James Hall’s book Hit Lit: Cracking the Code of the 20th Century’s Biggest Bestsellers attempts to do what publishers and authors have failed to do since Gutenberg: identify what determines whether or not a book will become a bestseller. While Hit Lit focuses on novels, much of what he attempts to do should go into every author’s thinking as they determine what to write, how to write it and how to get readers to buy it.
Five tips for writing a bestseller:
1) Identify what readers want and need. Bestsellers tend to include similar themes and elements that appeal to common wants and needs of the readers. What are readers fascinated about right now? Readers want to learn something along the way and even gain an understanding of current issues. Readers cheer for characters that take risks and act decisively as they work through conflicts and dilemmas.
2) Write well. As editor Michael Korda said, “At least half the books on any given week’s bestseller list are there to the immense surprise and puzzlement of their publishers.” If a book triggers an emotional response in readers, they will mention the book to others, which helps boost the book’s sales. Many bestsellers deal with common wants and needs in new ways. While there is “nothing new under the sun” there are new ways of saying things.
3) Get readers excited. While publishers and authors that have connections with millions of readers have a distinct advantage, they do not have absolute power to drive the sales of an inferior book. The most important thing is getting the book in the hands of influential individuals and communities that have a natural affinity for the book. If they get excited about it they will tell others about the book.
4) Get lucky. It is easy to find books that are similar to any bestseller, so what caused one to ignite while the others fizzled? A book that provides a new approach to addressing a common need and is in the spotlight just when the urgency of that specific need increases can become a bestseller.
5) Repeat. The good news for successful authors is that readers that like a book typically want more from that author.
Since much of what determines whether a book sells well or not can’t be controlled, or even influenced by an author or publisher, it makes sense to focus on the few things that can be impacted.
What are you doing to improve the likelihood of your book becoming a bestseller?