In any form of business that requires buying and selling, attention is as key as content. The literary circle is not exempted from the grip of this rule as the mental focus of readers is directly equal to the value of literature; you cannot be good without attention or not garnering attention means you are not good.
Self publishing authors have it toughest because readers have a list of authors, seemingly handed them by people they look up to, to read and a new writer is coming to either increase this list of ‘books to be read’ or turn their attention away from it. There is Ben Okri waiting along with Salman Rushdie and Leo Tolstoy in their list of ‘books to be read before I can engage in book discussions’.
Self publishing authors then have to spend most of their time running around looking for renowned writers to write blurbs and reviews for them to be able to push sales and all of a sudden readers are interested in reading their works.
It is fair to say that reading book from trusted names helps to keep readers from running into works that are so badly written that one can literally feel their intelligence reducing word by word, but it is either because books are more personal and take a longer time to cover than say music, that is why people rarely discover good reads themselves unlike how people discover good new music themselves. While reading The Dreamers Will be Safe by Sese Yane, published in the Writivism Prize Anthology 2016, Sundown and Other Stories, the writer using the main character put it clearly that works of art like books need names to be relevant. A work of art only takes on meaning when it is discovered that the red,blue and white blotches were made by Picasso, a painting of a woman smiling in a sinister fashion requires various interpretations and schools of thoughts because it was made by Day Vinci and a four line poem has deeper meaning when it is written by Soyinka, you just have to dig for these meanings. Meanwhile, this same works would probably be seen as it is if made by a different unknown name, as: playing with colors, a portrait of a model and a one stanza poem. But no one will say a song is good when it isn’t just because a popular singer made it (this of course does not apply to Nigerian musicians’ and mumble rappers’ fans, they are in an incomprehensible world of their own),a song is good on account of it being just that, good. A book most of the time is not. A book only makes more sense when you find out that the writer is a black man who grew up in America during the years when racism was not widely despised. A poem resonates more when the writer is a woman who suffered domestic violence. It is not necessarily a bad thing but it not fair to countless others without the benefit that a reputation could have afforded them.
Reputation sells more books than contents because no one is saying ‘let me finish this book first and if it is worth it I will pay’. You buy a book the same way you buy a non-tested phone in Oshodi; you either get home to discover you bought a gem or discover that the only thing of worth in your purchase is the beautiful casing. Of course, reputable writers are just that; reputable, they keep serving it beautifully. Whether Stephen King is writing as himself or as Richard Bachmann, it was still a delight to read Running Man. Even if Dean Koontz is writing as Aaron Wolfe, it doesn’t make the writing any less better. But will people be willing to take the risk that comes with parting with money for something unknown? Betting on a dark horse? The answer most time is No. No one wants to read a short story of 5,000 words unless it was recommended or it is their job to do so or the writer’s bio says that he or she was the winner of a popular writing prize or was on a shortlist of something similar. No one wants to pay N2,500 for a book unless the back is covered with blurbs from Adichie, Bilawayo or Nnedi and the front bears reviews from popular literary magazines and blogs. No one wants to read from writers without reputation unless it is their job because like art, a book is worth as much as the writer and unlike music, it does not start and end in four minutes.