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Erik Hare

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Member Since: Mar, 2007

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The Ruby Warriors - Book One - A New Beginning
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A fierce struggle to re-unite a scattered band of clan mercenaries in order to free the human race from the evil clutches of the Warlord Magicians..  
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Blogs by Erik Hare

Bestsellers!
12/27/2007 7:12:33 PM    [ Flag as Spam or Inappropriate ]


Recently I tried to bring up the most important subject in writing, or at least the most important one I can think of. No, it’s not really about the metaphysical concept of a “Human Condition” or other esoteric stuff. I’m interested in why people buy books in the first place. After all, without that income stream there’s not much point in having a publishing industry.

How can we find out why people read? I think it’s pretty easy, although it reveals my personal bias. As always, I don’t believe that people are all that different than the first customers of Johannes Gutenberg, and that troublesome things like fashion always go in cycles. Anyone in publishing will probably think that’s utterly ridiculous, as they are always worried about what’s “hot” and trendy. I think this is, over the long haul, absurd. Fashion may change the way ideas are presented or contrived, but people have the same basic needs.

Based on my assumption, a good “first pass” as to why people read can be divined from a list of the best selling books of all time. What seems to have resonated with our species of standing-up chimp over the last few centuries?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_best-selling_books

This comprehensive list shows some great trends. Spirituality is definitely a big seller, with the Bible, Q’uran, and Book of Mormon rounded out by the Book of Common Prayer, Pilgrim’s Progress, and Common Martyrs. The magna Doraemon, with its advice to kids on how to be a good person almost falls into the same category, as does Mao’s little red book. Ignoring Harry Potter for a while, many of the rest of the books in the list are based on social commentary, such as Catcher in the Rye, or epic commentary on our species such as One Hundred Years of Solitude. Neatly rounding out the top 32 or so is the self-help category, with Dr. Spock’s baby care and Dale Carnegie’s Making Friends and Influencing People.

So what sells? Generally speaking, books that really mean something to people.

That may seem a little too vague to be useful, but it’s clear people dig social commentary and spirituality, which can be considered the same thing if you have a social view of spirituality. That means that people read to be connected in some way. What about the otherworldly epics? I think it goes without saying that their alternative worlds, be they Middle Earth or Macondo, help us to see our own world in a different way; good SciFi and Fantasy is always, in the end, social commentary. And if you really want to get into that whole Human Condition thang, whatever it is, Don Quixote said it all about 400 years ago, but with gobs of social commentary as a side dish.

What about Harry Potter? Ultimately, all of these books are good reads because they have a plot that keeps moving and delivering the goods. Most follow the advice of Kurt Vonnegut and are utterly sadistic to their protagonists, putting them through one damned thing after another just so the reader can’t put it down. Most of the rest have something on nearly every page to keep the reader engaged. That’s clearly a part of the appeal of everything on the list, except perhaps the Xinghua dictionary.

What does this mean for writers? It means that going for “hot” may help you in the desperate cry for attention that it takes to get published, but it may not help you connect with the readers all that well. What counts is the basics, the fundamentals of being a human. Not that it’s a “condition” or anything, just the way we are. Go with it.


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More Blogs by Erik Hare
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