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Writing a Bestseller

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January 2011
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The goal of every writer is to write a novel or nonfiction book that is a bestseller. But a good idea and great writing skills will not guarantee a bestseller. Nor will landing an agent or finding a publisher to market and promote your book. There is a certain amount of “luck” in becoming a bestselling writer.

In this post, I will discuss the idea of “writing a bestseller.” The following topics will be covered:

  • Difficulties in publishing a bestseller
  • Characteristics of a bestseller
  • Finding an agent
  • Responding to rejection
  • Responding to poor book sales

Difficulties in Publishing a Bestseller

Writing a bestseller is exceedingly difficult. Often first-time writers cannot find an editor or publisher. Why? Selling a book that is written by a well-established writer is much easier than publishing a book by an unknown writer.

Fewer and fewer people are reading. Instead they are spending their leisure time on the Web, playing video games, going to movies, or attending sporting events. Thus the demand for books has decreased for many types of genres.

Many books that have won the Pulitzer Prize were not bestsellers. Book sellers are reluctant to buy books that might not sell. Many novels that are now considered “classics” were not bestsellers.

Many writers who have exceptional writing skills and great ideas have not been able to write bestsellers.

The publisher cannot guarantee that your book will become a bestseller, no matter how much the publisher promotes or markets the book.

Essentially, there is no formula for writing a bestseller. Often, luck or chance is involved.

Characteristics of Writing a Bestseller

There is no formula for writing a bestselling novel or memoir. However, there are certain characteristics of a bestselling book. Here are a few:

  • Writing is exceptional or literary. The novel or memoir is not poorly written. There is no use of clichés, hackneyed expressions, or a stilted style.
  • Economic use of language. The writing is clear and concise. The writer uses the fewest words possible to write the story.
  • Development of vivid and plausible characters. The reader can visualize the characters and identify with them.
  • Suspension of disbelief. In a work of fiction, the reader is convinced by the writer that the story is plausible.
  • Strong voice. There is a belief in the mind of the reader that the narrator can talk the way the story has been told.
  • Good opening. The story captures the reader’s attention and compels him/her to continue to read.
  • Exceptional storytelling or narration. The story has a protagonist, inciting incident, conflict, obstacles in the protagonist must overcome, climax, and resolution to the story.
  • The narrative is original and engaging.

Finding an Agent

Most publishing companies only accept submissions from an agent. For this reason, it is important that you try to land an agent who will represent you. Your goal is to find a person who will work hard for you and who is well-connected in the publishing industry. The function of the agent is to sell your literary work to a publisher. It is strictly a business arrangement.

How do you contact an agent? It depends. Each agent has different submission guidelines. Your objective is to send a query letter, which requests that the agent will represent you. If the agent wants only a query, you send a query letter. If the agent requests an email query, then that is what you must send. You must following the agents submission guidelines.

You should choose an agent who is a member of the Association of Authors Representatives. A good resource for finding an agent is .

An agent finds writers to represent through a number of methods. The obvious method is through direct contact with the writer. Another method is from a referral from a publisher or editor. Agents also get referrals from their other clients.

Often agents will reject the request to represent the writer. A weak query letter will not land you an agent. You need to write an engaging query letter.

Sending a query letter to an agent who does not represent your genre is a waste of time and energy.

If your writing is poor, you will not land an agent.

Knowing who is going to buy your book and why readers should buy it is helpful in landing an agent. You need to be able to sell yourself and your work. Don’t assume that the agent is going to recognize the target market and the benefits of reading your book. 

For more information on finding an agent, go to Poets & Writers at . You can also find useful information at .

Responding to Rejection

A good book will always find readers. If your manuscript is rejected, you might need to change your style, genre, content, plot, characters, and so on. You might need to revise the opening or ending. The important thing is to keep trying, even if editors continue to reject your manuscript. But at some point, you will need to be honest with yourself. If you cannot find an editor or agent, you will need to revise your manuscript to get it published. You might even need to start over.

Responding to Poor Book Sales

What if your book is published but sales are poor? Don’t give up. Instead, learn from your mistakes, and then write a second book. While you are writing, build a writing platform. Here is how:

  • Find a good editor.
  • Become a subject matter expert, and write articles in magazines or newspapers to gain public awareness.
  • Create a blog and start blogging about your upcoming book.
  • Get others to blog about your book.
  • Build a website to promote and sell your book.
  • Schedule a speaking tour to promote your book and build an audience.
  • Go on a book tour, such as a book fair or book festival.
  • Teach a course on creative writing.

Writing a bestseller is difficult. But a good book will always find readers. If your manuscript continues to be rejected, you will need to strengthen it. There is no formula for writing a bestseller. There is a certain amount of luck.

You can improve your odds with great writing, excellent storytelling, and a book that is original and captures the reader’s attention.


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