We move from the 1980s to the 1990s, when it was a little easier to sell your books… but only marginally.
“Where’s John Grisham?” was one comment I got regarding my post on how few authors reached #1 on the New York Times Bestseller list in the 1980s.
The answer? Lying in the long grass, waiting to own the 1990s.
But at the beginning of the decade, he had yet to emerge. Grisham famously spent months desperately driving around with the entire 5,000 print run of his independently published first novel A Time To Kill, trying to sell them from the trunk of his car, and almost giving up, before hitting the jackpot with The Firm. Tenacity won him the greatest impact of any author in the last 3 decades, seeing him spend a whopping 83 weeks in the New York Times # 1 Bestseller spot in a decade which gave us Kurt Cobain before taking him away again, but left very little legacy in terms of fashion.
There are 2 other main points to take from the bestseller statistics of the 1990s:
1. More authors hit the #1 spot than in the 1980s, which demonstrates that the choke hold of blockbuster authors on the top spot was loosening, but
2. The choke hold on the top spot from blockbuster authors still prevailed. The same names appeared over, and over, and over again. New authors continued to find it extremely difficult to break through.
Let’s have an in-depth look at some of the underlying statistics and compare them to those of the ’80s.
First off, there are simply more authors here than there were in the 1980s (44 vs 34, taking co-writing teams as 1 author). So far, so much better for the aspiring scribbler. The longest period for one novel at #1 was also shorter, but only slightly – John Grisham managed 23 weeks in the top spot with The Client, whereas James Michener’s The Covenant managed 25 weeks in ’80-81.
However, only the cheap side of the pie opened up. The top half of the successful author table hogged the limelight just as much as their predecessors in the ’80s. 23 authors held the top spot for over 5 weeks. There was an increase in the authors who hit # 1 for only 1 or 2 weeks – 10 as opposed to 5 in the ’80s – but overall, the big names ate all the pie again.
Just in case I get attacked by a rabid bunch of pedants, I might also point out that one of the main conclusions we could draw from the data – which will be illustrated much more clearly when we move into the Naughties, a.k.a. the Decade the Internet Won – is that the # 1 bestseller list itself is becoming less important. To make everything more meaningful (meaning data, not life – if you’re looking for a more meaningful life, I’m afraid this is the wrong blog) we’re going to have to switch to sales volumes. And I can’t even BEGIN to tell you how excited I am about that.
>Shudder< I can feel a line graph coming on….. ooooh!