If I conjured up a scatterplot of book quality and readership, putting aside for a moment that one of those is completely subjective, would there be a correlation? Like most answers to nebulous questions, I suspect the answer would be: sometimes. Pinning the reasons for sometimes is an exercise in futility. There’s still, even in this era of advanced math, no clear demonstrable path to publishing success other than “write a good book and hope people read it.”
With that in mind, it seems there might be a need to look at books that went under the radar, so to speak. Books that, for some unknown reason, did not receive the level of attention they might have otherwise. It’s easy now to look back at Matthew Stover’s Heroes Die and say, “that book was significant!” But the book never resonated with a larger audience—and frankly, it’s too late to save it. We can lament its status and argue for more readers to read it, but the awards have been given and the “word of mouth” factor on which bookselling is so reliant has gone relatively silent for Stover.
I wonder though, can more recent titles be rescued from obscurity? Is it possible to pick them off this year’s pile, dust them off, and give them a second look? With the first print runs are still on the shelves, it seems worth a try.