Monday, April 11, 2011

The Secret to Writing a Best-Seller

I'm tired.

Today was the first day of school after spring break, and it's left me buried in melancholy, anticipating this August when both Nayna and Dojo will be in school and I will be home. Alone.

So, it's a good mood to address a question. That whole best seller thing. Or best-seller thing. Or bestseller thing. See, you can hit the NYT list but it still doesn't mean you're going to know what the standard way of compounding those words is. You can't have everything, I suppose.

I sometimes get emails from people asking me how they can make their book a best seller. Bestseller. Best-seller. Best: seller. Best? Seller!

I'm probably not supposed to give this secret out, but whatever. Like I said, I'm tired, Monday is kicking my butt, and I'm not interested in keeping secrets when I could help aspiring writers out. So here it is, the ultra top secret never before revealed key to bestsellerdom:

Write the best possible book you can.

The end.

Seriously folks, everything else? Out of your control. Maybe you write that best possible book and it gets published but for whatever reason nobody ever picks it up. Maybe you get a huge marketing blitz from your publisher but it never gets the word-of-mouth buzz it needs (it happens). Maybe you get zero marketing from your publisher but Big Name Authors find your book and love it and talk about it all over the place and suddenly your little book becomes a very big book. Maybe you do everything you can and your publisher does everything they can and then you all just sit back and hold your collective breath and see what happens.

Or maybe you write the very best possible book you can, do whatever you can/think you should to help get an agent/get an editor/promote it, and then write the next very best possible book you can. Most of the people who ask me stuff like this haven't even finished one book, much less gotten a publishing deal. Focus on the writing. The rest will sort itself out, and if you're already worried about being a best-seller best seller bestseller bestseller you are doing it wrong. That sounds harsh, and I don't mean it to be, but it's true.

In the end, the writing is all you can do. So don't worry so much about things you can't control and just write.

And then tell me what the standard way of writing bestseller/best seller/best-seller/BEST! SELLER! is.


Karen said...

*gasp* What? Write the best book I can? No. It can't be! I mean, there has to be a back door, a loop hole...something?! ;)

Suzy Turner said...

LOL...funny, but oh so right! Shame though, it would have been nice to have learned the so-called secrets!!

Ru said...

Oh golly. The sad thing is, not even people more involved on the marketing side know how to answer that question. I worked briefly as a marketing assistant at an independent publisher, and so much of what we did to try to promote a product seemed (trying to think of a more accurate word that futile ...) futile. Great books did not do so well. Less-great books did great. Great books did great. The same system that got one series on the best-seller list didn't work for another series.

So even for the people with more "control" over that sort of thing, it's kind of still the luck of the draw. It's probably just best not to think about it.

(Or work on your Spirit Board collage, because who know, that might be the trick.)

Kiersten White said...

Ru, I was going to say animal sacrifice, but PETA terrifies me so I won't even go there.

So true though. Often the whole thing is a crapshoot. Which again brings us to: write the best book you can. Then write another one.



Jason said...

It's not harsh if it's truth. :) Seriously, if as a writer your worry about this before writing the best possible book you can, you aren't focused enough on the book. Just an opinion, for what it's worth, from someone working on that first manuscript.

Whirlochre said...

It's all too easy to forget it's all about pushing the 'the's and the 'and's about the page into the right slots in the sentences, and the sentences about the paragraphs and the paragraphs about the chapters and the chapters about the book — preferably without any aspect of the story being about zany space baboons or cuttlefish.

lora96 said...

I was kind of hoping there was a handshake you could teach me. Or a rhyme. I can learn a rhyme.

Carol Holaday said...

LOL I love your Monday morning advice about writing a bestseller (however that may end up being spelled). And you are right write rite.

All you can do is write the very best you can and polish polish polish. After that, as my husband says, "It's a craps shoot."

Come on seven!

Cynthia Lee said...

Wise and true.

I say write a book because it makes you happy, because it concerns issues that you really care about, because you want to entertain yourself, or because you've always wanted to.

And don't worry about the secret to bestsellerdom. That way lies madness.

Reader Riah said...

Brilliant. And so true. As a marketing agent for a publisher, I can attest to this. I could talk about your book all day to every contact I have and splash it all over the internet, but if it's not a fantastically written book, the necessary word of mouth will never happen.
Amazing that the oldest form of advertising is still the best. :)

Kristin Rae said...

Great post, and it reminds me of something I JUST heard. I went to a Teen Book Con this weekend, and Rachel Hawkins (whom I adore!) said that it's amazing how the only thing authors have control of is their story while they're writing it. After that, pretty much everything from the cover to wether or not it gets turned into a movie is up to other people.

The authors are the genius behind the story in the first place, but it's so true that how good it sells might not even have anything to do with the story. It might all hinge on one particular person who reads it and spreads it like wildfire. (And it's not the same magical person for every book either--that would be one busy reader... haha)

Anita Saxena said...

Great advice. Sometimes people get ahead of themselves. Step by step and enjoy each step.

Tracey Neithercott said...

Such a good reminder to take your time with the one thing that matters: the story.

Also, for you my dear:

Kathryn Packer Roberts said...

I've been thinking a lot about this lately. Because I just read a book by author-that-shall-remain-nameless (not you, trust me), and I was really looking forward to reading this book. It was the first of a series, topped the best-seller list, and was written by someone I thought I could relate to. But when I opened the book I was shocked to see how many rules they broke! Just simple things. It was a horrifying experience. I kept wondering what fool in their right mind wanted to publish that drivel. (Sorry, harsh I know).

So, for me, I don't want to be that person. Having people slash my book apart because it sucks. I want to make sure my book is publish-worthy before I leap in with my query letter. Which is why I let go of my first book and started my second.

But there is sure way, I think, of topping THE list. All you have to do is have a quirky, fun personality, and a cute face to match *ahem*Kiersten*cough* and let your personality shine through to the page and vuala! You've made it! =)

Marsha Sigman said...

Surely you jest.

It cannot be that has something to with multiplying your age with the rotations of the planet around the sun divided by pi.

Or something like that.

Bryan Russell (Ink) said...

I thought you spelled it JK Rowling, but I could be wrong.

Nicole Zoltack said...

So true!

Ebony McKenna. said...

This is in a similar vein to your post about being in the line for the ride.

So much of this is out of our control. But what writers can control is the writing part of it.

Yeah, that came as a huge shock to me too.

I can't control anything else. So I keep writing the best books I know how at the moment, and keep working as hard as I can.

I have been very lucky to have had a wonderful, caring publisher and editors who get me - but again, that's because I could control what I said to them. Three pages of revisions? I controlled myself and sat back from it, mulled it over for a few days and then responded.

At every stage, where I have had control, I've worked as hard as I can.

Where things are out of my control? I eat chocolate and hope for the best.

Jordanne said...

So very true! and i write it: Bestseller. Best ot mush it together. mush? moosh? moush? moooosh!?

Lizette said...

Great advice, but I also would've liked that "back-door" thingy... I know a few people who have written books that never got published and I just see all that time wasted - am I wrong? Possibly. I have a ton of plots running around in my head but I'm so scared I waste my time writing and never selling a single copy.

Tessa Conte said...

What what? There's no super-secret formula to follow? No ten step programm to bestselling?

I feel cheated. Really I do.

*shakes head in disappointment*

: P

Kiersten White said...

Lizette--That's why you need to love the writing for itself. I've written eight books. Only three are guaranteed publication. Most of the others I won't even try with, but I don't regret any of them because a) I enjoyed writing them and b) I learned from all of them. If you want to tell the stories, tell them! Worry about publication later.

Becca Puglisi said...

Hi, Kiersten! This is my first time visiting your blog (how is that possible?) and what a great post this is! I find that the basics are basics for good reason...because they're so important. This is a great reminder as I slog my way through my WIP. And believe me, I'll be happy one day if it just becomes a SELLER.

Thanks for posting!

Becca @ The Bookshelf Muse

misticalnia said...
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