Is the artist at fault for producing inferior work? Maybe that’s the case, maybe not. Let’s look at this from a publishing perspective. Any book that makes it into print has generally passed stringent vetting by an editor and, on paper - pardon the pun - is an acceptable read. (Vanity presses are an entirely different matter which I might cover in a later blog, so for the moment we’ll shelve that.)
Imagine you are the proud author of a published novel, hoping against hope that you have a potential bestseller on your hands. So what exactly makes a book popular enough to be included in current lists of top selling titles?
Marketing is a huge factor. Film studios can spend obscene amounts of money promoting the latest movies. Avatar is a prime example. Its estimated marketing budget of $150 million certainly boosted ticket and DVD sales. But for that to effectively work, the director must deliver the promised goods. And James Cameron did just that, producing a superb piece of science fantasy.
Books work on similar strategies. Bestselling novels, as with most other products, inherently benefit from a sizable ad campaign, backed up by the marketing efforts of agents, publishers, reviewers, and retailers. However, that does not guarantee literary success. Just because a book tops the New York Times Bestseller List doesn’t always equate to healthy sales. (But it does look good tacked on to a writer’s credentials!)
Basically, what it boils down to is personal taste: people will either love or hate it. Word of mouth remains the best form of advertising, never more so in this day and age of internet postings. Ultimately Joe Public decides what is hot and what’s not. Whether swayed by an aggressive marketing campaign or influenced by personal recommendations, the buzz generated by informed readers, viewers and listeners popularizes books, films and music.
Therefore, every author remains at the mercy of the reading public. Don’t fall into the trap of writing for whatever the market deems current. Trends change on a whim, so the zombie novel you’ve spent years slaving on frustratingly isn’t marketable because vampires are presently in vogue. That’s not to say you should bin it. Write the story that’s nearest and dearest to your heart. If it’s a decent enough read it’ll stand a chance of running the gauntlet of rejections to find a spot in the market place.
A wise woman recently told me that selling books is like a crap shoot – you don’t know the outcome until you roll the dice. Pen that novel you’ve been hankering to write for ages and take that gamble. And remember, whether the resulting effort is a bestseller is largely immaterial. If you have written a tale that you are happy with and can take great pride in, you are already a winner. Book sales are just the icing on the literary cake.