Monday, December 13, 2010

The Best Books

Have you noticed how much we try to live up to the expectations of others? Authors have a lot of expectations placed on them. There are the expectations of the family. If you write a book, people expect you to get it published and make millions or at least thousands. There are the expectations of other authors. There are the expectations of agents and publishers. All of these expectations are driving toward one thing. The author is expected to write the next Harry Potter.

The fact is that we can’t live up to the expectations of others. We must determine our own goals and strive to achieve them. I think of all the computer books I have sitting on my shelves at home. Some are great books and others leave something to be desired, but there’s not a one of them that has been hugely successful for the publisher. There are some very solid performers. There are some that almost any software engineer or electrical engineer will recognize, but there are no huge successes.

The thing is that those books have more value to those in the niche field they target than any of the novels or memoirs on the bestselling lists. The poor guys who wrote those books—many of whom invented the technology we use everyday—will do good to make a few thousand dollars from their efforts. They will not reach the heights of our expectations, but what they have accomplished is far better.

As writers, a very important thing for us to keep in mind is that bestselling doesn’t usually mean it is the best stuff. You won’t find the best books on the bestseller lists. What you will find there are books that have spoken to a broad audience. The best books speak to a much narrower audience. The best books of all may have an audience of one.