The Careers of Authors

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What’s the point?

We were working with a site that sells eBooks, and the original idea was to ‘Visualise the Careers of Authors.’

We had just been through the production process for a similar idea, ‘Visualising the Fortune 500: The rise and fall of the world’s greatest companies.’

But it turns out, there’s a problem with these ideas.

It’s not actually clear what the point is. Really, they’re just saying ‘Here’s a topic or dataset that we’re going to visualise’. But what exactly do we want to reveal?

To prevent ourselves falling into the same trap, I developed a process to make sure we ask ourselves the right questions up front. For this particular challenge, the question to ask is:

“What’s the one thing this shows?”

Now, it might contain more than one thing, but if it only showed one thing, and people only took one thing away from it, what would that be?

Originally, I wanted to focus on the most productive writers, showing which authors published the most books each year. This was inspired by seeing a new bestseller by certain authors (like James Patterson) every time I went to the airport.

I was curious, how many books has this guy written?!

However, during production phase, my colleague Hannah convinced me the more compelling angle was to focus on the age at which famous authors wrote their breakthrough book, either a critically acclaimed classic or commercial bestseller.

We wanted to get in front of a literary crowd, many of whom harboured ambitions to write a book themselves one day.

And the content allowed us to deliver a positive message.

“This chart proves it’s never too late to publish a novel”


Funnily enough, shortly after we released this content, Hannah took a sabbatical – to focus on writing.

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