Novelist Jenny Colgan tweets that someone once put up their hand at a Q&A she was doing at a book festival to ask this immortal question. “Excuse me, but who are you?” I’ve heard this repeatedly from authors. It happens a lot. Even very well-known authors suffer from it, as Colgan proves.
As a reader, though, it’s easy to understand. There are so many authors, so many books, lots of them have similar names… It’s hard to keep up. It’s happened to me with Tim Parks, Kate Grenville, Alexander McCall Smith…
They’ve all been somewhere off my radar until suddenly I have “discovered” them only to find that millions of others “discovered” them before me and they are massively famous and I’m just the last one to turn up at the party wearing the wrong dress and feeling like an idiot.
In some ways, though, I love the idea behind “Excuse me, but who are you?” Why should readers know who someone is just because they’ve written a successful book? We can’t all know about everything.
One of the reasons I got so into Tim Parks – and bought up his entire back catalogue in one mammoth Amazon session – was because I met him at a books event, had no idea who he was, got talking to him and he told me all about his latest book, Teach Us to Sit Still, without expecting me to know anything about what he had done previously. Imagine my embarrassment when I got home, Googled him and realised he had written fourteen successful novels. What a class act not to mention that small detail. Humiliated. Mortified. Fan for life.