The Secret to Writing a Bestseller

That’s a blog post title that gets your attention, isn’t it?

Well, Jodie Llewellyn had a brief post today sort of on that subject and, once again, my comment on that post would have turned into a post all its own.  So, here we are.

Now the question of the bestseller is different from her question of what makes great writing great.  The two are FAR from the same thing.  Before I get too far into this, I should clairfy that:

*DISCLAIMER* – I’ve never written a bestseller and anything I say on the subject is my own opinion.  I still firmly believe that there is NO silver bullet to guarantee writing success, and any aspiring writer that spends more time looking for this phantom than they do practicing their craft, will not succeed.

Now, back to business…

IF there is a secret to be found, one must first consider what a bestseller is.  The short answer is sales, but not all bestseller list work like that.  There’s nice write-up about this HERE.  If a book hits the NY Times list – regardless of how it gets there – they can call it a bestseller forever and always…but I digress.

So, how does a book sell a lot?  It has to be popular.  How does it get popular?  People talk about it.  How do you get people to talk about it?  Put something in it they’ll want to talk about.

In my opinion, it comes down to content or what it’s about.  Some examples:  The DaVinci Code, took the world by storm and was on the NY Times list for something like 136 consecutive weeks before falling out of the top 15.  It was talked about in the media, because it caused a stir with the Catholic church which made people buy it to see what all the chatter was about.  The subject matter drove the curiosity which drove the sales.  It’s one of my favorite books for what it was about and the controversy is caused, but I don’t care for Dan Brown’s actual writing style. I had to listen to the audiobook, because I couldn’t get through the way it was written.   A lot of people I’ve talked to about that book agree:  Average writing, but it was great book.

Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone started a phenomenon.  It gave kids wonderful characters and a world that delighted their imaginations.  I mention it in this post, only because it is regarded as the most poorly written in the series, from a technical stand point, but that doesn’t take away from its popularity and J.K. Rowling thanks us every time she receives a fan letter and a royalty check.  *No disrespect intended.

And who could forget Fifty Shades of Grey.  It got a hell of a lot of press, right?  Did the media declare it to be on par with The Grapes of Wrath?  War and Peace?  Nope, it was all about the uh…content, to put it cleanly.  It got noticed because it pushed boundaries and was driven by the fact that E.L James self-published it as an e-book.  The readers liked it.  Literary critics, not so much.

So what’s the secret to writing a bestseller?  Hell, I wish I knew.  If you forcibly try to write something that will get this kind of attention by design, you’re almost certainly setting yourself up for failure.

Just ask the creators of Basic Instinct 2 how that worked out.


About Thomas J. rock

Writer of Science Fiction

Posted on February 14, 2014, in The Daily Grind and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. From the three examples you’ve used here, I guess one can say that it’s the characters and the story that sell, not the quality of the writing so much. We, as writers, might look for the perfect word or re-write paragraphs again and again, trying to make it better. But the average reader, if we manage to lure somebody to read us other than our loyal test-reader friends, they skim through parts of a book and might not ever sit down and consider the quality of the writing as a craft. They just want to know what happens next. I have to confess I’m also the same when I’m reading. I can sometime think: Get on with it, will you? Even if the writing is beautiful.

    • Very well put, and you’re exactly right. This may not be a universal truth about bestsellers, but I think the majority of books with tremendous commercial success can attribute that success to this reasoning.

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