The difference between a book that sells a million copies and one that doesn’t sell out of its first print run can be so negligible as to be unpredictable. Sales do not necessarily reflect good writing or originality as much as they indicate a book being at the right place at the right time.
Right now a photo is circulating on all the news services of a man who has caught what essentially looks like a giant goldfish. Had the story come out half a week ago it would have been bumped by the New Zealand earthquake, a week later and maybe someone else would have caught a giant octopus, so it would be passé. It is all about timing. Only problem is, no one ever knows when the time is right for the story they have to tell.
This is the world in which publishers must operate every day. People supposedly didn’t want to read about magic when the Harry Potter books blasted away all previous book sales. There were probably hundreds of failed magic books before Harry that proved this, but Harry had the fortunate mix of an entertaining story coupled with finding the readers at the time when they were ready to read about magic.
So how do you land your own giant goldfish? I wish I knew. The publishers wish they knew too. To me this indicates that there is no point setting out to catch the giant goldfish, just do what you love and hope that others love it too. Besides, today it is a giant goldfish that everyone is talking about, but tomorrow it might be the alien chip found in Napoleon’s skull. We are an unpredictable species, I guess that’s why our stories are so entertaining.