What Causes a Bestseller

August 1996
by Curt Matthews, Chicago Review Press/IPG

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Is there a secret to success in publishing? Or perhaps seven habits, or a
thirty-day, or -minute, or -second plan that will insure success? I don’t
think so. The truth is that absolutely no one in our business knows what
makes certain books take off like skyrockets (leaving aside the Stephen
Kings, etc.) while other titles that seem equally promising languish in the

There is, however, an approach that works. I don’t have a catchy name for it,
but the basic idea is that if you take away the reasons for failure, what you
will have left is success-not necessarily a skyrocket, but success. Since
this approach has nothing to do with secrets, keys, or quick fixes, it is a
little uninspiring; and since it focuses on identifying and solving problems
rather than finding golden opportunities, it strikes many people as negative.
But then again, it works. At the risk of being uninspiring and negative, I
have in mind devoting this space in the newsletter in months to come to
identifying problems that damage the prospects of publishers and their books.
Some of them will be very specific. The first is general but pervasive.

The publishing industry is in many respects an absolute mess. This however is
merely a fact. The problem is that many small and midsize publishers spend
far too much time and energy complaining about this mess and imagining the
way things ought to be. With apologies to Karl Marx, the goal is not to
change the industry, but to understand it so we can get…IBPA Members – Click here to view the full article (login required).

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