The Page a Day Writers Group

How Do I Write a Bestseller?

Posted on: November 1, 2011

Guest blog by Cara Lockwood

Every writer I know hopes their book lands on a bestseller list. Not only do you reap financial rewards for all your hard work, but you may also find you’ve gained new clout and respect among publishers. That “bestselling” title is a valuable consumer stamp of approval.

But how do you get there?

It’s a question I get quite a lot.

I was fortunate enough to land on the USA Today Bestseller list and was a top-three seller at Target retail stores. I know from experience that there’s no one way to get to a bestseller list. It’s a combination of hard work, perseverance and a little bit of luck.

But, after publishing nine novels, I do know there are many things you can do to help improve your chances of writing a bestseller.

Write what you want to read.

It’s always important to keep your audience in mind when you write. All writers hope to find a large audience for their work, but how do you write something that appeals to a great number of people?

I suggest starting with the story that you and your friends or relatives would buy and read. What story would you pick up off the shelf or download to your Kindle? Chances are if you would buy your book, someone else would, too.

Know the current publishing trends, but don’t be a slave to them.

The publishing world runs on trends. Editors are always looking for the next big thing. It’s a difficult game to try to predict what might be the next bestseller, especially since publishers buy novels well in advance of their release. Sometimes by the time you know a trend is happening (vampires or young adult post-apocalyptic fiction, for instance), the trend might already be over.

That said, it’s always a good idea to be aware of what’s selling. Keep an eye on the major bestseller lists, like those compiled by The New York Times, USA Today, and Amazon. Read a few bestsellers. Try to analyze why you think it resonated with so many people. What do you think made this book stand out?

Trend spotting is always difficult, but understanding and researching bestselling authors just means you’ve done your homework.

Finish what you start.

Before I wrote my first novel, I Do (But I Don’t), I’d started and stopped a half dozen manuscripts. I would start a novel, then I’d put it down for a while, and later when I picked it up again, I was usually so discouraged by what I’d written that I’d just give up on that project . When I got the idea for I Do (But I Don’t), a romantic comedy about a divorced wedding planner, I enlisted the help of one of my avid reader friends.

I asked her to be my “writing cheerleader” and help me stay on course. She was a great writing partner. She bugged me for new chapters and didn’t stop until she got them. It was just the inspiration I needed to keep going.

Remember, no one ever made a bestseller list with a half-finished manuscript. First, you’ve got to finish your manuscript.

Get feedback from an experienced editor.

Writing is a solitary pursuit and sometimes you can easily lose perspective on your own work. Enlisting am experienced editor can not only help you break through writer’s block, but it can also take your novel to the next level. I’ve been really blessed in having great editors in my career, and I really think they have made the difference for me with several novels I had thought couldn’t be saved.

It’s a big reason why I do freelance editing work. I’m hoping to help others as my editors have helped me.

Don’t give up and don’t be discouraged if other people tell you it won’t happen.

The only way to ensure you never hit a bestseller list is to give up on your book. Did you know The Help was rejected dozens of times by all the major publishers? But, Kathryn Stockett didn’t give up. This was the book she wanted to write, even though everyone in the publishing world was telling her that nobody wanted to read it. She really thought that a story that was so powerful for her would also resonate with other people. And she was right. She kept refining her work and making it better and eventually it became the bestselling novel that’s now a major motion picture.

I, too, have had my share of rejections. Before I found my agent, I sent out close to a hundred query letters. Most of the time, I never heard a single word back from any of them. I called it the silent rejection – and those were often far worse than the form letters I’d get every so often. But, I believed in my novel and I didn’t give up.

You have to be your own best advocate. If you give up on yourself, there’s nobody else who will step in to save the day.

Remember, there’s no magic formula.

Take a look at the bestseller lists and you’ll see traditional agent-represented books published by major publishing houses. Look closer and you’ll also find books that may have started out being self-published or for-digital-release-only. You’ll find fiction and nonfiction and books from all kinds of genres.

Write the story that speaks to you, that you feel passionate about, and with a little bit of luck, success will follow.

Questions? Comments? Editing questions? Email Cara at cara@caralockwood.com.

—-

Cara Lockwood is the USA Today bestselling author of nine novels, including I Do (But I Don’t), which was made into a Lifetime Original Movie starring Denise Richards and Dean Cain. Her books have been translated into several languages and are sold all around the world. She’s written in many genres and also created the Bard Academy series for young adults. Recently, she’s begun offering freelance editing through http://www.edit-my-novel.com. You can also read more about her work at http://www.caralockwood.com or http://www.bardacademy.com.

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2 Responses to "How Do I Write a Bestseller?"

Cara, thank you for agreeing to be a guest blogger!

Loved your post! Though I agreed with all of your points, the one that really spoke to me was the part about having a writing cheerleader – for me it would be my critique partners. I can’t imagine writing a novel (or writing anything) and not having those special someones who are willing to read (and critique) anything I write!

I’m so happy to do it! I love the whole concept of the Page A Day blog!

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The Page a Day Writers Group is a diverse collection of wonderful writers based in San Diego, CA. We've been meeting monthly since 2004. Our primary function is in-depth writing critique, marketing and brainstorming, but there's usually some wine, chocolate and ribaldry involved too. We write fantasy, humor, literary fiction, nonfiction, romance, thrillers and YA. Join us on our journeys to publication and the wonderland beyond!

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