The DNA of a Successful Book

As a book author, I’m very interested in what makes a title successful.

The other day I was listening to a podcast of the NPR show On the Media, and they had a publishing expert on talking about how new digital tools like the Kindle are providing new data sets on reader behavior. Publishers can now see exactly how long readers spend on each page, how many get to the end, where bottlenecks and dropoffs occur, and more.

Sure, this is going to create some privacy concerns (do we want the government to know that we lingered on a page about a radical religious sect?), but overall it is going to provide new data that authors and editors can use to refine their work. Hopefully, it won’t dumb everything down. It may also help people discover new content better tailored to their interests.

People worry that hyper customization will increase the echo chamber effect, with consumers increasingly self-selecting only what they want to see, hear, or read, based on their pre-conceived notions. That’s a legitimate worry, but it’s very hard to put the Christina Aguilera genie back in the bottle. Further, there is no denying that the benefits to both consumers and content creators are going to be massive.

Systems tend to favor increased efficiencies, especially when there is money to be made in providing people more of what they want, faster and cheaper.

Authors may learn which characters to “vote off the island” in series, and publishers will likely discover new untapped audiences for niche content. (Who knew so many people were interested in making their own coffins?)

The below infographic for Hiptype takes a look at some interesting trends in books and reading. It’s perhaps not surprising that more men read Sci-fi and historical fiction, while women buy more cookbooks and romance. Both genders have a healthy appetite for literature. It’s also not surprising to see how book length influences finish rates and price influences sales figures and completion rates (pay more for a book and you feel obligated to pick it up).

DNA of a successful book infographic

 Source: Hiptype

What do you think we can learn from new data on books? Would you read a crowd-sourced book?


Brian Clark Howard covers the environment for National Geographic. He previously served as an editor for TheDailyGreen.com and E/The Environmental Magazine, and has written for TheAtlantic.com, FastCompany.com, PopularMechanics.com, Yahoo!, MSN, Miller-McCune and elsewhere. He is the co-author of six books, including Geothermal HVACGreen LightingBuild Your Own Small Wind Power System, and Rock Your Ugly Christmas Sweater.

  • Ima Ryma

    Tiz popular for books of niche
    To dwell and sell on morbid stuff.
    Make your own coffin – got the itch?
    Obituaries – read enough?
    Let’s forget coffins and obits.
    They only take up time and space.
    Do DNA data that fits
    The future for the human race.
    When we each die, we each get booked
    Into cyberspace to flow free.
    Each is downloaded to be looked
    At what each one’s life used to be.

    A niche for each of us to fill.
    An open book, we are, we will.

  • Louise Sorensen

    It seems as a female lover and writer of scifi, I am an anomaly. Interesting chart, though I’d hate to think of tailor made art. Making the wheel over and over is not going to get one anywhere.

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