As I was listening to Malcolm Gladwell’s TED Talk on “Choice, happiness and spaghetti sauce” I was struck once again by his ability to teach by telling stories with humor and surprising insights. I enjoy his style of presentation more than others, but based on what I learned in his talk, I would have to conclude that other people do not share my preference–and that is a good thing.

In his talk Gladwell focused on the research of Howard Moskowitz who was one of the first people to realize that food preferences vary from person to person. He has helped companies make millions of dollars by convincing them to stop trying to find the perfect spaghetti sauce (or any other food) and start creating variations that appeal to large segments of the population that prefer something other than what is currently available.

Authors can learn an important lesson from Moskowitz’s research. We tend to think that readers know what they want and are buying based on those preferences, and so we imitate the bestselling books in hopes of giving readers what they want. We need to realize that readers are simply choosing the best available option. They don’t really know what else they might want because they can’t imagine it. Some may be able to imagine it but find it difficult to put into words. How do you describe something that doesn’t exist? Or how do you find the courage to admit that you want something that nobody else is saying they want? As Steve Jobs said, “people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

Rather than trying to create the perfect book that everybody needs, we should realize that there are many perfect books but not one that everybody needs. We have the opportunity to create books that meet the needs of large segments of the population that would only read books that are not normal–books that don’t show up on bestseller lists. By doing so, we will increase the average level of satisfaction with our writing dramatically, as we can write from our unique perspective in our unique style for people with unique needs and desires. We can’t please everybody, but we can be successful if we focus on pleasing somebody.

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