Sunday, November 2, 2008

How do you make a bestseller?

Sara Nelson's editorial in the October 27 issue of Publisher's Weekly reminded me again about why I love this business. Of course she makes the point that we don't know what makes a bestseller. I often point out that no one knows exactly how to make a book a bestseller or they would do it every time. Nelson writes about some of the rules publishers create to help make a bestseller, and then goes on to point out how the rules don't hold up, with examples from the current bestseller lists. Fact is, we don't know, and as Nelson puts it, "Still, most book people, if they're honest, will tell you that it's that unknowability that gets them out of bed in the morning and makes them want, even in hard times, to keep publishing."

I put a lot of emphasis on research and finding out everything we can about the market, the competition, and other factors to minimize our risk and maximize our success in the name of "smart business," but deep down there is always the belief, the hope, that any one of our books could break out. And that is part of the thrill of publishing. I've likened it to gambling. We calculate our risks and place our bets. Nelson puts a bit more romantic spin on it, "Discovering a book that works is like finding true love. You take your risks, you make mistakes, and you start with your heart."

1 comment:

Bill Hammond said...

Paul: This piece reminds me of the famous line by Somerset Maugham: "There are three rules to writing a novel--but nobody knows what they are."