It’s been a long-standing desire of mine (for a number of obvious reasons) to write, in essence, a science fiction version of the Harry Potter books. Perhaps the kids could be Space Cadets attending some sort of astronaut academy, etc…
I’m hardly alone in this desire and if it were so easy to do that any number of writers would already have succeeded. Which gets to the heart of the problem with the Harry Potter books and, really, any and all best-sellers: no one–not author, not agent, not editor–really knows what it is that sets them apart.
Oh, there are lots of theories and you can buy (as I have) any number of books that claim to give you the secret checklist of the kinds of things to include when building your story that best-sellers or break-out or blockbuster novels have in common.
But lots of people have these books and apply their lessons, and any number of those books get published and some of those go on to success…but none of them make it like Harry Potter made it.
And the question is why? What is it about those books–that ineffable, unteachable, unplanable quality–that makes those books (or others like The DaVinci Code, for instance) such a cultural phenomenon and massive best-sellers?
While I don’t pretend to know the answer to that (if I did I’d be working on my book instead of this blog…) but I’ve often wondered whether the application of careful market research (and some of the math modeling, statistical analysis, and hard- and social science they use in modern marketing is downright scary) could deduce what the French call a certain “I don’t know what.”
Well, looks like I’m not (surprise, surprise) the only one to wonder the same thing. Scientists (in an old study that I’ve only just come across) seem to have identified quantifiable evidence of the anecdotal publishing wisdom that the best way to nail a best-seller is word-of-mouth recommendations.
Duh. This is one of those times where you shake your head and think: “They needed a study to tell them that?” It is, however, a step in the hard-fact, cold-light-of-science direction that we need in order to quantify this element.
But more interesting to me, in a slightly different context, is news that Disney has a whole marketing force, including a so-called “kid whisperer”, dedicated to tapping into that most elusive of markets: tween boys.
Getting tween girls to jump on trends and buy whatever they’re told to by the media and their peers is apparently the marketing equivalent of shooting fish in a barrel, but boys in the same 11-14 year old range remain either too savvy or too oblivious to marketing ploys to spend in the way that their female counterparts do.
Not to sound sexist, but other market data indicates that more men and boys read sci-fi than do women and girls (who tend to read more fantasy and do most of the book buying, too). So if my Harry Potter in Space series is to fly, I think I need to tap into this kind of marketing data. After all, I think it was getting young boys reading that really launched Harry Potter in to the sales stratosphere.
So if you’ll excuse me I need to go turn my skateboard the other way ’round…