Wondering what the secret is regarding how to write a bestseller? According to some of the today’s bestselling authors, the secret sounds simple: write it. Now, the writing it part may be tricky, but famous authors from Stephen King to Neil Gaiman all agree that when writing a book, the most important aspect is to sit down and do it.
“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” Ernest Hemingway.
Hemingway’s take on writing is an accurate one: it requires a life force of its own. Write every day, even if you only end of keeping a single sentence from that day’s writing towards your bestseller. When you’re wondering how to write a bestseller, that’s the best advice famous authors will give you, simply sit down and write the book.
Write every day, even if you only end of keeping a single sentence from that day’s writing towards your bestseller.
When you’re wondering how to write a bestseller, that’s the best advice famous authors will give you, simply sit down and write the book.
Steps to Writing a Bestseller
Katie Oliver, the author of Prada and Prejudice, wrote a column for Writer’s Digest entitled “5 Easy Steps to Writing a Bestseller” listing these five steps for all aspiring famous authors-to-be:
- Write a good book.
- Provide a unique and eye-catching book cover.
- Generate good word of mouth.
- Promote, promote, promote.
- Sponsor a giveaway.
While the first piece of advice is actually about writing, the other four pieces of advice come afterward. They are good pieces of advice, but how does one get from the awesome idea phase to the completed novel phase? Part of creating a best seller most definitely involves marketing; but you can’t market a bestseller that you don’t have. So before you consider the best graphic designer for the
They are good pieces of advice, but how does one get from the awesome idea phase to the completed novel phase? Part of creating a best seller most definitely involves marketing; but you can’t market a bestseller that you don’t have. So before you consider the best graphic designer for the
Part of creating a best seller most definitely involves marketing; but you can’t market a bestseller that you don’t have. So before you consider the best graphic designer for the cover, and viral social media threads to generate amazing online promotion, you’ve got to focus on the sentences.
And then the paragraphs.
And then the chapters…you get the idea.
The nitty-gritty list dealing with the finer aspects of writing
1. Formulate an idea
“To gain your own voice, you have to forget about having it heard.” Allen Ginsberg.
This sounds easier than it actually is. Writer’s block is a real thing. A good idea should be comprehensive and more involved than simply an alien invasion.
2. Create a Road Map
“We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.” Ernest Hemingway.
You can’t get to your destination without knowing where you’re going. All that stuff that English teachers tried to drill into your head about writing as a process?
Brainstorm. Freewrite. Map. Organize.
Know your destination — perhaps not every single turn or rest stop, but you need to know the major roads that will get you there.
“Write. Rewrite. When not writing or rewriting, read. I know of no shortcuts.” Larry L. King.
First, second, third and more drafts are necessary.
Remember: writing is a process.
You may be proud at the completion of your first 300-page novel, but it will likely need rewrites and revisions to make it meet its true potential.
Rewrite with an eye for content, readability, and pesky grammar.
4. Use Literary Devices
“It aint’ whatcha write, it’s the way atcha write it.” Jack Kerouac.
The audience may not be able to identify anaphora or synecdoche or alliteration or foreshadowing, but they appreciate what these literary devices lend to a story whether it’s a science fiction thriller 200 years in the future or a memoir. Study the vast array of literary devices and incorporate appropriate ones into your bestseller; these are a writer’s tools and exist as a crucial foundation in how to write a bestseller.
Author and blogger for Writing Forward, Melissa Donovan, highly advises newbies to get comfy and familiar with literary devices in their work.
5. Find an Editor
“Style means the right word. The rest matters little.” Jules Renard.
Editors are good at what they do; nearly all major literary works go through a keen editorial process that focuses on enhancing the story and its purpose.
Invest in a good editor and you’ll reap the rewards.
6. Select the Best Publishing Option
“Long patience and application saturated with your heart’s blood — you will either write or you will not — and the only way to find out whether you will or not is to try.” Jim Tully.
Today’s technological landscape has cut out a great deal of the middleman, or literary agents. Self-publishing is more accessible than ever over a variety of platforms. However, finding a literary agent who will represent your work puts a knowledgeable and professional powerhouse in your corner who believes in your bestseller as much as you do.
Check out these resources in how to find a quality literary agent.
Resources for Writing a Bestseller
There’s a ton of helpful resources out there, but here are three books at really delve into the science of writing bestsellers:
Besides actually sitting down to write a bestseller, could there be a formula to writing one? Perhaps. Professor and author James W. Hall recently published his theory on the subject: Hit Lit: Cracking the Code of the Twentieth Century’s Biggest Bestsellers. In his book, he defines a bestseller not only as a book that initially sells well, but one that continues to have significant appeal long after it initially hits the market. He examines a wide array of works including Gone With the Wind, The Exorcist, and The Bridges of Madison County. Hall believes that modern best sellers share 12 important features.
Writers on Writing
For nearly a decade now, The New York Times has run a column entitled “Writers on Writing”. In this column, notable writers share tips and tricks related to their craft. This column has generated two highly valuable books on the subject: Writers on Writing: Collected Essays from The New York Times and Writers on Writing, Volume II: More Collected Essays from The New York Times. Modern writers share their obstacles, how they overcame them, and how they created the bestsellers that they did. Both works are worth a read.
It’s Never too Late…
Not all famous authors write their bestsellers in their 20s. In fact, many amazing novels have been written by much older authors – so-called late-bloomers. Perhaps it was their life experience, or the discipline they’d learned over the years, that assisted them in perfecting their craft. If it wasn’t too late for these literary late bloomers, then it won’t be too late for you either.
Check out these 10 authors who published bestsellers later in life:
1. Laura Ingalls Wilder
The beloved author of the “Little House” book series didn’t publish her first novel until late in her mid-sixties. She spent several decades simply living life before creating the characters that continue to capture a nation’s, and eventually the world’s attention with its enduring appeal regarding a family attempting to make it on the frontier. After the initial success of Little House in the Big Woods, Wilder went on to write over 10 widely acclaimed literary works. The popularity of this series culminated in its own television show starring
2. Harriet Doerr
Much like Laura Ingalls Wilder, Harriet Doerr married, had children, and then turned to writing. She returned to college late in life to study writing; it was an excellent fit, and her writing teachers encouraged her to pursue her passion. Her first novel, Stones for Ibarra, was published when Doerr was 73 years old. Mrs. Doerr is living proof that bestselling novels can be written at any age! Doerr demonstrated her writing talents not only for writing novels, but stories and essays as well; her talent eventually earned her a National Book Award.
3. James A. Michener
A colorful life prepared James A. Michener for a writing career later in life. Before becoming an author in his 40s, Michener worked carnival shows, and boasted of traveling to nearly all of the states in the United States. Eventually, he settled down and took a job as a textbook editor. Perhaps this job sparked the question as to whether or not he would enjoy writing himself; he tried and found not only could write captivating stories, but awarding winning ones. His novel Tales of the South Pacific earned the Pultizer Prize for Fiction, and eventually became a hit Broadway musical. While he may have published his first novel in his 40s, he went on write over 40 books — nearly one book every year!
4. Raymond Chandler
Like many authors in this list, Chandler began in a different career before publishing several bestsellers. Many writers will share that their failures were just as important as their successes on their road to publication. Chandler tried poetry and journalism, and experience little success with both before trying his hand at writing. At first, he found his niche in pulp crime stories. He began publishing gritty stories at the age of 45. His crime short stories led the way to novels, including his first hit The Big Sleep. The success of this novel led to his beloved series with detective Philip Marlowe. Chandler won the Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for his contributions to the genre.
5. Richard Adams
Some of the best story ideas come from stories parents make up for their children. Richard Adams, beloved author of Watership Down, published his highly acclaimed novel in his fifties. He spent the first half of his life in the British Civil Service. However, eventually, he sat down to write a story of two very different rabbit groups; these stories began as stories he made up for his children. After completing the manuscript, Adams experienced many rejection letters. However, eventually a publishing house took a chance—and that chance resulted in selling over 50 million copies and counting.
6. Helen DeWitt
DeWitt’s 2000 debut novel, The Last Samurai proves that good things come to those who wait…and get themselves organized. In an interview with the Los Angeles Review of Books, DeWitt recounted that she’d spend her life writing snippets of lots of stories, but never sat down to finish any of them. Eventually, she found the courage she needed to quit her day job and dive into writing full time. She took a month and focused exclusively on writing; the result was worth it: The Last Samurai became an international best seller. Check out the trials and tribulations of publishing her work here.
7. Frank McCourt
Sometimes, famous authors don’t explore writing as their first career. In Frank McCourt’s case, he was a teacher after leaving the military. While he was born in Brooklyn, NY, he spent most of his childhood in Ireland. He moved back to the United States at 19 years of age. He taught throughout different school systems in New York before publishing his widely acclaimed memoir, Angela’s Ashes, in his sixties. This bestseller not only received critical acclaim, but popular acclaim as well, eventually turning into a Hollywood movie released in 1999 staring Emily Watson and Robert Carlyle. Angela’s Ashes went on to win the Pulitzer Prize—not bad for an author’s first published memoir. McCourt went on to publish several other well-received literary works including ‘Tis and Teacher Man before his death in 2009.
8. Donald Ray Pollack
Pollack led an atypical literary life before returning to school to earn his MFA at Ohio University in his 50s. At 17, he dropped out of high school and worked at a local meatpacking plant. After a bit, he took a job at the Mead Paper Mill for over 30 years. When he graduated, he published a widely regarded collection of short stories, which was followed by a novel which earned him a Guggenheim fellowship. To date, Pollack’s literary works have earned a combined total of nine awards. His novel The Devil of All Time, released in 2011, was voted the Best Book of 2012 in France.
9. George Eliot
Sometimes, you need to buck the system in order to be heard. Mary Anne Evans did just that, but taking a male nom de plume to get her works published. Although she did have writing experience as an assistant editor for a journal, she felt that women were considered lesser beings in the literary world. So she took it upon herself to become a woman novelist. She published her first novel at 40, titled Adam Bede. Her seminal literary work, Middlemarch, took the literary world by storm 15 years later when she was 55. It continues to be taught at colleges and universities and loved by readers around the world.
10. K. Rowling
Who could now imagine a world without Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, and the Wesley clan? Before rising to nearly overnight fame, Rowling worked as a researcher and bilingual secretary for Amnesty International. Her life spiraled downward before she completed the first book in the Harry Potter series: her mother passed, she became a mother, and she divorced. She was a single mother, writing in what little time she had — sometimes on napkins in coffee shops. She rose like a phoenix to global renown. Rowling was 32 when her first novel was published. To date, she has won over 15 literary awards, and continues to write books for both children and adults.
No matter if you’re in your 20s or your 70s, if you want to write a bestseller ask yourself the following questions:
- Do I have a good idea?
- Can I commit to writing it in its entirety?
- Do I have a community to offer constructive feedback?
- Am I ready to promote it?
If the answer to all of these questions is yes, then what are you waiting for?
Get some good coffee, and start typing. Type until it’s finished.
And then type some more…