Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Better not be the best!

It's another Wednesday. You know what that means: Time for another Write Way Wednesday!

(On a complete aside, I have to choose between the 2 day concert I've been thinking about- Jay Z, Nas, Stevie Wonder, Taylor Swift, Nickelback, Smashing Pumpkins and bout 30 others- and being early for my writer's conference. What would you do?)

At some point, I think, every writer dreams about selling innumerable copies of their book. Usually in our minds, that's equated with the New York Times Bestseller List. But it occured to me this weekend that maybe I don't want to make the NYTB.

What???? Is Claire crazy???? Wait, we already knew she was crazy, but- not THAT crazy!

Hear me out.

I haven't watched it in a while, but American Idol is a fantastic way to demonstrate seemingly every point I ever want to make.

Season 5- The winner was Taylor Hicks- a big favourite throughout the season. So much so, that he was never in the bottom 3. Post American Idol: One number 1 hit, and not much else. That same season, Chris Daughtry came 4th. Post-Idol, he went on to form the band, Daughtry, have four number 1's and several other hits, and cause an overall greater impact on the music industry.

Season 3- maybe my favourite season. The winner? Fantasia Barrino. But the biggest name to come out of this season? Jennifer Hudson, who only made it to seventh. Fantasia, with all those vocals, failed to impress post-Idol. J-Hud hit number one a few times, and she won an Oscar, and went onto join the Who's Who of celebrityhood.

Another example I want to draw is popularity. We all know some people who are well-liked. They have 1000 friends on facebook. They're invited to every party. Everyone has their phone number. But if they really need to talk about something, or need a shoulder to lean on, they find out quickly that those facebook friends are nothing more than statistics.

And then there are other people who can count their friends on their fingers. They spend most of their weekends with those friends. They go through stuff together. They know them better than they know themselves.

Lessons I've learned:

1. The audience can be wrong. Dead wrong. Anytime you have John Q Public judging, anything goes. That's because John Q Public includes John Q Idiot and John Q Biased. Being a bestseller does not mean a book is worth the paper it was printed on. Not being a bestseller doesn't mean it isn't.

2. At the top, you HAVE to be awesome. That's a lot of pressure. Back in my school days, there was a guy who lived 2 doors over who I used to study with. I studied pretty hard and he was kinda "whatever". His philosophy? Everyone expected me to pass, so when I did pass it would be no big deal. But everyone expected him to fail, so when he passed, they'd be ecstatic. Think on it. In a weird sorta way it makes sense.

3. On Idol, there's some emphasis on being able to perform in several genres. (That's completely irrelevant, really. Nobody would ask Dolly Parton to rap!) It means that the eventual winner is someone who sings well across several genres. That person may not be the best singer. Nor may they be better in their individual genre than other singers are in theirs. Chris Daughtry is a better rocker than Taylor Hicks is a popper. ( I love making words up.)

Anyhow, the writer equivalent of this is that the megabestsellers are often kind of generic. I feel like I'd have to mute myself to the point of irreconisability to be a megabestseller.

I am a Christian, Black, Caribbean Female. I've been in the military. I speak 5 languages. And I live in Japan. That set of things influences my life every day. I can't see how it wouldn't influence my books. I don't want to tone my perspectives so far down you have to use a microscope to see them.

4. Finally, is the case of quality over quantity. There is something to be said for the die-hard fan. Taylor Hicks of Season 5 has probably had better overall success, but Country singer Kellie Pickler or Gospel singer Mandisa probably have more fans with their albums on consta-repeat.

If you were stranded on a desert island, and you only had one book, what book would you want it to be? Would it be a megabestseller? Or might it possibly be a book by a little known author you just stumbled upon, and just loved the way they told their story, and wished the characters were real, and when they were hurting you wanted to hug them, and you wanted to go places with them, and play the games they played, and so on and so forth.

I want my book to be that book. The book you'd have with you on the desert island. The book that you love so much, it ranks above some family members. Your husband or wife could divorce you and you'd be happy as long as they didn't take my book.

Okay, maybe not that last one.

I've had a weird day, (I was on a high and the whole world seemed hellbent on killing it.) so forgive me if my post is also a little weird (and rambling).

What think you? Is being a bestseller all it's chalked up to be?


Anonymous said...

Some people cannot see the wood for the trees. ............................................................

Marsha Sigman said...

Love this post! And I know exactly what you mean. I read this book when I was a kid called 'Mirror', totally not a bestseller and I checked it out of my small town library.

I never forgot it, and a few years ago I hunted it down,(which took some time)and bought a beat up used copy off the internet. It is my most prized possession.

I think I would rather have a greater impact on a few than no real impact on many.

Bethany Elizabeth said...

I've never really thought about it that way, but you're right. Sometimes instant popularity can kill authors. At least, their career. :)

Jon Paul said...

Claire--Fantastic post, as usual.

The trouble with me is that I want both. I want to have been the author of the book you describe, and I also want it to be a bestseller. And yes, there have been a few bestsellers that are both. Catch 22 is a perfect example of a novel that was panned by critics, but has gone on to be both a classic and a bestseller (10 million sold according to wikipedia).

I guess I think if I shoot for the moon, somehow I'll end up in the stars. :)

Taystruck said...

Taylor Hicks....what do you mean "one number one hit and not much else". Taylor has been very successful... selling CD's, touring and entertaining for 4 solid years from the day he emerged from the American Idol stage. There is more than one way to success...he earned 3.5M this past year. Give him a break!

ElbieNy25 said...

My favorite book since I was about seven years old "Love You Forever" by Robert N Munsch.

I'll love you forever
I'll like for always
As long as I'm living my baby you'll be

I cry every damn time I read it.

I love Jennifer Hudson and she was the reason I stopped watching Idol because I was outraged that one of the most obviously talented people was booted while a tone deaf teenage crooner stayed on board. Now I look at J Hud's success and think "who's laughing now?"