Being a writer with a name at the end of the alphabet

It’s a century since a transport company was founded in my home town of Napier with the epithet Aard. A word that founder R. R. Woodcock coined so he’d be at the very front of the phone book.

Avoiding being at the bottom of the pile: a recent book of mine on the counter at the Te Papa Tongarewa bookshop.

He knew what was doing. It’s a lesson driven home to me whenever I walk into bookshops and look for my own titles. Conveniently, most shops rank their authors alphabetically. In Whitcoulls’ main Wellington store (their national flagship) that means my books are sitting at floor level, whereas people with names in the first few letters of the alphabet are at eye level.

It does make a difference – indeed, it’s been shown scientifically that having a name closer to the front of the alphabet is usually an advantage.

The way around it is to have a rampant best-seller, in which case bookshops put piles of your book in the front where customers fall over them on the way in. That sort of display (and sales) has actually happened to me a few times – The Reed Illustrated History of New Zealand (Reed 2004), Big Ideas (Random House 2009) and 2011 Historic Hawke’s Bay and East Coast (Bateman 2011).

But for the most part my stuff get stacked at the end of its categories. Penalty for having a surname near the end of the alphabet.

I wonder how Roger Zelazny got on?

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2017

3 thoughts on “Being a writer with a name at the end of the alphabet

  1. This may not be as much of a problem in the ebook world. Of course, findability on the internet is another issue altogether. Unless you’re famous enough that people look for you by name, people have to find your books by keywords, or pure serendipity.

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    1. I agree – there’s a lot of serendipity in terms of web discovery. The main problem there is being ‘heard’ against the ‘noise’ of everybody else doing the same thing with the same promotional tools. There’s going viral – but it seems to be transient, and those who get dramatically ahead in any sustained way, as far as I can tell, are socially prominent through more conventional media. For the moment. The ultimate challenge is getting any sort of prominence on the back of ordinary hard work, which is what the field amounts to for most writers.

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