Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Tao of Publishing

"50 percent of the factors affecting your career could be totally out of your control." ~Axelrod and Long

There's a very interesting article in the December issue of Romance Writers Report titled "The Tao of Publishing" and written by Steven Axelrod and Julie Ann Long.

In a (very small) nutshell, the article talks about how creative success is impossible to predict. Actors, musicians, writers - they all strive to produce not only the best work they can, but the work that will take the world by storm and outshine all others that came before it. Interestingly enough, however, studies show that the quality of a work does not necessarily predict its popularity, because consumers make decisions socially rather than independently. In fact, one online experiment set up different music-sharing websites where users could download music and then rank how much they liked certain songs. Without exception, users were influenced by what other users thought, because on the control sites, where they couldn't see other users' ranks but only their own, completely different songs ended up being the most popular.

The users also ranked the songs in order of quality. Take a look at these results: "Overall, a song in the Top 5 in terms of quality had only a 50 percent chance of finishing in the Top 5 of success."

It's the ol' Twilight/Harry Potter effect: readers hear about how much other readers like the books, so they go out and buy them. And whether or not the books are well written, it doesn't matter. Once the buzz gets going, people buy what other people are reading. Period. Axelrod and Long's conclusion is that authors cannot possibly predict what is going to sell or which promotional efforts really pay off, so we should just relax and "go along for the ride." We should write the best story we can, promote as we see fit and can afford, but not get caught up in sales trends and Amazon rankings and such.

I don't know about you, but I'm not sure I can do that. Maybe I'm too much of a Type A personality, but it's frustrating to know that talent and hard work aren't really what pay off in the end. It's simply luck and timing. I suppose that's the way the world works, but still. When mediocre books become best sellers and wonderful gems never even get published, it seems as though there's something wrong.

What do you think? Would you be able to let go and just write, regardless if you never got a publishing contract or sold another book or made a best-seller list? Is it worth dwelling on promotional efforts, or should I just forget about it and see where Fate takes my writing career?

Current Word Count for Entwined: 15,664

Yesterday's Fave Sentence: If he stops breathing, if he stuffs the screams back down his throat, perhaps the people in the rooms around him will not hear his world fall apart, bit by bit, until insanity takes over.


Indrayani said...

Thats kinda disheartening to know, to be honest...

Marianne Arkins said...

I think it's *mostly* right, unfortunately. But--for me, at least--I'm not aspiring to be the next J. K. Rowling, so I'll just write what I write and do the best I can otherwise. If fame and fortune crossed my path, I wouldn't say no, but I can't let that stop me from doing what I enjoy.

I'm a little off the mainstream, anyway, as I can seldom understand why certain very popular books or movies are even attractive.

Liz said...

I would still write but unable to justify the cost I might scale back the conferences and memberships. I might also stick to short stories and novels torture me so...

Diane Craver said...

I haven't read my Dec. issue of RWR yet so glad for the reminder. :)

I'm with Marianne. I don't always like the books that are on the best-selling list. As a writer, I'd love to make enough money to justify all the time and money I spend on promoting and writing. My family has given me so much support for a long time so it's discouraging that I'm still struggling to make something from my efforts.

Great post, Allie! Enjoy your Sunday!

Colleen Thompson said...

That was a great article. Before I saw your post here, I blogged about it as well (a different aspect) at

I really liked what Axelrod had to say about investing your time in more "at bats" rather that elaborate self-promotion. The writing is the only part that's under our control.

Enjoyed your post!