The Audience of Leviathan

I recently tweeted a really interesting review of Leviathan by Tansy Rayner Roberts. It’s my favourite review so far partly because she puts into words something Scott and I have been noticing:

I find it interesting that so many people are talking about this as the latest Scott Westerfeld novel without really acknowledging that this is such a departure from his more recent work. I would not be surprised if some of the audience for the Uglies and Midnighters and Peeps books (at least the teenagers) were less interested in this new series, even as Leviathan draws in an entirely new generation of readers. It’s always interesting to see an author whose work you admire move on to pastures new.

Note: she’s NOT saying that teens aren’t reading Leviathan, she’s just saying that some of the teen fans of Scott’s other YA books will be less interested in the new series. But that a whole new audience will be.

This is exactly what we’ve been finding. Especially amongst the hardcore Uglies fans. Many of whom won’t read any of Scott’s books other than the Uglies books. Here’s a conversation Scott had at almost every stop on his recent tour:

Fan: OMG! I love the Uglies books SO MUCH. You are my favourite writer in the entire world! *hands Scott multiple editions of every Uglies book to be signed plus extra copies to be signed for friends*
Scott: Thank you! So many Uglies books. Amazing!
Fan: When will you be writing a new book? I can’t wait for the next one!
Scott: Well, I’m on tour for a new book. *points to giant stack of Leviathan*
Fan: *looks at Scott blankly*
Scott: Leviathan is my new book.
Fan: Um, when will there be a new Uglies book?

Now, Scott has plenty of fans who read every single book he writes. There are even a few who’ve tracked down his very first publications: kids books about Watergate and the Berlin Airlift. And a few more who are proud owners of Scott’s choose-your-own-adventure Powerpuff Girl books. However, there are a substantial group who are not Westerfans per se, but fans of only one of his series.1 Especially when it comes to the Uglies books.

Now, this is not at all uncommon. There are plenty of Dorothy Dunnett fanatics who only read her Lymond books and have zero interest in the others, Scalzi fans who only like the Old Mans War books, McCaffrey fans who ditto the Pern books and so on. I myself am a Georgette Heyer fan who only likes her regency romances. I won’t touch her straight historicals or detective fiction with a barge pole. So I totally get it.

It is, in fact, a small percentage of readers who will follow a prolific and diverse writer throughout their career and read all their books. This is true even for writers like Stephen King. Plenty of his readers read only the novels and ignore the short stories and non-fiction.

I frequently describe myself as a huge Margeret Mahy and Diana Wynne Jones fan. Yet I have not read all their books. Most, but not all. There are fans and then there are fans.

What’s been so interesting about Leviathan is that it seems like the same percentage of Uglies fans that didn’t pick up Midnighters or the three New York books2 are also not picking up Leviathan. The difference is that a whole bunch of folks who never really heard of Scott before are picking it up in their place. Leviathan really does seem to have brought Scott a whole new audience.

Broadly, we’re noticing way more boy readers than before and a much wider age spread: from eight year olds up through eighty year olds. Scott toured with Sarah Rees Brennnan, Robin Wasserman, Holly Black and Cassie Clare. At pretty much every event, boyfriends of these other authors’ fans, who had come along in a suffering kind of way, saw Scott’s presentation and wound up buying Leviathan, stunned that something could possibly interest them at such an event. Leviathan has also drawn in two specific groups who’ve had little interest in Scott’s books previously:

  • Steampunk fans
  • History buffs

Obviously there’s a big overlap between those two groups. But it’s been fascinating to watch the audience of his tour events change. Scott’s always had people coming along dressed up like Tally or Shay or other characters from his books, but this tour he had people showing up in full on steampunk garb. Fabulous. So far pretty much all the steampunkers are dressing in a generic steampunk way. I’m hoping that will change for his 2010 tour. I can’t wait to see the first person showing up dressed like Derryn or Alek.

Now before any of you jump into the comments and say “I’m a bloke! I love military history and steampunk and I’ve ALWAYS read Scott’s books!” I’m not saying you don’t exist, I’m just saying that before Leviathan you were only a teeny tiny slice of Scott’s audience. Now, you’ve got lots more company. Enjoy! We sure are.

  1. There are adult readers who’ve only read The Risen Empire and have no intention of ever touching that smelly YA stuff. []
  2. So Yesterday, Peeps & The Last Days. All three books are set in the same world, by the way. It’s just that Hunter (of So Yesterday) is totally unaware of all the vampires running around. See how the world of products and advertising distracts you from what’s really important? Let that be a lesson for you. []


  1. Jennifer on #

    I’ve definitely noticed in the bookstore we are getting many more 10-15 year old boys and grown men buying LEVIATHAN – rather than what I’d consider “typical” Westerfan teenagers. But that is awesome. Lure the whole world into the WESTERTRAP.

  2. Justine on #

    Jennifer: Corroborating evidence! Thank you. Also “Westertrap”. Hahaha.

  3. Sash on #

    I loved Uglies (even used one as a case study for my masters in YA fiction) and I’ve read Midnighters too. I didn’t hand any of them over to my 9 year old son. Leviathan was different though. There was no teenage angst, so I thought I’d see how he liked it. He’s finding it a harder read than his usual fantasy stuff, but he’s sticking with it. The illustrations help him process it all, and he asks questions about them. Like he wanted to know how exactly the map worked.
    So far it’s proving to be a great novel for him to really extend his reading. Congrats to Scott!

  4. Kayla Paenga on #

    I’ve read the Uglies, Midnighters & the Peeps books, and I couldn’t wait to read Leviathan. Unlike the previous novels, I did find myself taking longer to read Leviathan, but the illustrations do help. It is different, but I read a wide selection of novels and I’m looking forward to the next two books!!! πŸ™‚

  5. Sean the Blogonaut on #

    I think Scott owes a debt of gratitude to Sammy Yuen Jr for his inspired cover art and Keith for the interior map and artwork I hadn’t heard of Scott prior to seeing Leviathan in target. It screamed screamed “Steampunk” at me from the shelves.
    I just finished it last night and will be writing a review for it shortly. As an adult reader I found nothing in the book that would prevent me from recommending it to other adults. It has several elements that were of interest to me – the morphing of history and biology and the inclusion of a thylacine(is this the first exmple of a pet Tassie Tiger in fiction).
    You can thank your husband for awakening the Steampunk bug again (much to my wife’s chagrin) – I have already set about converting my library and various pieces of furniture.

    Any thoughts of a boardgame or rolplaying game spinoff, movie, miniature set? πŸ™‚

  6. Erika on #

    I agree! I hadn’t read any of his books yet until Leviathan was being promoted. I was anticipating his new release for the very reasons you mentioned: it’s steampunk and alternate history. When he offered Uglies as a free .PDF I downloaded it from his site and read that to tide me over until Leviathan hit shelves. It’s because of Leviathan that I even started his Uglies series and now I love it, too! I’m reading Specials at the moment. πŸ˜‰

  7. Aishwarya on #

    I’ve also noticed Leviathan getting a lot more coverage on the SFF blogs I read (still not as much as I’d like, because it’s YA) than the Uglies books. Which is weird to me, since the Uglies books are clearly SF.

    For myself, I have only read (and really liked) the first Uglies book, The Risen Empire and Leviathan. I am intrigued by these Powerpuff Girls books of which you speak.

    (I also refuse to read Heyer’s non-Romance historicals or her detective fiction. It’s just Not Heyer)

  8. Caitlin on #

    Ahaha… I’m one of those half-assed Westerfans who only reads his YA stuff, but I’m working on getting a copy of Risen Empire. πŸ˜€
    I met Scott at one of his first stops on the recent tour, and although I was wearing a Special Circumstances shirt and had my battered and well-read copy of Uglies along with me, I also had my brand-spanking-new copy of Leviathan which I was reading before the presentation started and already hooked. (By the way, I have converted from Team David to Team Tazza… extinct animals for the win!) I know a lot of people, mostly teenage girls, who loved Uglies but would hate Leviathan. I prefer not to socialize with them πŸ˜€ Even so, there are a lot of us highschool girls who found a steampunk novel new and exciting, and I believe that my best friend and I are now hooked on the genre.
    So, thanks Scott, you have successfully lured me into your WESTERTRAP (I totally love that phrase, thanks Jennifer!)

  9. Tyas on #

    Oops you hit me right on the spot. Leviathan has been the first Scott’s book I’ve read, and it’s the whole idea, concept design, and illustrations that drew me to it. I love steampunk and am a history buff πŸ˜‰

  10. Amber on #

    That’s exciting! I’ve only read Uglies series and the first of the Midnighters. I’m up for possibly reading more, but I will admit that Leviathan does not interest me from what I’ve read. In fact, usually sci-fi stuff isn’t my thing and I’m amazed at how much I liked the books of his that I did read.

  11. connor bb on #

    I generally was NOT a sci-fi fan AT ALL before I picked up Peeps (even though that’s not reeeeally sci-fi). But I was hooked. I got So Yesterday and Midnighters next and although I liked Peeps more, I still liked them. But then I stumbled across Uglies. My word, was I amazed. Luckily, all four were already published and I didn’t have to wait.

    Uglies became my favourite of Scott’s. (The entire series, I mean). But then came along Leviathan. I am not a huge fantasy fan either but this blew my mind. I went and bought it on the first day it got released in my hick little town. I cannot believe I have to wait for the sequel (though I will, as patiently as possible).

    I have been lured not only into the “Westertrap” (ha thanks jennifer), but also into the entire genres of both sci-fi and fantasy (although i can’t really place any of scott’s work into one genre; it’s so much more).

    So thanks Scott!

  12. scott on #

    Just dropped by to say that you are all being TERRIBLY lovely. It’s way cool to have a bunch of new fans, especially ones who love gears and beasties and endpaperz! Anyway . . .

    Sash: Say hi to your son from me! (And wish him good luck.)

    Sean: I’d love to do a game of some kind. I have all the rights still, including to the art. That’s for the future, though. There has been the usual movie burble, but no offers.

    Aishwarya: The PP Girl books are available from Amazon resellers , it seems. They’re not even ghosted, but actually under my name. _Rainy Day Professor_ is one. (Weird: $76.00 new, and one cent used.)

    Caitlin: I think I remember you! (In LaVerne?)

  13. Kaia on #

    Yes, my dad is all about history. Should Levithian be translated to Swedish (because he doesn’t speak English all that well, and hey, I can hope, right?), I am so buying it for him – he’d love it, I’m sure of it. Despite never having touched fantasy in his life.

  14. mb on #

    Once again, though I am a grown woman, I seem to be a boy. I haven’t read any of Scott’s books before, but I asked for Leviathan for Christmas because a) the physical book is just so darn beautiful, and b) it looks like crazy steampunk Robert Louis Stevenson-type adventure, of which the world can always use more.

  15. Samantha Manzella on #

    I haven’t read Leviathan yet, but it looks so epic…I’ll have to pick up a copy. By the way, I’ve read the Uglies series and I love it! Definitely one of my favorite series. I’m sure I’ll like Leviathan too, though. I’m up for something a bit different. πŸ˜‰

  16. Jim on #

    I’ve actually found this true as well. I’m an 18 year old steampunk fan who stumbled upon Leviathan and Scott Westerfeld after finding Keith’s artwork online, and it’s a pleasure to read. I’m not sure how I’d feel about the other books yet, but I enjoyed the writing and story in Leviathan quite a lot, and it’s always good to expand beyond my comfort zone. I look forward to reading the rest!

  17. Megan on #

    I am one of those “crazy” fans who will run around tracking down EVERYTHING the object of my current affections has ever written/appeared in/etc., so actually the news that I am in the minority comes as quite a surprise to me! (In your case, that would include your non-fiction book on women and sci-fi, which was fascinating btw.) Funny thing, though, it was actually my boyfriend who got me into Scott’s books via Midnighters.

  18. Kevin S. on #

    I’m one of those new Scott Westerfeld readers who jumped on with Leviathan. I’m an adult, a history buff, and a mild steampunk fan (I’m interested in the genre, but not enough to put gears on a stovepipe hat). I’ve reccomended the series to several of my likeminded adult, history buff, steampunk fan friends and they were all very intrigued.

    Oddly enough, a lot of us (myself included) had assumed this was a tie-in novel with an upcoming wargame called “Leviathans” that takes place in a similar Steampunk WW1 setting, but I don’t think that the game will be as cool as Leviathan. No air whales and not a single walker to speak of! I’ll stick with the book, thanks.

  19. The OTHER Tally Youngblood on #

    I have to admit that I was devastated (though that was a bit of an understatement) when I heard about Leviathan. I went on angry rants that no one cared about. I posted about how “no one cares about stupid LEVITHAN or whatever it’s called.” I’m quoting myself btw. I protested and yelled to the heavens at the top of my cyber lungs but, when it finally came out, I was stunned. In the good way too. Now, I am positively hooked, I feel like I’m going to die from waitingforanepicandawesomebook syndrome. (Behemmoth, I think is what it’s called) So, even though I am disapointed (understatement. I am VERY dissapointed) that there won’t be anymore Uglies books, I feel as if I can compromise. Maybe some fan fiction is going to be in the works for me… Oh and kudos to you, Justine for making Liar so awesome! Am I the only one here that actually reads during the Xmas break?
    Anyway, I’ll see you guys later.
    And Scott, I am aware that you’re busy “researching” but us at Westerblog need you! Now since I know you won’t read this, I am going to post a question on your site.

  20. The OTHER Tally Youngblood on #

    And, If you guys are awesome enough to travel at least to Atlanta, GA (the 2 hour drive will be worth it, as it has before) I will be happy to be the first person dressed as Deryn! I suppose I can only dream…

  21. Sylvia on #

    I’ve seen this too, actually.

    I originally bought Uglies for the daughter of a friend of mine and read it myself first (of course). I really enjoyed it and bought the next book in the series and read that and then waited (impatiently) for the rest. I gave my son the book and he started it and said, “um, very girly” after the first 10 pages and put it down.

    A year later, desperate for something to read, he picked it back up and finished it and decided it was “not bad” and asked for the next book.

    He finished the entire series and enjoyed it. He was interested in discussing Tally and the world built up but not with the same passion that he showed for other books (the Mistborne series was a big winner in this regard).

    I bought Leviathan for myself recently and then we were travelling and he forgot to bring a book (how do you FORGET to bring a book?) and so I gave it to him and he raved about it – so so so good, had I read it yet, had I, had I?

    (I’m reading it next just to get him off my case)

  22. wandering-dreamer on #

    Let’s see, I’ve read Leviathan, the Uglies series (which is how I found Scott), and then the first two of the New York Trilogy, usually I’ll try to read as much as I can from an author I like, regardless if it is like the previous books/series or not.
    Funny that you mention Diana Wynne Jones though (I am TRYING to read all her books but geeze that lady puts them out fast) and my mom was saying just the other day that she thought Jones wrote a lot in the medieval time setting. Took me a moment to realize that she hadn’t read as many of her series as I had and had a different view of her writing than I did. But she and Scott are more of the exception than the case, most authors don’t seem to write as many series in such different settings (different genres really).

  23. Sean the Blogonaut on #

    Sean: I’d love to do a game of some kind. I have all the rights still, including to the art. That’s for the future, though. There has been the usual movie burble, but no offers.

    Actually I was thinking an adventure game ala Assasin’s creed would be cool. Just think of the backdrops – walking around Constantinople, Victorian england, piloting a clanker.

  24. Uglies Fan on #

    Well I guess I’m somewhere in between… I’ve read:

    Bogus to Bubbly
    So Yesterday (multiple times)
    Midnighters #1
    Midnighters #2

    But found Midnighters #3 too gruesome right from the first chapter, so sadly abandoned it. πŸ™

    My school library is processing the copy of Leviathan, so I’ll probably borrow it. πŸ™‚

  25. imelda on #

    I can’t think of any writer whose work I read religiously across genres. I would say that MT Anderson takes me the most places, because he has such an insanely diverse oeuvre. Even so, I only read one of his “whales on stilts” books and am uninterested in the rest.

    Honestly, I don’t think it’s so surprising or interesting that readers don’t do this. I think it’s far more surprising and interesting when an author changes genre, because on the whole, that’s pretty rare.

  26. Karyn on #

    I’ve only read 6 of Scott’s books:
    So Yesterday
    The Last Days

    The only reason I haven’t read more is because I haven’t found them in the local library. I think the ‘W’ section (in YA) is the first I check when I go to the library.

  27. Jess on #

    This blog made me smile. It reminded me of a recent trip to the bookstore with my fiancΓ©. The Borders we were at had a stack of Leviathan’s towards the front and, even though I didn’t have any money with me, it was the first copy I had seen so I picked it up. I told my fiancΓ© that it was by the same author that had written Uglies (Which he had heard me talk about all summer but he never showed much interest in the series). Once I had read the summary I handed it to him because I thought it sounded cool. Turns out that he is a huge fan of steam punk (which I had never even heard of.) He left the store with a copy very excited about his purchase (as was I because as an English major I am constantly encouraging him to read more!)

  28. Steph Su on #

    Justine, you are right. I didn’t closely follow the audience breakdown of Scott’s previous books, but I feel like Leviathan has been showing up on a ton of “Best of” and “Recommended Reading” lists from many of what would be considered the “top” sources. A lot of those sources seem to cater to adults more than teens, and I always find it amusing whenever I go on Goodreads and see that most of the 5-star reviews have been written by adults (why is this amusing to me? I don’t recall right now. Perhaps because they hardly realize they’re reading a YA novel?).

    On an entirely different note, I failed at reading the Midnighters trilogy because the reading the first book gave me nightmares (dude! a magical extra hour at midnight where scary monster types roam! *shivers*) and I’m a scaredy-cat. But those Powerpuff Girls books sure do look like my kind of thing…

  29. PixelFish on #

    Hahaha. I’m ALMOST like those Uglies fans, because I have yet to read Midnighters or some of the other series, although I DO have Leviathan, and I keep meaning to snag The Risen Empire. (The cover in my bookstore looks like a Stephen Martiniere.)

    I once saw some people some where bemoaning Scott’s writing YA, and saying that they wished he would write more stuff like The Risen Empire, and that the SF world had lost a damn fine writer to YA. And I kept thinking, “Um, guys, he’s still writing SF. YA SF, but you’d probably still like it if you tried it. No, really, you would.”

    I also thought of Lois Bujold, who has written the very awesome Miles Vorkosigan books, which are fun military SF/space opera. Anyway, she wandered off into the fantasy genre for a few years, and got ANOTHER Hugo to show for it with Paladin of Souls. And people would STILL ask her, “So when’s the next Miles book.”

    I worry a little about this myself, because I’ve got two main projects, and it looks like the one that will be finished first, and probably set people’s expectations about me as an author is a funny urban fantasy without any vampires at all. And the other is a giant fantasy brick that’s much more serious, but also without any vampires at all. And that’s probably the only thing to the two have in common, is their utter lack of vampires. It makes me worry a little about my commercial viability. But it’s nice to see other people making efforts to not produce same ol’ every time, because that helps elasticise readers’ expectations.

  30. Ashley on #

    I have never read steam-punk, and I only liked the first book of the Uglies series (the rest just made me really depressed). However, I recognized the brilliant story telling of Westerfeld in those stories and when Amazon suggested Leviathan to me, I thought I would give it a try.

    I love it, as an 18 year old girl, and I am reading it out loud to my 42 yr-old mom who loves it (and didn’t like Uglies), my 16 yr-old brother who loves it, and my 45 yr-old dad who loves the history in it. I can’t wait for the next one.

  31. Rai X on #

    Ah! I was looking at a copy of Leviathan at the store the other day and thought I would very much like to read it…but didn’t end up remembering the name of the author. Now, I will be able to find it again!
    My little sister is a big fan of the Uglies series. I wonder if she’d be interested in it as well…

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