WHY measure literature success?

WHY measure literature success?


Success measurement in literature plays a crucial role for publishers, book distribution, and authors. While the commercial aspects of the book business are quantifiable, the artistic factor of success often remains elusive. However, an accurate measurement of success is necessary to understand and replicate it. This article analyzes the reasons for the importance of success measurement in literature and its impact on publishers, book distribution, and authors.


Why Success Measurement Matters in Literature

Literature is a craft that combines art and commercialization, and both aspects significantly influence its success. While the commercial elements such as marketing, design, and theme selection are quantifiable, the artistic components like language, reader appeal, and storytelling are challenging to quantify. Consequently, understanding success often becomes elusive, and publishers and authors frequently lack a clear understanding of why a particular title succeeded. It is commonly assumed that a book's success is primarily based on an appealing cover, making it nearly impossible to replicate success beyond chance. Therefore, a quantified measurement of success is necessary to understand and replicate it effectively.

Success Measurement for Publishers, Book Distribution, and Authors

Publishers rely on publishing successful literature to thrive economically, making the discovery of the next "hit" critically important. Typically, publishers have a mixed portfolio where a few highly successful titles cross-subsidize a larger number of less profitable or non-profitable titles. Therefore, it is vital for publishers to understand why a title succeeded or failed and how that success can be replicated.

Success measurement is also significant for book distribution as it is crucial to have the right books on the shelves. While the initial decisions for the top 1-200 titles can be relatively straightforward using bestseller lists, there is often plenty of space on the shelves for other titles. The challenge lies in filling the top 200-1000 positions with the right titles, and success measurement can serve as a valuable guide in this regard.

For authors, especially those with a strong focus on content, commercializing their works is of great importance. Many titles are challenging to commercialize if there is no reader interest in the subject matter, if they cater to the wrong genre, or if important genre-specific success factors are not met. This makes distribution through agents and publishers difficult, and self-publishing often yields little success. Eventually, every title reaches the point of commercialization. Even highly content-oriented authors need to earn money to sustain their writing careers. Therefore, it is in the authors' interest to understand and cater to the drivers of success, which can often align with their creative interests by making minor adjustments to certain aspects of their storytelling.



Success measurement in literature is essential for understanding and replicating the success of books and authors. Publishers, book distribution, and authors all depend on success measurement. A clear quantification of success enables publishers to find the next "hit" and build a successful portfolio. For book distribution, success measurement is crucial to ensure the right books are available on the shelves. Authors require the commercialization of their works to sustain their writing careers. Consequently, success measurement in literature is of great importance to all stakeholders in the book industry.


Interesting links:

  1. "Why Measuring Literature Success Matters" by Literary Hub

  2. "The Problem with Using Sales Figures to Measure the Success of a Book" by Forbes

  3. "What Makes a Successful Book?" by The New York Times

  4. "The Importance of Diverse Voices in Literature" by Electric Literature

  5. "The Power of Awards in Measuring Literary Success" by The Guardian


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