I am finally over my reading slump, and I am determined to tackle my writing slump in order to get back into this blogging business. After all, I’ve got lots of good books to tell you about. But let’s start with a little discussion first.
If you for some reason subscribe to the newsletter of dbw (Digital Book World), then you’ve read the recent articles about the importance and usefulness of data in publishing. The essential question is whether data—the way readers read, what they like in books, and what they expect—can help predict, or even create, the next bestseller.
There is not a business out there today that does not use data, especially to track everything from inventory to consumer preference. So it is only natural that publishers should do the same. After all, they are there to make money. On that level, I have no problem with someone analyzing Gone Girl, for example, to figure out what made that book so successful and then try to copy that formula. After all, that is why we end up with cover blurbs advertising a book as the new Gone Girl or the next Harry Potter and get protagonists who promise to be even better than Lisbet Salander or Sherlock Holmes.
On an emotional level, it scared me at first to think that future bestsellers might all be a variation of what’s currently on top of the lists. I wondered if there is already someone telling someone else to put more drugs, disfigured children, and abused animals into a manuscript to make it more “sellable.” Yet after mulling this over, I think my fear was premature. I am absolutely sure that there are books being written following a certain formula and adding certain elements that are proving to be popular at the moment. (I wonder what will replace vampires and zombies in the near future.) But on the whole, even if reading behavior and preferences can be put into a spreadsheet, the magic that is reading cannot be captured by a computer program. Sure, you can take a rich, handsome, and brooding earl, set him in Victorian England, and then pair him with an impoverished, shy, and beautiful maiden, but you will need more to create a believable romance. You can come up with ever more brutal ways to have a serial killer dispose of her victims, but you need more to create a page turner that readers can’t put aside. You can take the most interesting event in history, but you still need a unique way to present it to the reader—and whatever unique way a writer comes up with might work for me, but not for you.
So for now, I don’t think my favorite pastime—browsing through actual and virtual books for hours on end—is in any danger.
Throw all the data you have at me, you won’t be able to harness my whims.
If you are interested in reading more about how data can work in publishing, you might like The Bestseller Code by Jodie Archer and Matthew Jockers. If you don’t mind having your reading habits tracked in exchange for free books, check out jellybooks.com. But before you do that, tell me what you think… will we ever be able to predict the next bestseller with any type of accuracy?