Have you ever dreamed of writing a bestseller? Maybe you have a great story to tell, or you're an expert in your field and you want to share your knowledge with the world.
But where do you start?
And more importantly, how do you make sure your book actually sells?
The truth is, writing a bestseller book is hard work. It takes dedication, perseverance, and a lot of skill.
But it's also incredibly rewarding. If you can write a book that people love, it can change your life.
This article will teach you everything you need to know about writing a bestselling book. We'll cover everything from choosing the right topic to marketing your book once it's finished.
- The anatomy of a bestseller
- How to develop the habits you need to create a bestseller
- How to find your target audience
- Key skills you will need to write a bestseller book
- How to use marketing to turn your book into a bestseller
Table of contents
- What Makes a Bestseller?
- Step 1: Form a Writing Habit
- Step 2: Understand Your Market
- Step 3: Mash Some Ideas Together
- Step 4: Understand the Importance of Frameworks
- Step 5: Do NOT Skip Editing
- Step 6: Do NOT Skip Marketing
- Understand that Writing Bestsellers is a Long Game
Let’s dive in.
What Makes a Bestseller?
There is a lot of misconceptions about what makes a bestseller. Most people think it is random luck. While there may be a small amount of luck involved, for the most part, it’s not.
Bestsellers have identifiable parts to them.
And bestselling authors tend to have identifiable attributes and habits that they embody.
You’ve probably heard of some outlining techniques, for example, like the Hero’s Journey, which often shows up in bestsellers.
But here are a few other attributes that nearly all bestseller books have in common. This is per the books by James Scott Bell, an expert in the field:
- They all involve a character who fights against death, whether that be physical death, social death, or psychological death.
- The characters in the story must all exhibit some kind of strength of will
- The reader must bond with the character, i.e. they need to have some kind of relatable, redeemable, or admirable qualities
Additionally, the late Dave Wolverton (who also went by the pen name Dave Farland), identified a few other attributes of a bestseller:
- They all take the reader to another time or another place
- They all evoke a sense of wonder
These are just a few to get started.
But know that writing a bestseller isn’t just about writing your great idea and hoping it works. There’s a science to it, and the more you can learn about the anatomy of bestsellers, find examples, and work to emulate those frameworks, the better your chances.
There are also common attributes in the authors of bestsellers, which leads me to my first step in the journey to write a bestseller…
Step 1: Form a Writing Habit
If you want to write a bestseller, you have to behave like a bestseller.
That means sectioning off time to write, and make it regular. That time is now sacred.
You look at any successful authors, especially the most celebrated authors in their genres, from James Patterson to Stephen King to Brandon Sanderson, they all have one thing in common: they write a lot.
You see, writing is not something that you can just do.
It takes practice.
A lot of practice.
And these authors have perfected their skills by writing book after book after book.
So if you want to be a bestseller, you have to do this too.
The good news is, while you can’t always control whether a book will be a bestseller or not, you can control the habits you have. You can gradually shape your life to look more like that of [INSERT YOUR FAVORITE BESTSELLING AUTHOR HERE].
It just takes a little time.
We’ve got full articles on forming writing habits, and finding time to write that you should definitely check out if you’re unsure of where to start.
Additionally, we’ve also got a lot of information about setting goals for authors. Because without goals, your ship is rudderless, which means you won’t get where you want to go.
I like to set a combination of big-picture goals, as well as short-term goals. That allows me to focus on short-term achievements that are important, but also make sure that all of my small goals are aligned with my bigger goals.
Step 2: Understand Your Market
One common piece of advice that beginner authors will hear is that they need to “write to the market”.
While there's some truth in this, it doesn't mean you must necessarily follow popular trends at the expense of your sanity.
Rather, understanding the market in this context means having a keen awareness of your potential audience and knowing what they want and need from a book like yours.
Without this understanding, you're essentially shouting into the void, pouring your effort into a book that no one is looking to read.
But where do you start?
Fiction or Nonfiction
By now you probably have a good idea of what you specifically want to write, but even if that’s the case, there are huge differences in which you approach a fiction audience when compared to a nonfiction audience.
- Fiction: If you're writing a fiction book, it's crucial to be aware of the genre conventions and tropes. Each genre, whether it's romance, thriller, fantasy, or mystery, has its own set of rules and established patterns that readers expect to see. Failing to meet these expectations can result in disappointed readers and poor reviews. On the other hand, successfully playing with these conventions can result in a compelling and unique book that still satisfies genre fans.
- Nonfiction: For nonfiction books, it's essential to understand the problem you're solving for your readers. Your audience is looking for a specific answer, insight, or method, and your book should be able to provide that. This means conducting research on your target audience to understand their needs, aspirations, challenges, and pain points.
It’s crucial to understand this: writing to market isn't about chasing trends or copying others. It's about knowing your readers, respecting their expectations, and delivering a book that meets their needs.
There are a lot of different genres out there, and one of the best ways to learn what your audience wants is to make sure you have the right genre.
Here are a few of the genres we have talked about here on Kindlepreneur:
- How to Write a Mystery: This article offers a detailed guide on crafting a compelling mystery story, emphasizing the importance of creating suspicious characters, deciding on the victim and their cause of death, incorporating external conflicts, and strategically placing clues throughout the story. We also highlight the necessity of outlining the story, avoiding common pitfalls in mystery writing, and ensuring that the mystery remains unsolved until the end to maintain reader interest.
- How to Write a Children’s Book: This is a comprehensive guide on writing and publishing a children's book. The guide offers insights into understanding the target audience, structuring the book, choosing the right title and writing style, creating engaging characters and storylines, and also includes advice on illustrating, proofreading, and editing the book, and the possibilities of self-publishing or landing a traditional publishing deal.
- How to Write a Nonfiction Book: This is a comprehensive guide for aspiring nonfiction authors, covering the entire process from idea generation to publication. We emphasize the importance of understanding your audience, validating your book idea, conducting thorough research, using storytelling techniques, keeping the language simple, self-editing, fact-checking, and seeking feedback from editors and beta readers.
Step 3: Mash Some Ideas Together
Some people will tell you that you need a really great idea in order to have a bestseller.
That’s why a lot of authors will safeguard their ideas very closely, thinking that they are the key to success.
But many authors have proven that ideas are cheap, that it’s really about the execution of those ideas that makes a bestseller.
However, there is one trend that is common among bestsellers: they often feature a unique mashup of ideas.
In fact, sometimes some of the best ideas come from an author taking two seemingly unrelated concepts, mashing them together, and creating something unique.
This is what George Lucas did with established fantasy tropes and science fiction.
It’s what Jim Butcher did in his Codex Alera series with the mashup of Pokemon and the Lost Roman Legion (which was written on a dare to prove that ideas can come from anywhere).
It’s even what E. L. James did with Fifty Shades of Gray, combining elements of Twilight with…well, you get the picture.
In short, if you’re ever stuck for ideas, just take what you have, and mash it together with something unexpected.
I think you’ll find the results are quite engaging.
Step 4: Understand the Importance of Frameworks
Bestsellers have much more structure than, say, literary fiction. They’re more formulaic, and this is by design.
Because readers crave familiarity.
So if you want to write a bestseller, you have to give them what they want by following proven frameworks. Here are a few examples:
- Three act structure. Setup. Confrontation. Resolution. The blueprint for blockbuster storytelling.
- Hero's journey. Discover legendary storytelling techniques from Campbell's legendary mythic structure. A call to adventure. Mentors and allies. Trials and ordeals. The ultimate story.
- Genre tropes. Each genre has its own conventions. Romance readers want meet cutes, breakups, and romantic declarations. Thriller fans crave cliffhangers, daring escapes, betrayals. Fantasy calls for magical mysteries and epic quests.
Does this stifle creativity? Absolutely not. In fact, mastery of the framework frees you to innovate.
I once had a marketing professor who taught me that “restraint breeds creativity,” and that holds true here.
Having these restraints actually make it more interesting. It allows you to mashup those ideas in ways that fit within the framework, creating new and engaging ways to interact with readers while still speaking to them in the “language” that they understand.
But there’s no denying that you will need to learn the frameworks that are expected for your genre if you want to write a bestseller.
Step 5: Do NOT Skip Editing
When authors are just starting out, there’s a tendency to brush past the editing stage, and many authors will just edit the books themselves, without getting an outside professional to help.
This is often understandable, as a good editor will cost a lot of money.
Unfortunately, it’s one of the worst things you can do if you want to write a bestselling novel.
Side note: It’s important to choose a good editor, otherwise all that money will go to waste. You want someone who really understands storytelling and can help you turn your book into a storytelling masterpiece. Thankfully, we’ve got a standardized editorial test that authors can use to judge the effectiveness of a book editor, which you can get for free!
There are, generally speaking, three types of editor, plus we’ll also touch on beta readers, who are (collectively) just as important:
1. Developmental Editor
A Developmental Editor is like a trusted coach who helps you shape your narrative. They delve into the big picture of your story: plot structure, pacing, character arcs, theme consistency, and more. These are some of the most important if you want to write a bestseller, because they understand at the core what readers want.
2. Line Editor
Line Editors, on the other hand, dive deep into the nitty-gritty. They focus on improving sentences and paragraphs for maximum readability. Their lens is on style, tone, word choice, and sentence flow.
Last but not least, a Copyeditor is your final line of defense against typos, grammar errors, punctuation mistakes, and inconsistencies in your writing. They scrutinize every line for technical flaws and ensure your manuscript adheres to industry standards. Most authors will agree that copyeditors should never be skipped, as all those typos in your manuscript will easily lead to bad reviews and fewer sales.
4. Beta Readers
Beta Readers are a group of individuals who are fans of your genre, who can help tell you if the story is working for them or not. They won’t have as much industry knowledge as an editor, but they know what they like and what they don’t. When you get a lot of consistent comments about a certain scene or chapter from your beta readers, that might be a good indicator that there is something worth changing. You want your beta readers to identify where they were bored or lost, as these are key areas for you to pay attention to.
Step 6: Do NOT Skip Marketing
“If you build it, they will come.” This might work for magical baseball fields, but it is completely false in the publishing world.
Writing a masterpiece is just part of the equation. The other crucial component is Marketing.
Yes, there are occasional outliers, but the chances of this happening to you are less than being struck by lightning. 99.9999% of the time, you will need marketing.
You can write the best book ever, and no one will read it without good marketing.
But What About Traditionally Published Authors?
There used to be days when traditional publishing houses would take care of all the marketing for you. Once you had a book deal, you could just sit back and let the publisher take care of things, devoting all your time to writing.
Unfortunately, that’s not the case anymore.
Most traditional publishers are, to be frank, looking for people who already have large followings.
And even if you don’t, and you still manage to get a publishing deal, you will likely be expected to do some of the marketing on your own, if you want your book to sell.
In fact, most of the bestselling traditionally-published authors are doing some sort of marketing.
Gone are the days when you could just focus on writing the book. It’s the sad truth.
The good news is that, by having a focus on marketing, you learn a lot more about your audience, which you need to be able to write your bestselling books anyway.
Plus, marketing gives you experience with a different type of storytelling: story selling. If you can master this art, it will greatly expand your storytelling skills.
So Where Do We Start?
Well, we have a whole list of resources in our Book Marketing 101 article that you can check out.
But a good place to start is by building your audience, bit by bit. This includes techniques like:
- Email Marketing: Offer incentives like a free short story to encourage sign-ups, then maintain regular, engaging contact with your list. This is, by far, the single most important marketing step you must take. An email list is where the money is.
- Social Media: Post consistently and interactively on platforms where your target audience hangs out. We generally recommend you pick one and master it.
- Content Marketing: You can share valuable, SEO-optimized content through blog posts, podcasts, or videos. This is one of the more time-consuming forms of marketing, but it can also be the most rewarding.
- Networking: Attend industry events, join writing communities, and collaborate with authors within your genre. By co-writing books with these people, or even just cross-sharing each other’s books, you can often find a lot of good readers.
- Author Website: Have a professional, easy-to-navigate website where readers can learn more about you and your work. We have a whole section of articles on this.
Understand that Writing Bestsellers is a Long Game
Most authors will not have a bestseller with their first book. In fact, most struggle for years before they get there. Brandon Sanderson wrote 13 books before getting picked up. And some of the bestselling indie authors had 20+ books before they hit it big.
So don't expect your first book to be a bestseller, or worry if it doesn't sell well right away.
And give yourself permission to not be perfect from the start.
The path to bestsellerdom is a marathon, not a sprint. Keep writing, improving your craft, and learning with each book (because you will learn a lot).
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Remember that even writing one book puts you ahead of most people who only dream of doing so. Writing several books puts you above a lot more.
And with each new work, you expand your skills and chance of creating that breakthrough story.
Stay patient. keep your expectations realistic.
Who knows, your big break might be just one manuscript away. But fretting over instant success will only slow you down.
You got this.