David Dale’s blog post on the Sydney Morning Herald provides food (and stats) for thought.

My 10 minute take on what the patterns are:

  • Important reference books (Guinness World Records:2007) which makes great gifts for just about anyone, even if you don’t remember their last names.
  • The twins of food and diet – Get fat with Jamie (just look at him drowning everything in yummy oil), then lose weight with the CSIRO. Repeat ad nauseum(!).
  • Topical stuff you would milked dry in Womens Weekly (and other similar quality publications) amidst gossip, scandal, and sexcapades – Schappelle Corby for example.
  • More intellectual stuff like The God Delusion (and previously, A Brief History of Time) which blip up because they tap into popular concerns like religion.
  • And of course, there is always room for the fast and easy secrets to fixing your life.

Fiction rates well on the list too. I reckon these are either long established names with highly-saleable formulas (Bryce Courtenay) or established story frameworks (Harry Potter, Hannibal Rising). They possibly became established because they struck a nerve; they found (or fell into) a niche in the collective mindset.

I wonder if it is possible to consciously design fiction to fit into a niche? Perhaps this will destroy the authenticity behind the work. Certainly, J.K. Rowling’s initial intention was telling a good story, and not to create a best seller. I’d like to think this original intention had a lot to do with the success of Harry Potter.

Perhaps the other works on fiction on the list all have the potential for sequels and prequels.

It seems like you have two choices when it comes to writing a book:

  1. Write it for your self. The point here is to write what is inside you. This is what I did with Cubicle Commando. And hopefully this will resonate with enough people (or more cynically, this will resonate with enough with the few agents/publishers) to sell.
  2. Write it to sell. Write it to appeal to as many people out there as possible. The point here is to sell sell sell.

It’s like starting a business. Do you start it because it is something you want to do? To fulfil a calling? Or is it something you do to make loads of money, so you can then do what you really want to do?

Is there a mid-point between the two? Possibly. Probably. I’d like to think so.