Of course, these things are entirely arbitrary. Even if you write a brilliant book or create a brilliant character, there's no guarantee that it'll be an instant success. There's also the undeniable fact that if you create something different, unique and innovative, you'll have a harder job selling it to a publisher than a more commercial, mainstream book with a guaranteed audience. Publishers are much more risk averse than in the past, and with good reason.
Cast your eye across genre fiction lists and you'll find that it's actually very difficult to come up with something that's unique. When I started writing Caligula sometime around 2004 (it was a project then, I didn't dare call it a book) I had no idea how crowded the historical fiction market was. Deep down I wanted to be the next Bernard Cornwell and I knew the name Conn Iggulden. I'd never heard of a guy called Simon Scarrow or read any CJ Sansom. I had no idea that at about the time I sat down and wrote the first sentence another half dozen excellent writers were doing the same with books that would become The Forgotten Legion, Warrior of Rome, Ship of Rome, Gladiatrix and the Empire series. Or that my old mate Bob Low, from Daily Record days, had already had his first Viking novels published and that Giles Kristian was about to follow in his wake. Caligula in its original form actually covers the same timescale as the early Macro and Cato books and Manda Scott's Boudicca series. If I'd known that at the time I probably wouldn't have dared write it.
At the beginning of 2010 I decided I could write two books a year and I put together some ideas for the next big historical thing. One of them was a five or six book series on the English Civil War with a character I thought could well be the new Sharpe and with each culminating in one of the major battles. It really was a great idea, and unique, or so I thought. My editor loved it, but about two weeks earlier the publishers had been presented with an idea for a civil war series with a character who could well be the new Sharpe, etc. etc. So in 2012, it'll be Giles Kristian who begins the journey to Marston Moor and Naseby, not me, and he'll make a brilliant job of it.
Anyway, I have strayed from the point, which was to celebrate a US publishing deal for a great writer who truly dared to be different. Guy Saville created an entire alternative Africa ruled by the victorious Nazis for his book The Afrika Reich, based on plans that were actually formulated under Hitler. It was an idea so innovative that at first he struggled to find a publisher, but once it was in print his perseverance paid off and it's been a huge success. Now major American publishers have thrown their considerable weight behind it, and that success is about to be deservedly replicated on the other side of the Atlantic.