I’ve never read Game of Thrones. Or watched any of the TV episodes. Apparently it’s the Wars of the Roses with a fantasy setting and modern multi-dimensional characters to appeal to the Z-gen audience, which sounds interesting – and George R R Martin is an excellent writer. But I’ve never gone out of my way to check it out.
Possibly it has something to do with my unerring ability to be interested only in things that aren’t commercially popular. But it might be something else. After all, I read – and enjoyed – all the Harry Potter books. And Tolkien’s The Lord of The Rings remains my all-time favourite novel.
The actual explanation is that this sort of story doesn’t appeal to me. Obviously it appeals to a lot of other people. Which begs the question – why did it take off? I am fairly sure George Martin didn’t expect to have such a runaway success. Authors dream of it – few actually achieve it. It’s a lottery.
I can’t speak in detail for Game of Thrones because I haven’t read it, but the usual reasons why a book abruptly gets big, commercially, come down to three factors:
- It keys into something, suddenly, that ‘clicks’ with an audience. They start talking to each other about it. Word of mouth is what sells books. But for that to happen, the book has to ‘click’ with readers first, and in sufficient numbers to enter general social consciousness. Cultural tastes and trends change like dreams: authors and publishers alike struggle to second-guess what might make a book hit the spot.
- It’s boosted by something outside the usual ‘book reading’ audience, a TV show , movie or (these days) a game. The problem with books, commercially, is that the usual market sector – the people who regularly buy and read books – is limited by comparison with the potential audience, the general populace. Books that REALLY take off do so by appealing to people who wouldn’t normally buy books. And for that to happen, the book usually has to be translated into some other form – one that the non-reading audience usually goes to for their entertainment.
- Luck. All of the above is possible only when sales and ‘discoverability’ – the awareness of the book – reaches a critical level. And that is usually down to chance. I’ve had books I’ve written take off like skyrockets – my illustrated history of New Zealand, particularly, which has gone through two editions and is still in print nearly a dozen years after it was first released. Nobody expected it. And yet I’ve had other books that have been brilliantly reviewed, well received by all critics, and acclaimed – but which have sat there languishing before being consigned to the remainder heap. Sigh…
All three factors have to come together for a book to REALLY sell big. And, as I say, it’s a lottery. Of course, that doesn’t stop us trying – and, though his writing doesn’t appeal to me, good on George Martin for getting his books out to such a wide audience. You can’t complain about that.
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2015