Apparently the publishers of ‘Like Water for Chocolate’ discovered by chance that it’s no bad thing in sales terms for a book to have a thematic link with chocolate. This was not uppermost in my mind when I wrote a story — part fiction, part travel memoir — set in a squatted German chocolate factory. Had I been thinking sales, my story might not have contained dodgy, going-off chocolate – unlikely to have such a positive impact!
The curious can find an extract over at Identity Theory. But to what extent a writer should be thinking sales is another story… When commercial appeal comes naturally, great — but it’s a hard thing to fake. Lots of good writing would never have been published — might never have been written, in fact — if all writers and publishers chose their projects on the basis of sales predictions.
Predictions can only apply to cases where there’s a precedent, hence the copycat trends you see in fiction. (Which incidentally operate in spite of common-sense factors like boredom: just because a customer bought X book, does not mean they’ll buy X + 1. They might actually have got bored with the whole subject of X.) In cases where the writing is genuinely new, then chance is the operative word. Chance, or risk-taking, may not be very fashionable in an overly spread-sheeted economy, but this is what what the publishing industry was built on.