On Best Sellers, Popularity and Success as a Writer

Recently, Samhain Publishing put out a call for readers to participate in a year end “best of” list. I linked it below if you’re interested.

Many authors, myself included, are of two minds about this sort of call. First, I think it’s wonderful to get readers involved, without them, where would authors and publishers be? I like that. On the other hand, sometimes it evokes a frenzy of begging for votes on the part of authors all over the internet.

However, I’ve seen some authors complaining that best seller lists are about broad appeal and I’m simply at a loss to understand why this is some sort of mystery. YES, best sellers are about broad appeal. That’s why they’re best sellers. They’re books that call to people across different groups to buy them. Sometimes, it has nothing to do with how fabulous a book is compared to other, lesser sellers and sometimes it has everything to do with the fact that the book is awesome (Nalini Singh’s Psy books for instance are simply phenominal and they’re the exact combo of great story, right genre right time, awesome promotion, web and media buzz and characters who resonate with readers).

Not everyone wins first place. Not everyone gets a gold star or a trophy. In fact, most authors won’t be in first place. This is not a conspiracy, this is reality and if you cannot accept and understand this simple fact, this business will eat you alive.

Some genres are hot and some are less so. This changes over time and to try to write to trends is not something I’d personally advocate because trends change. However, I do listen when editors say, “we don’t want to see another book about X”. If that makes me a sellout, ah well. You pick and choose and yes, I do want to be successful and no, I’m not embarassed or ashamed to admit that. I DO believe it’s important to write what you enjoy writing. For instance I wrote a futuristic when I was told over and over that futuristics weren’t selling and I lucked out and sold. But I’ve had my share of rejections for things I loved writing and publishers just don’t want to buy.

But that’s not the “fault” of anyone. Some genres sell better than others. Period. Many authors write outside those genres at least part of the time, because they love writing those other genres anyway. But when I write outside paranormal or erotics in epublishing, I accept up front my sales will most likely not be as high as when I do. There are exceptions – for me, my Chase Brothers books do very well and they’re non erotic, small town contemporary romances. But still, I go into new book releases knowing they may or may not sell depending on a whole host of factors not one bit about the quality of the story.

When I see certain people showing up and trying to blame the relative popularity of niche genres on specific people and continually starting fights over and over in the comments of over people’s blogs, I have to be honest when I say, “It’s not us, it’s you.” Deal with it, author X. Some niche genres are niche genres, as in, they are sub genres that appeal to certain groups but not necessarily in as wide or broad a way as others. Is this “fair” well, sure. It’s fair because readers like what they like. Preferences are simply preferences. Some will never read a vampire romance, or a small town romance or a gay romance or pirates or whatever.

So, it’s not shocking that publishers put out what’s popular and it’s not shocking that what’s popular is what has the broadest appeal. And, of course, then, it’s not shocking that the best sellers are the books that are the most popular with the broadest appeal. It has nothing to do with your own value as an author that you are not on that top ten list. I doubt I will be and I believe I’m a damned good writer. Lots of authors who don’t make that list are good writers. But there’s not a darned thing wrong with broad appeal and success either. I can take a guess at who will be on that list and I’d have to say the ones I’ve read ARE damned good writers.

Just you know, deal with what you do and go into it with your eyes open. It does not serve you to have fantasies about publishing. It’s not always about fair, or best or most talented. I have no doubt that right now there are books out there that have been rejected over and over that are masterpieces. But this is our business and rejection and other people doing better than you is reality.

There are always people who will have better deals.
There are always books that will sell better.
Authors who are worse than you, who act like assholes and write drek will sell and sometimes they will make best seller lists.
There are always people who are BETTER than you, who are more talented, who are liked more, who are prettier and thinner, who have better boobs or better skin or who have nicer singing voices or who have nicer cars or bigger houses and cuter partners.

Deal with that and strive to be the best you can be and that is the only way you’ll survive this gig. If you can’t enjoy it for successes small and large, you will be an angry, bitter person who does nothing but start fights on blogs and blame your lack of success on others. It’s not dignified and it won’t help you in the long run.

8 comments to “On Best Sellers, Popularity and Success as a Writer”

  1. Juliana Stone
    December 20th, 2008 at 6:02 pm · Link

    Well said Lauren.

  2. Cynthia Eden
    December 20th, 2008 at 7:17 pm · Link

    What?! Are you telling me that someone has better boobs than I do? 🙂

    Ah, Lauren, you always have great posts.

    Happy Holidays!

  3. Stargirl
    December 20th, 2008 at 8:15 pm · Link

    Lauren, I completely agree! And congratulations on the success of Undercover!

    How are you enjoying your snow today? LOL. I livein the same part of the world. I was finishing some last minite christmas shopping today in when the snow started. I had my Borders coupon and was planning on making a stop specifically to buy Undercover. But, the kiddos and I headed home when the snow started picking up. I guess I’ll have to wait a day or so. I’m an northeast girl, so I’m used to the snow. But as soon as the snow picked up it was like this huge rush of people all decided to go home at the same time. So I thought it best to get going before I ended up being stuck in traffic. Stay warm!

  4. Stargirl
    December 20th, 2008 at 8:16 pm · Link

    OMG, I really do know how to spell. But my fingers don’t always obey! 😳

  5. Dayanna
    December 20th, 2008 at 8:21 pm · Link

    I think you made an excellent point on your post on many levels. I voted yesterday. It’s really hard when you have a few authors whose work you like. As much as you want to vote for all the stories you enjoyed, overall there will be some that capture you more than others. I personally read and buy a particular genre based on wether am in the mood for it or an author who i already like and need their next story. I agree there is no need to feel ashamed for wanting to be a popular or successful writer, if anyone says otherwise then they are lying because everyone wants to at least have their stories remembered as good ones….otherwise, what is the point of writing for the public?
    Merry Christmas!

  6. Karin
    December 20th, 2008 at 9:30 pm · Link

    Very well said, Lauren. Your point could actually be applied to a wide variety of businesses and aspects of life. People who are always complaining about the fairness of their situation are always going to be less happy than those who recognize and accept that there will always be someone better at something than they are.

  7. Nancy
    December 21st, 2008 at 10:38 am · Link

    A-frakking-men! 😀

  8. Teddypig
    December 23rd, 2008 at 8:30 am · Link

    Your so much better at saying these things than I am.

    That’s why you are the writer though.