1. Dryriver
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    Dryriver Senior Member

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    How does a book become a "BESTSELLER" ?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Dryriver, Sep 20, 2011.

    Hello all. I'm a new member at this site, and a first-time novelist.

    I'm currently 40% through (about 55,000 words) writing my first SciFi novel, and this question keeps rolling around in my head:

    Q - How does a book become a Bestseller?

    1) Is it the agent/publisher you wind up with that makes (or does not make) this happen? (by advertising, promoting, selling, sending to important reviewers and other means?)

    2) Is it purely the quality and appeal of your writing and story and characters and concept? (some people read it, like it, recommend it to others... slowly buzz and word-of-mouth build and you start selling hundreds, then thousands of copies a week, et cetera...)

    3) Are there other factors I am not considering? (like having the right Concept at just the right time ((Zeitgeist)), or taking a totally fresh approach to an old genre?)

    I would love to hear people's opinions on what separates a "BESTSELLER" from a so-so-seller or indeed a poor-seller that the average reader/book shopper is barely aware is available to buy/exists.

    Thanks,

    D.
     
  2. TheSpiderJoe
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    TheSpiderJoe Senior Member

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    I honestly think the "Bestseller" title applies to books that sell extraordinarily well and above expectations. Of course, with the number of titles with that claim pasted on the front cover it would be hard to verify the validity of all of those statements. Perhaps its just a marketing tool after all.

    I think the distinction between "Bestseller" and "so-so-seller" is clear. One book sells to a decent standard while the other doesn't.
     
  3. tristan.n
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    tristan.n Active Member

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    I bet it's a combination of those things. If I ever get around to finishing something I'd like to publish, I'm not going to pass it off to a publishing agent and just sit back and wait. I'm also working on a science fiction novel, so once (or if, rather) I finish it, then I'll do some research, find out what audience would read my material, and dive right in. Whether it's joining sci-fi book clubs, going to conventions, hanging up flyers, whatever; I think every little bit would help to get the word out. (And I really wouldn't care how desperate I would look while doing it! lol) :)
     
  4. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Quality writing, public recognition (word of mouth and advertising), and a great deal of luck.
     
  5. Reggie
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    Reggie I Like 'Em hot "N Spicy Contributor

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    Unique ideas, compelling and memorable characters can get you through the door and your book can be a best seller.
     
  6. AmyHolt
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    AmyHolt Contributing Member

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    Cog is right but I would add that when you start with a story idea that burns in your mind, begging to get out on paper, you start out ahead of the game. When you also know you have a good story and are willing to let people tear it to pieces to make it even better that helps too.
     
  7. Mikeyface
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    Mikeyface Member

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    The same way that anything else sells, with early adopters buying something by way of marketing acknowledging something exists. This coupled with any pre-release buzz about the media convincing more people check it out first. From there, word of mouth moves everything. Lots of self-publishers start and hope that word of mouth will carry it, and it very well may, but the larger you can start that group, the more accelerated that process will be.

    A best-seller is something a large group of people would have interest in, and it's all a matter of them knowing they should have an interest in it. Marketing can be anything, even Facebook marketing is open to everyone if you research the best ways to use their service and grow a user base.

    So it all comes back to what everyone says: write something great. No amount of marketing can push a mediocre product beyond an initial launch because word of mouth begins to work against you.

    Good luck!
     
  8. psychotick
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    psychotick Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hi,

    If you and forty thousand of your closest friends buy my book I'll let you know!

    Cheers.
     
  9. Dryriver
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    Dryriver Senior Member

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    That's an obvious pre-requisite for a Bestseller of course... great writing and plotting and creativity and perhaps a few new ideas.

    I'm wondering though... is it possible that you write something truly great - or lets say pretty-great, more humbly - but such few people hear about it due to lack of effective marketing/promotion that the total amount it sells/is printed at stays at a few hundred to a few thousand, and the novel is eventually totally forgotten?

    I have read here and there that some novels that are considered "classics" today were initially rejected over and over again by publishers, and only became appreciated and bought en masse years and years after they were first published.

    I suppose luck plays a role in all of this too, as Cogito said.

    And then there is a question of writing integrity too, of course... Do you change/distort your writing to make your book more "bestsellery" (I know that that isn't a real word :cool:), possibly by dumbing things down a little for the common reader?

    Or do you write something complex, challenging, multi-layered, organic, and possibly idiosyncratic too, and keep your fingers crossed that the common reader - or the paperback reading masses - understand and enjoy or value your novel "as-is"?

    Lots and lots of questions with no easy answers I suppose...
     
  10. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    what cog said... and:

    by a million people buying it...

    it is, in most cases, to some degree...

    not 'purely'... ditto #1-2 replies...

    to some extent, all of those... plus, as cog noted, pure, unadulterated 'LUCK'...

    all of the above... and not necessarily that it's any better written, or a better story, since garbags too often makes it to the bestseller lists, thanks to clueless hyping by oprah, for instance [james redfield and james frey being only the two most egregious examples!]...
     
  11. Dante Dases
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    Dante Dases Contributing Member Contributor

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    But is quality writing actually needed? How many of the bestsellers over the past decade have been well-written? This isn't some literary snob comment, this is just a 'have they been written to a standard we would want a young writer to aspire to'. Take The Da Vinci Code as an example - it had a multi-million pound advertising budget, a bit of controversy surrounding it (court cases and perceived attacks on the Roman Catholic church), and word of mouth, but would anyone describe it as well-written?
     
  12. tristan.n
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    tristan.n Active Member

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    People are smart; it might make them mad if you "dumb things down" for them too much! lol If you read through it and it makes sense to you with all biases cast aside, chances are it makes sense to them, too. Also, I don't think you should write to sell. If you stick to your guns and write what YOU want to write, not what you think the world wants to hear, then I think everyone will be more inclined to read it. That's just my opinion though.
     
  13. SeverinR
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    SeverinR Contributing Member

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    I think he means adjusting the writing from college level to a good High school level (not high school reduced to grade school). But this should be only in extreme cases,
    I think readers like to have a -little- challenge in reading. They shouldn't have to look up a technical/ strange word word every page or even every chapter.

    I think a best seller has to keep a persons interest, not necessarily well written.
    I also think a great book can be lost in the book store if not promoted/advertised properly.

    The store is full of books, how does one person find your book without looking at every book in the section? advertising, promoting, then when people buy it, word of mouth.
     
  14. JackElliott
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    JackElliott Senior Member

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    The power of your ideas, the power of your prose, and sometimes just timing and luck. Mostly it has to do with creating an emotional experience that the reader will savor long after the book is read. The same is true, usually, of films.
     
  15. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    You have to have decent writing. It doesn't have to be high-quality writing, though that can't hurt.

    Primarily, I believe you have to tell a story that will engage millions of readers. This comes by relating to the characters and by becoming invested in them. If you can write a story that "speaks" to millions of people through the characters you've created, you've got a good shot. If your writing is decent you can become highly successful even though there may be may much better writers out there.

    On the other hand, if you're the most technically-proficient writer in the world, but can't create an engaging story with characters that readers will care about, invest in, and relate to, then I don't think the book will reach that level of popularity. People ultimately care more about the characters and the story, and your ability to tell a story that draw them in, than about the quality of the writing.
     
  16. Cordoma
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    Cordoma Member

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    Image, my friend. Pure image.
     
  17. Dryriver
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    Dryriver Senior Member

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    A true observation. The big question, however is, do you consciously try to "design" or "engineer" a appeals-to-millions-story with that primary goal - millions becoming engaged with the book in some way or the other - in mind? Or do you let your story and characters lead you down various organic and idiosyncratic paths and plot twists and actions and cross your fingers that the sum-total of 25 Chapters of this will be engaging enough for your readers to tell other readers "Hey, I read this new book, and it was so good that I think you should take a shot at reading it too!".

    Someone mentioned the "Davinci Code" a few comments up. I think that Dan Brown's novels are the "designed & engineered to bestsell " type. The characters are pretty 2D, the plot moves along at a brisk pace, and winds and twists in archetypal thriller/pageturner fashion. Also, nobody in their right mind would say that "Davinci Code" or "Angels and Demons" et cetera significantly changed their life/outlook/intellectual position.

    I would like to believe that complex, layered, challenging, adult-oriented material has a shot at bestsellerdom (or at least a decent amount of sales).

    But I agree that many Bestsellers out there - with a few exceptions - are fairly formulaic, simple, made-to-please or by-the-numbers works of writing, rather than towering and lasting literary achievements that people will still read 50 years from now, like Crime and Punishment, 1984, Lord of the Flies, To Kill a Mockingbird and other literary classics.
     
  18. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    It is harder than it looks and very easy to disparage. You can bet your life I would have written a bestseller by now if it was as easy as just finding the formula. I've been skint too long.
     
  19. Manav
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    Manav Contributing Member

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    I agree with this. Don't under estimate the intelligence of the readers.

    As others said, for a book to be a best seller depends on many factors, perhaps the most important factor is to not think about how to make your novel a best seller while you are writing it.... unless of course you have a controversial idea like Dan Brown's. Da Vinci Code became a best seller because of the controvery and the publicity it received.
     
  20. Dryriver
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    Dryriver Senior Member

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    I already do this. The book I'm writing doesn't follow any common or set-in-stone formula or template. Its almost like a sequence of semi-random events. You can't guess easily what is coming on the next page, or two or three pages down the road. I am wondering though, whether I should simplify the writing a teeny weeny bit at the editing stage, to make the book more "compatible" with less sophisticated readers who can't follow convoluted/complicated prose.

    Maybe some of the posts above are right. Dumbing down for broad appeal may take the bite/light out of the story and make it less appealing to smart readers.
     
  21. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    ^^ It might be better to just think of it as trying to appeal to a wider range of readers. There's nothing wrong with that unless it goes totally against your natural style. Readers are not necessarily dumber than you, they have just experienced a different type of education. And it takes a very smart writer to write simply. Using big words that not everyone understands proves nothing about intellect.
     
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  22. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    ^^^This! I was just about to say the same. intelligence is not about using big words. If done badly it will just make you sound like an executive that speaks in a contrived manner instead of saying the exact same thing in a way that everyone can understand. I think intelligence is more in the themes you choose and the way you treat the subject, the problems you confront.
     
  23. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    nobody sits down to write a bestseller... that only happens after the fact... so just write the best book you're capable of writing and just make sure it's professional quality and marketable...
     
  24. Dryriver
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    Dryriver Senior Member

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    Writing a quality novel is a laborious process. The endless editing and fact-checking in particular wears you down a fair bit. That is why the "Bestseller" thing preoccupies me. If you are gonna spend hundreds to thousands of hours writing a novel, with a lot of micro-editing being done on each word and sentence and paragraph, you may as well write something that an audience broader than a handful of people browsing the back-section of a bookstore for a quirky never-heard-it-mentioned-before novel finds some interest/appeal in.

    There is also a question in my mind how "smooth" or "slick" the prose should be. A lot of paperback bestsellers (the somewhat formulaic, genre thriller/noir/fantasy type) features writing that can be read very, very quickly. I.e. you finish reading a 350 page book in 6 - 8 hours, or a half-day or two at most. My prose and concepts and structure are a bit laboured/complex in comparison. You have to invest more attention and energy into what I am writing than you would with more plain-vanilla page-turner prose a la Dan Brown.

    It is true of course that the "bestselling" or "poorselling" happens after the printed, published novel is out the door and available to purchase/order/browse/read. And I agree that its difficult to impossible to predict with any accuracy how well a particular work will sell, before the first couple of hundred people have read it and it starts to get reviewed by various places... There are so many factors at work, ranging from the type of novels that are "in vogue" at the time of publication, to where your novel winds up displayed in the bookstore (top shelf? bottom shelf? front section? back section? genre shelf? new releases shelf?).

    In any case, I started this thread to see what people on this forum think can make a novel "pop out" or "stand out" for the average reader when its published in parallel with dozens or hundreds of other contemporary works that may, in their own way, be pretty good, or very good, or even "diabolically good".
     
  25. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    This is why you do need to have quite a lot of love for the writing in itself to be able to produce something of quality. There are never any garantees for that what you write will be a bestseller or even published in the first place if you're an unpublished writer. Concentrate on writing a good story, the rest is something you cannot influence, because its fate is in the hands of other people.
     

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