What’s in a name?

It is said that there is power in a name. In the literary world, that saying holds a lot of truth. The name and reputation of the author of a book can very easily determine its sales once the book has been published.

Readers are much more likely to buy a new book if they recognize the author’s name or have read other pieces written by that author in the past. With so many unique books currently in print — 2.2 million titles being published every year, by some estimates — picking a book based on its author can make what seems like an overwhelming trip to your local bookstore a bit more bearable.

The unfortunate truth is that good writing doesn’t necessarily get the credit it deserves. In order to get popular, authors must give readers around the world reasons they should buy their book rather than someone else’s. It becomes a type of popularity contest, where a writer’s success is determined by the number of books they sell.

The influence of an author’s name was really epitomized with the release of the crime fiction novel The Cuckoo’s Calling earlier this year. The Cuckoo’s Calling, a debut novel by author Robert Galbraith, was published this last April. The novel received almost universal critical acclaim, with some people declaring it “easily one of the most assured and fascinating debut crime novels of the year.” However, despite its positive reception by critics, the book only sold about 1,500 copies.

Fast forward to July, when it has been revealed that J.K. Rowling — famous writer of the Harry Potter series — was the author of The Cuckoo’s Calling, writing under the pseudonym Galbraith. After Rowling’s identity as the book’s author was revealed, the book went from being ranked 4,709th on Amazon to being the number-one best-selling novel.

Nothing had changed about the novel from April to July, so why were the sales of The Cuckoo’s Calling so poor during the first few months compared to Rowling’s other pieces? The reason was fairly simple. Rowling lost the built-in audience of Harry Potter fans by not using her name.

No one had heard of Robert Galbraith before, and no one had any particular reason to buy his book. Yet the name J.K. Rowling rang an important bell with readers. It became something familiar, making The Cuckoo’s Calling a book that nearly every reader of the Harry Potter series was excited to read.

This is a perfect example of the power that a name holds in the world of literature. Someone’s writing skills can only carry them so far toward becoming popular. The Cuckoo’s Calling was well-reviewed by critics but simply failed to gain the wide spread attention of readers.

But Rowling’s fans enjoyed her past books and fell in love with her characters and charming writing style. If you have ever thoroughly enjoyed reading a book, wouldn’t you want to find another book to recreate that feeling as well as possible? And what better place to search for that book than with the author herself?

While this might seem unfair to lesser-known writers, it makes sense that people buy books based on a famous name. It doesn’t necessarily have to be about “brand-name” authors, but just the search for a really well-written piece of literature.

However, that is not to say that buying books in this fashion doesn’t have downsides for authors and readers alike. While it might mean high sales for already famous authors, it can mean low sales for talented authors who have yet to become popular.

When readers buy books based on their author, it also means they could be missing out on really good books by less-famous authors. You get less variety in writing style and content when you continue to buy books with the same few names attached.

So get out there and keep reading. Keep buying books by your favorite authors who have, on countless occasions, brought you joy and entertainment in words, and keep searching for your new favorite book. But remember to include lesser-known books in that search. Who knows? Maybe you will create a new literary star in the process.