Displacement activity! This is something many writers know only too well. It can take many forms but its purpose is always the same and you don’t need many guesses to know that’s to avoid writing.
However, I’m not going to discuss all the forms that displacement activity takes, I want to tell you about a new one I found.
I’ve talked before about MOOCS the online education courses provided by FutureLearn. Well, I enrolled in Literature in the Digital Age, which is quite interesting, even though it talks about poetry a lot. As you know, poetry is not my thing.
The course could be called displacement activity but I prefer to think of it as education. But it introduced me to an analytical tool which is perfect as a displacement activity. This tool can make comparisons between anything book related that you like, and if you want to try it out it’s called Google Books Ngram Viewer. You’ll also find an information page here. Please note that the search format is word,word,word or phrase,phrase,phrase with no spaces after the words and no spaces at the end of phrases.
My first trial shot was to compare Agatha Christie with Ian Rankin and Val McDermid, my assumption being that the modern best-sellers would be more popular. I was totally wrong, Agatha Christie beat both of them in the popularity stakes by a really large margin.
Then I turned to fiction genres to see which ranked the highest. My assumptions were that thrillers and fantasy would rank high, and literary fiction would be low, because of the common belief that literary fiction doesn’t sell well. Wrong again! But despite that, I was pleased to be wrong because of the genres I tested my books were in the highest ranking genres.
So, let’s look at the results. Historical fiction ranked the highest, closely followed by crime fiction. Woohoo, that’s what I write. Thrillers, which I assumed would rank high were grovelling at the bottom of the graph while horror fiction and dystopian fiction sank right to the bottom. And literary fiction ranked higher than fantasy. Now who would have thought that?
There are loads of other genres I could have compared but you can only take displacement activity so far, and I was quite pleased with the results. It means I’m not wasting my time writing contemporary crime and historical crime fiction.
Why don’t you give the tool a whirl and see where your genre sits in the popularity stakes?