What Readers Want

I just ran across a post from Michael J. Martinez [Link] that discusses the pros and cons of self-publishing vs. traditional publishing.  This lead me to Hugh Howey’s post [Link].  Mr. Howey’s post caused me to write this post.  However, I want to thank both Mr. Martinez and Mr. Howey for their insightful and timely information.  I myself am about to enter into the next stage of writing, publishing.  As I read Mr. Howey’s post, I began to get a real sense of the difference between the two methods of publishing.  Amazingly, Mr. Howey has a friend who can collect data from the web using a compiled web crawler, and this tech guru is a writer as well.  That is amazing for someone to have both skills especially to someone as old as I.  We will leave the discussion about age and society for another day.  For now, I would like to discuss something that seems heavy and sort of sad or at least telling. Mr. Howey writes,

“The bestseller lists used were Mystery/Thriller, Science Fiction/Fantasy, and Romance. All of the subcategories within these three main genres were also included. Why choose these genres? Because they are the most popular with readers. Our data guru ran a spider through overall bestseller lists and found that these three genres accounted for 70% of the top 100 bestsellers on Amazon and well over half of the top 1,000 bestsellers.3 Future earnings reports will look at all of fiction4, but for now, we started with a simpler data set that captured the vast majority of what readers purchase.”

This is the heavy part that struck me as telling about society.  I myself would love to see fiction e.g. John Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath” as one of the major sales figures.  I see this information and it tells me that readers want to be scared or tense (Mystery/Thriller), exist not in our society (Science Fiction/Fantasy), or have relationships/ love or someone who cares for them deeply (Romance).  There are also more reasons why they read these things, but this post is not about that topic.  What do writers need to write?  This is the major question.  The answer is direct and simple.  Writers must write what they need to write with no concern for statistics or data.

A writer who attempts to write out of his genre so that he can grab some of that seventy percent market share will most probably do a poor job of writing.  He may, after much effort and time, be able to move outside of his normal genre and be able to begin writing works that do capture some of that market share.  Will he be happy?  This depends upon why he is writing in the first place.  If the main goal is to make money, then happiness will follow.  If the attempt to write came from a desire to tell a tale in a genre outside that seventy percent, then it is more likely that he will not be as happy.  All writers are forced at some point in their lives to ask themselves why they are writing and only they can answer that question.  I would hope that they are able to remain true to themselves and write wonderful pieces that are enjoyed by whatever market share enjoys that genre.  A writer, fresh or seasoned, should always do a bit of self examination and write from the place to the place that is dictated by his internal self and not by the data of market shares.  


About Kevin Pajak

Of the many, many things I have done, nothing compares to the excitement I feel when writing and playing with both language and theory. Although challenging at times, wordplay brings a special flavor to the universe and allows all of us to see in unique and magic ways. Playing with language--that beast that can never be tamed--gives me an unfettered, ever new vision of the world around. I want to share this love of the written word through the stories I write and the language I craft.
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2 Responses to What Readers Want

  1. Brilliant post. I love a good take on the publishing industry. Thanks for sharing.

  2. M.C. Scripturus says:

    Brilliant stuff! I always find it interesting to hear someone’s analysis on the writing market!
    I do a lot of writing myself, which is how I originally came to wordpress. I share my writings here, but I am on the lookout for a publishing opportunity. (Which I hope to find soon….)
    I’ll be keeping an eye on your blog! (Maybe you can post a few tips sometime.)

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