Out of the fifteen books on the New York Times Best Seller List for June 4, 1961, eleven of them had been on the list for ten weeks or more. One had been on the list for forty-four weeks, another for eight-one weeks, and a third for ninety-five weeks.
-->Fast-forward--> to the list for January 1, 2012. Out of the fifteen books, only two of them had been on the list for ten weeks or more. One for ten weeks and one for twenty-two.
Seth Godin wrote on his blog recently, It's not unusual for a movie or a book or even a TV series to come and go before most people notice it. Neophilia has fundamentally changed our culture. He goes on to say, The result is that there's an increasing desire, almost a panic, for something new. Yesterday was a million years ago, and tomorrow is already here. The rush for new continues to increase, and it is now surpassing our ability to satisfy it.
In 1961 both novels and their authors could actually have a run. Runs that could last for months and even years. Today? Not so much.
Seth concluded his post with this: The real opportunity, I think, is in trying to build longer arcs. Now that the cycle of new is eating itself in a race to ever-faster, there's a bigger chance to make long term change by consistently focusing on what works (and what's important), not what's new and merely shiny….What's important, what's always important, is useful change.
The application of this interesting observation is the trick. How can we extend whatever arc we have?
I see two things for authors today. One is to reflect social issues or difficult topics in our books. Not necessarily in a direct or preachy way, but in a way that matters to people. In a way that gets them to nod their head and consider their reaction. The second is to consistently deliver quality stories. An author who made the best seller list in 1961 may have been able to wait three or four years between books because their name wouldn't have been lost and forgotten after a couple of months.
What do you think would build a longer arc?
(And for those of you who are curious, the books in 1961 I highlighted above were at forty-four weeks, To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee in the number 2 slot; at eighty-one weeks, Hawaii by James Michener as number 5; and at a whopping ninety-five weeks, Advise and Consent by Allen Drury as number 11. The 2012 snapshot in time had The Best of Me by Nicholas Sparks in the number 6 position after being on the list for ten weeks, and A Dance With Dragons by George R.R. Martin as number 14 having been on the list for twenty-two weeks.)