Wednesday, June 29, 2011

How to Write a Bestseller

As some of you know on the weekend I attended a Children’s and Young Adult Literature Festival run by the NSW Writers’ Centre. One panel had four successful authors and they discussed how to write a bestseller. On the panel were Jaqueline Harvey, Sophie Masson, Aleesah Darlinson and Dianne Bates.

What is a bestseller?
The concept of what a bestseller is varies between countries and publishing houses. In Australia if we sell only 8000 books it’s considered a bestseller. In the USA 100 000 would be a bestseller, however some publishing houses would call as few as 15-20k a bestseller. It used to be considered a bestseller if you sold a number of copies equal to 1% of the population, but that’s no longer the case.

They made another interesting point. The New York Bestseller List can be deceiving because it doesn’t list sales over time. It covers velocity of sales. If a title sells fast when it first comes out, then it will rise on this list, but this doesn’t mean it will become a bestseller because those sales could drop off just as quickly.

How to Write a Bestseller
The authors on the panel discussed these points:
1. Finish writing the book. It won’t sell if it’s not finished.
2. There is no formula. Often a bestseller comes as a surprise to everyone.
3. Despite this, study the market and know the intended audience.
4. Learn to self edit
5. Join workshops and critique groups
6. Make your characters real and interesting
7. Read awarded books and bestsellers.

What do you think makes a bestseller?

Thanks: last week I received a Stylish Blogger Award from Maeve at Lollipop’s Cottage. Thanks so much.


  1. I like that there is no formula--that means there is always hope:)

  2. In my country bestsellers are also sold in about 10,000 copies or more. And average number of copies for most first editions is just 1,500!

  3. Way interesting! I'd never heard actual figures before. It'd be fun to write a bestseller, but mostly, just to have a book out there that's read and enjoyed. ;o)

    And yep! Gotta finish that book before it can do anything!

  4. I want to be Australian! 8000 copies seems a whole lot more doable than here in the USA!
    Good post!

  5. I didn't realize there were numbers attached to the term - or that those numbers varied. Very interesting stuff!

  6. The one point made, there's no formula. However, if we read. If we go to workshops. If we go to our critique groups and keep going forward something good is bound to happen.

  7. Crap, I need to move to Australia!
    I guess I just don't think about best sellers. Just seems so far out of reach...

  8. Hi Linda,
    While numbers (8,000, 10K) mark a book as a bestseller, that doesn't mean it is the best book.

    I think, for what it's worth, that after all the things you mentioned above, time is the best way to become a bestseller: time spent marketing, time to become well known for good stories, time to write more books to hold reader interest.

  9. I, too, do not believe there's an exact formula, but you pretty much hit everything just right in this post, Lynda. READ like it's goin' outta style--that's some of the best advice you can give anyone, especially yourself.

  10. I didn't know there was such a difference in the number. How cool!

  11. I KNEW there was yet another reason I love the Down Under!

    Interesting stuff, Lynda. Thanks for sharing.

  12. The list of suggestions makes me smile. In other words, there's no way to write a bestseller. If there was a formula, we'd all be doing it!

  13. Write your best story and then worry about whether it'll be a bestseller. In fact, don't worry about the bestseller part at all, IMO.

    Great suggestions!

  14. Congrats on the award. I'm really not sure what how a best seller is made

  15. Terri, I think books would become really dull if there was a formula.

    Dezzy, The average print run in Oz is only 5000. Eek, 1500 is a small number.

    Carol, yep I think every writer wants a bestseller. We have to have our dreams and sometimes they come true!

    Emily, ah, but because the population in Oz is so much smaller than in the USA it's just as difficult to turn a book into a bestseller. There's no real advantage.

    Jemi, cool huh.

    Shelly, yes exactly!

  16. Alex, I don't think I could write with the idea of writing the next bestseller. I'd put too much pressure on myself. I just have to write those stories that cry out to be written.

    Gail, exactly

    Alyssia, yep, read, read and read some more.

    Bryce, hehe

    KarenG, yup! AND if everyone were doing it, then the stories would no longer become bestsellers because they'd lose that unique flavour that makes them special.

    Liz, exacty

    Suze, hehe and it's so true :)

    Summer, thanks

  17. Other than scribbling J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, J. Patterson or S. Meyer on the cover, I'm not sure. :-)

  18. No one is sure, and that is the best part. For me, I think being able to write a good book is better than being able to write a bestseller.

  19. Sounds like that was a really interesting discussion!!

  20. That is really interesting. I never really thought about that. NYT list isn't necessarily a predictor of overall sales...

  21. Fascinating. Let me try to unpack that a little. If there's no formula, why read other best-sellers (from a writing point of view). Maybe there's a formula, or a least elements to be replicated for some best-sellers.

    Interesting stuff.

  22. I love point number 1 cos it's so obvious but so so so so so easily overlooked too!! Finish the writing the book - then take it from there. Yay!!

    Thanks lovely Lynda!!!

    Take care

  23. Definitely interesting to see those figures. And I think the take-home message is: put your head down, work hard, and strive for constant improvement. You just can't control the best-sellerness of your work, but you can improve your chances by improving the quality of your mss.

  24. Lynda - I love number one. Making a point with a sense of humor always works. Great post and list. You always have something I can take away with me from your blog. Thanks for sharing.

  25. "Eek, 1500 is a small number."

    it is Lyndy, but you must bear in mind that Serbia has only about 8 million citizens.

  26. Thank God, there is no formula or a trend to follow, else I would have given up long back. In India if a book sells 10k its considered a bestseller.

  27. I laughed at No. 1, so true. Just "write the damn book." And, am working on No. 4 right now.

  28. Connecting with the audience is a key, more so than being a perfect writer. Otherwise, it seems to be a crap shoot.

  29. The list makes sense, but it's also pretty obvious--you've got to do those things to write a best seller or not. I think the real key is marketing. Until millions (or thousands) of potential readers have heard about your book, you can't expect to sell millions (or thousands). I'm sure that their is a direct correlation between the amount of marketing and sales quantity. And that doesn't mean having to pay for a lot of advertising necessarily, but it does mean someone getting out and telling the public about the book.
    marketing = publicity

    Tossing It Out

  30. E J Wesley, hahaha

    Damyanti, ah, but 'good' is so subjective. ;)

    Trisha, it was :)

    Lisa, exactly but it's still a great thing to get on that list.

    Deborah, yes, it's good to at least become familiar with what's out there and recognise elements you like in those books.

    Old Kitty, oddly enough it IS easily overlooked ;)

  31. Sarah, well said!!

    Maeve, thanks :)

    Dezzy, yup, Oz has that same problem

    Rachna, While it's a relief, it doesn't stop us from trying to find that formula. It's a bit like chasing the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow, though.

    Stacy, yep, slef-editing is fun (never thought I'd ever say that).

    M Pax, great point

    Lee, I think when you have a brilliant story word-of-mouth becomes the greatest marketing tool-- but we can't rely on that alone. Like you said, if no one has heard of it, they won't read it.

  32. Very interesting! I like the first point, finishing writing the book is an important one. It seems like there are several factors involved in making a bestseller, and what works for someone might not work for someone else.

  33. Connie, Nice to see you here. That's exactly right. We are all different so what works for one may not work for another.

  34. One of our papers publishes the Amazon sales figures building week on week, and the figures can be both astounding and depressing. Most popular authors sell a few thousand, and then there are usually one or two that sell hundreds of thousands!


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