I've also recommended The Tipping Point to my authors who were thinking about ways to market their books, because I love what it says about how little things can make a big difference, that you never know which of your efforts will cause that "tipping point" and help make your book successful. So I was a little upset to read an article last week about network-theory scientist Duncan Watts who has somewhat disproved some of Gladwell's theories, in particular that of the "taste-makers" and connectors who are pivotal in deciding what things will be popular.
Watts decided to put the whole idea to the test by building another Sims-like computer simulation. He programmed a group of 10,000 people, all governed by a few simple interpersonal rules. Each was able to communicate with anyone nearby. With every contact, each had a small probability of "infecting" another. And each person also paid attention to what was happening around him: If lots of other people were adopting a trend, he would be more likely to join, and vice versa. The "people" in the virtual society had varying amounts of sociability--some were more connected than others. Watts designated the top 10% most-connected as Influentials; they could affect four times as many people as the average Joe. In essence, it was a virtual society run--in a very crude fashion--according to the rules laid out by thinkers like Gladwell and Keller.
Watts set the test in motion by randomly picking one person as a trendsetter, then sat back to see if the trend would spread. He did so thousands of times in a row.
The results were deeply counterintuitive. The experiment did produce several hundred societywide infections. But in the large majority of cases, the cascade began with an average Joe (although in cases where an Influential touched off the trend, it spread much further). To stack the deck in favor of Influentials, Watts changed the simulation, making them 10 times more connected. Now they could infect 40 times more people than the average citizen (and again, when they kicked off a cascade, it was substantially larger). But the rank-and-file citizen was still far more likely to start a contagion.
Watts concluded that "a trend's success depends not on the person who starts it, but on how susceptible the society is overall to the trend--not how persuasive the early adopter is, but whether everyone else is easily persuaded."
Initially, my main takeaway from reading this article was that it was all more of a crap shoot than I had previously thought. But then I realized that, in a way, it was almost comforting, because we don't have to be overly concerned about whether we're marketing something "right" or not--we just have to do our thing and hope that society is accepting. It's a little disappointing to think that merit plays very little into the results, but it also pretty much confirms what we all know--we all see books succeed that we consider to be, er, let's just say not so good, and wonderful books that fail to attract notice.
All I can say is, keep doing your thing, try to get as many people to know about your book as possible, and hope that all factors are aligned for you.