Craft Chat What makes a best seller?

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Thanks for posting! Interesting. If I can summarise for others, he identifies 5 points he says agents look for:

1. Bridge - something familiar to hook the work onto / hook the reader in -- this book is 'famous novel x meets famous novel y'
2. voice - the unique voice of the author, something only they can write
3. graft -- the hard work, multiple drafts need to have been done
4. resonance - will it resonate with as many readers as poss as quickly as poss? -- partly zeitgeist-dependent, partly to do with deep, eternal emotional triggers
5. the gaps - does the author leave 'gaps between the lines' that the reader can populate with their own imagination? -- very important

He also says it's critical to be able to concisely explain what the book is about in one sentence, no matter how complex the story.
 
Thanks for posting! Interesting. If I can summarise for others, he identifies 5 points he says agents look for:

1. Bridge - something familiar to hook the work onto / hook the reader in -- this book is 'famous novel x meets famous novel y'
2. voice - the unique voice of the author, something only they can write
3. graft -- the hard work, multiple drafts need to have been done
4. resonance - will it resonate with as many readers as poss as quickly as poss? -- partly zeitgeist-dependent, partly to do with deep, eternal emotional triggers
5. the gaps - does the author leave 'gaps between the lines' that the reader can populate with their own imagination? -- very important

He also says it's critical to be able to concisely explain what the book is about in one sentence, no matter how complex the story.


Thank you, Marc. I especially like the part where he talks about the gaps. And the idea about what your book is really about, which probably will have a lot to do with the theme you are exploring.
And what´s up with that Charlie and the Chocolate Factory cover? I think it had been mentioned here before, but I still find it disturbing!
 
Jonny Geller makes some good points, and there's several interviews with him online.

The thing with a bestseller, is that sometimes a best-selling book is a runaway success simply because it's already sold enough copies to be called that, and it becomes a self-perpetuating process—people buy stuff that's popular and which their friends own, and that includes books. They don't necessarily read them. This raises an interesting ethical dilemma: would you be happy to have massive sales, but few of the buyers actually read your writing—or would you prefer respectable sales with fully engaged readers who admired your skills and offered feedback?

We all know that some authors who've achieved huge sales are terrible writers in many ways—E.L James, Dan Brown and Jeffrey Archer to name a few. The thing is, their stories captured the interest of readers in some way—the basic premise of the plot—the quality of the writing was of secondary importance.

As Flannery O'Connor archly observed:

quote-there-s-many-a-bestseller-that-could-have-been-prevented-by-a-good-teacher-flannery-o-connor-54-50-51.jpg
 
I think the number one element to focus on, is actually number 2. Voice. In the sense that it´s so unique, ( or should be), and will be what draws the reader in. A certain flow of words that seem to hypnotize the readers.
 
There's a book due out on the 20th September, which will tell us what we should put in our manuscript for it to become a best-selling book.

The Bestseller Code: Anatomy of The Blockbuster Novel by Jodie Archer and Matthew L Jockers contains an algorithm analysing plot, theme, characters and setting to see which combination appeals to readers. Just add talent....

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What Makes a Bestseller? Two SMP Authors Say They Know the Formula.
 
First of all you have to write the damned thing despite all that happens to you. Then having it yanked to bits and made into a TV series/special or a movie will almost certainly make it a bestseller. It takes better brains than mine to list them - but I am certain that in the last 50 years there have been very, very few organically successful bestsellers purely based on the merit of how well it is written or how fiendishly good the plot is.

Call me cynical! (You know you want to). :)
 
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Even so, @David Newrick --Hollywood takes and makes stories that are well written and will be blockbusters. I´m not talking about flowery writing or the great american novel, just a really well told story.
 
Thanks @Marc Joan for the list (can't watch the vid at work).

My biggest issue is #5. I'm editing my space opera and it started at 93k words. Now, it's close to 70k and I'm only half way done with the latest edit. I've cut three chapters, reworked others, and cut so much over writing that I might as well have put the whole MS in a gigantic slap chop. The MS is nearing a good place, but the fact that I wrote over 20k words TOO MANY is just ridiculous.

Talk about NO gap...

Now I just have to hope that when I send the pared down MS to an agent they don't come back with "I wanted some meat with my taters." :P
 
Thanks @Marc Joan for the list (can't watch the vid at work).

My biggest issue is #5. I'm editing my space opera and it started at 93k words. Now, it's close to 70k and I'm only half way done with the latest edit. I've cut three chapters, reworked others, and cut so much over writing that I might as well have put the whole MS in a gigantic slap chop. The MS is nearing a good place, but the fact that I wrote over 20k words TOO MANY is just ridiculous.

Talk about NO gap...

Now I just have to hope that when I send the pared down MS to an agent they don't come back with "I wanted some meat with my taters." :p
That's the trouble, isn't it -- no universally right or wrong answers.
 
Gone Girl was one. I read it for research. Bleugh. I didn't remotely like either character, and their war was altogether most unedifying.

Da Vinci Code. Tried to but it was just pieces on a board

Shades of Grey. Unsexy premise.

Carrie was one I was glued to. Why? The telekinesis? Not really. It was the stakes. Child in jeopardy. I've been a girl of that age, raised daughters, know how vicious the peer group can be. I wanted the little girl to be OK, but she wasn't. Cujo the same. Frightened for the child, identified with the mother's challenge, also desperately sorry for the dog.


Emotional identification does it for me in a book, either that or the sense I am learning something new, given an insight into a whole other world or time. When it comes to emotional investment, I suppose it depends on where the reader is currently 'at' in their own life.

But then again, the Best Seller is about money. Business. If those books keep publishers in business then it's perhaps all to the good. I worked in a second hand books shop once. A sign outside said Assistant Wanted.
I went in and the proprietor was there, a big man, gingerish, a bit of a bottom slapper it emerged but still, no kind of creep, and I said, I see you want an assistant. I love books and I want that job...can I have it?

He said yes, but understand; this is about selling books, same as selling cornflakes.
 
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I have learned that my taste in books skews away from bestsellers, which makes me suspect that I'll probably never write one. But there are some exceptions - the most recent one, All The Light We Cannot See.

Certainly marketing matters, but my husband, who was an advertising copywriter, firmly believed the worst thing that could happen to a bad product was good advertising.
 
I just watched this and found the advice about 'finding a way to capture your unique voice onto the page is what makes you a writer' my Holy Grail. I never thought it along those lines. Once you have found a way to be distinctive on page is what makes you an author/writer. Reflecting on this has made me understand a little better where I may have gone a little astray in my own writing.
 
Thanks @Marc Joan for the list (can't watch the vid at work).

My biggest issue is #5. I'm editing my space opera and it started at 93k words. Now, it's close to 70k and I'm only half way done with the latest edit. I've cut three chapters, reworked others, and cut so much over writing that I might as well have put the whole MS in a gigantic slap chop. The MS is nearing a good place, but the fact that I wrote over 20k words TOO MANY is just ridiculous.

Talk about NO gap...

Now I just have to hope that when I send the pared down MS to an agent they don't come back with "I wanted some meat with my taters." :p


Save/File the cuts away. You never know when they may come in use, even in a wildly different situation/story/book etc
 
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