When It Comes To Book Sales, What Counts As Success Might Surprise You

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Paul Whybrow

Full Member
Jun 20, 2015
Cornwall, UK
It speaks volumes about how snooty literary awards are, having little to do with what is actually popular with readers. If one thinks of very successful authors, such as Stephen King, E.L. James, J.K. Rowling or Lee Child whose work sells in the millions, it's impossible to think that they'd ever win one of the elitist awards. I've no doubt that they've won specialist awards for their genre, but any literary prize-giving is essentially a marketing ploy aimed at getting the contending titles into people's minds to raise sales.

There aren't that many awards for books chosen by the readers themselves. I found one for self-published books from Reader Reviews, though this looks as much like a money making enterprise as a critical arena:


Also, winning a literary prize or even being nominated for one can have a negative impact on how a book is perceived, as it suddenly becomes a target for disgruntled readers:


I've been thinking about the difference between literary and popular writing for some time. After writing a too-long psychological thriller in 2014, which had a literary style, and spending seven months touting it around literary agencies this year, I've decided to alter tack. I'm now writing a prequel to my original novel, but in a punchier and more succinct manner - though not hardboiled. I'm even including more sex and violence in 'Who Kills A Nudist?', which is creating its own problems I must admit. These are more to do with how much detail to describe, and how much to leave up to the imagination of the reader, rather than any squeamishness on my part.

We can't ignore the taste and critical faculties of readers, as they're more astute in their tastes than academics and literati give them credit for:

'Popular writing, by definition, invites lots of different kinds of people to invest their time and money in your ideas, and your expression of them. The contempt that academics have toward that kind of writing is, in essence, contempt for the ordinary reading public. We assume they’re unable to grasp the subtlety of our thought. We think that writing for a broad audience requires “dumbing down” our arguments. But that’s wrong. Popular audiences are tougher critics than fellow academics are. You have to be saying something of import or interest; otherwise, people will just ignore you and read something else, or play video games, or watch television.'

— Gail A. Hornstein— Prune That Prose
Very interesting, I'd heard that what constitutes a best-seller differs by country but this is enlightening.
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