that this type of fame was best of all.
In this day of social media, where publishers insist on authors building a platform and getting their name into the public arena, many may feel this is no longer valid. It is frequently stated that no one will find an author's book without publicity.
Or perhaps those readers Stevenson and Twain determined to strive for will find the best of authors and books anyway.
It's definitely food for thought.
Sandra Merville Hart loves to find unusual facts in her historical research to use in her stories. She and her husband enjoy traveling to many of the sites in her books to explore the history. She serves as Assistant Editor for DevoKids.com and is a contributor for a collection of stories about answered prayer in Jesus Encounters, (Spring, 2015.) She has written for several publications and websites.
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Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/a-stranger-on-my-land-sandra-merville-hart/1120155194?ean=9781941103272.