What Makes A Bestseller?

By on January 6, 2016
What Makes A Bestseller? - Writer's Life.org

Is there really key to writing a bestselling book? Well the answer is both yes and no. While, of course there are no guarantees, there has been a lot of research done around this idea, and in fact there is plenty of evidence out there that suggests that by employing certain formulas, structuring your story in a particular way, and using language cleverly, you can increase your chances of writing a bestselling novel by a huge amount.

A group of computer scientists studying at Stony Brook University, NYC, came up with a theory known as stylometry which can determine whether a book will become successful. When used it can predict with 84% accuracy whether a book will sell well. Using stylometry it was found that work with a heavy use of verbs and adverbs were less successful than those using large numbers of nouns and adjectives. Other ratings included “interestingness” and writing style.

Allowing your characters freedom to move, develop, and connect with the reader is imperative. Not all characters will appeal to everyone of course so understanding your target audience and writing characters that you know they will react to is also so important.

Keep dialogue short and succinct and use it to drive the story forward. Use “he said” rather than a descriptive word. Use an active voice, avoid an omniscient narrator, and keep dialogue natural. These are all techniques which have proven more popular than their alternatives, and will certainly make your book more readable and attractive to a wider range of people.

Your language should engage the reader, and while it is important to show and not tell, you also need to include descriptive language to build up a picture in a readers head. Let them look around a place and see what the character sees, when they meet a new person you should describe their appearance. Try to use imaginative and unusual ways to describe people and things. For example a man with ‘crumpled skin and gooseberry eyes’ is better than ‘a man with wrinkles and green eyes.’ You need to stimulate your readers senses so use all of them, not only what a character sees but the sounds, smells, tastes, and touches that accompany this.

A good plot should always involve the protagonist on a journey, overcoming obstacles, and learning about themselves as they go. The world you create needs to be interesting but believable, the characters you introduce to us should make us react, whether we are excited, enamoured, or repulsed.

All great books include some sort of crisis, something that somehow deeply affects the protagonist and motivates them to act. The story should escalate from this point, building in tension until the dramatic climax, where the protagonist makes a choice, or a discovery that will change their life forever.

Of course, no matter how well you write, your book needs to be picked up and taken on by a publisher or agent in order to stand the best chance of success. The bigger the publishing house, the bigger their marketing budget, and marketing your book in the correct way is also hugely important and will have a significant impact on whether your book becomes a bestseller or not. Getting it to the top of ‘must read’ lists and having it displayed at the front of the window in bookshops are all going to push your novel into the public eye, and increase its sales potential.

Of course you can’t deny that there is a element of luck when it comes to writing a bestselling novel, and you must be careful that you don’t get so weighed down in strategies and formulas that you then make the writing process tedious and difficult. One of the best tips is to write something you would want to read yourself. If you do that not only will you enjoy the process of writing, but you will also come across as passionate and excited about your work when trying to sell yourself to publishers and agents, and once completed you can be proud of what you have written, regardless of whether it goes on to be a bestselling novel or not.

Bethany Cadman -contributor

Bethany Cadman -contributor

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