Here’s something I didn’t know.

I discovered it thanks to NaNoWriMo. The idea behind NaNoWriMo is simple – you write a 50,000 word novel in November, quality be damned. The point is to force you to put words on a page.

It doesn’t work for me – whatever I’m writing, be that copy or fiction, I’m far too much of a perfectionist. I hate writing bad words, and work far better taking time to produce good ones. With copy this isn’t a problem, since I’ve got deadlines. With fiction, the only deadlines are my own, so it’s much easier to let them slowly drift, telling myself I’ll get to it tomorrow…

So I’m not doing NaNoWriMo. But to get into the spirit, I’ve been posting one 100-word story a day in my Facebook feed. I thought this would be a less bonkers way to get the same result. (I’ve since discovered it’s no less bonkers… that many story-worthy ideas in a short space of time is hard.)

I was asked to do one on Dickensian London, so I’ve been looking up Charles Dickens.

Dickens is pretty much unique in having been regarded as one of the world’s greatest novelists ever when he was alive, and that opinion being kept ever since. His star has never dimmed. His appeal seems permanent. Here’s why:

His novels, most published in monthly or weekly instalments, pioneered the serial publication of narrative fiction, which became the dominant Victorian mode for novel publication. The instalment format allowed Dickens to evaluate his audience’s reaction, and he often modified his plot and character development based on such feedback.

(via Wikipedia)

Short version? He did market research. He gave his customers what they wanted, and he wasn’t afraid to change his product to give them more of what they wanted.

More than that, he made sure his stories touched on topical events so it was guaranteed to be relevant, and he released in several formats so it was accessible to as many people as possible. The poor, of whom there were many, couldn’t afford his books, but they would pay a ha’penny to hear live readings, and they would do it in masses.

The moral’s pretty simple: it doesn’t matter what your product is, or what niche you’re in: you do not know better than the market. Give them what they want, and they’ll come in droves.