This pertains to the potential salability of electing to choose between POVs, here specifically between first or third person limited.

There are several threads, like What are the advantages and disadvantages of writing in first person? which addresses the benefits/disadvantages of using either 1sth person vs. 3d limited.

This question is for when a story could be told equally effectively from 3d limited, or 1sth person.

This issue streams from the side discussion in the question How to format multiple inner voices, differentiating the text from dialogue? and omnipresent inner voice where I wrote

The only viable recommendation is the first-person POV, but that is not good for sales as most novels are in the 3d person. The goal is to write for a broad audience and not for some literati minority. […] No i read that in several "how to" writing books. First person is also said to be mostly used, or rather misused, by beginners who feel the need to stay close to their characters and it is only the rare master who can pull the first voice. In every writing book I read, the author strongly recommended in a way or another to favor the 3d person over the first… that is when it is not used by some pretentious "literary" style trial. […] Sorry for the “artsy fartsy” literati, I do love evocative colored language. Yes some great novels were written in the first person. Yet in the writing books, like the ones by James Frey, Donald Mass, Sol Stein, Bob Mayer, Peter Selgin, Holly Lisle….while acknowledging the first voice existence generally advise to stick to the third.

To which several members responded

@ Lauren Ipsum "However derivative and badly-written they are, the Fifty Shades of Gray books are written in the first person, and have sold over 60 million copies. I wouldn't call that a minority. […] Additionally, if you're going to contemptuously dismiss part of your potential audience as "artsy-fartsy," that will leak through to your writing. Their money is as good as hoi polloi's, and you won't be earning any of it."
@ Neil Fein "I'm not sure where you've heard this. First person is very common in genre fiction. Do you have statistics on this, or a source? […]Sounds like you found a "how-to" writer with an axe to grind. That seems like an overly broad generalization to me. First person can be accessible and effective, and third-person can easily become arty and pretentious. "
@ Tave "'Great Expectations' by Charles Dickens uses the first person."

The gist of the issue is that while no how to books says directly to avoid the 1sth person, most seems to encourage beginners to avoid the 1sth for commercial reason.

I also recall several instances where I read about an author who got a contract, or an agent conditionally on switching the ms from first to 3d person. (there is one on StackExchange too How do I change a novel from first person to limited third person?)

So is there any kind of data, or evidence (even if only non-factual, or subjective ) illustrating Sales/POV correlation?

1 Answer 1


You really should not go by Dickens. There are trends and fashions in writing, and what was en vogue two hundred years ago is not necessarily the best model for commercially successful writing today.

If I look at contemporary writing, the predominant viewpoint changes with the category. More "high browed", literary fiction is often written in third person as is much of narrative non-fiction (with the exception of autobiographies and travel journals). Young Adult and much genre fiction are written in the first person to achieve a faster pace and more immediacy. (A number I saw said something like two thirds of YA are in first person, but I might misremember.) Middle Grade fiction is mostly in third person, children's books are almost exclusively third person.

Generally it seems to me that the more emotional and action oriented a genre is, the more it will employ first person narration. The more "level headed" and reflective a genre is, the more you will find third person narration.

Without having counted, subjectively over all fiction, third person seems to be dominant.

But that is like saying most cars are black. You'll still want to use red for a fire truck. The best viewpoint is always the one that works best for your story and writing style. There is no genre where there is not a significant number of books written in either person. So don't let statistics dictate how you should write.

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