I am often asked how to write a bestselling novel or non-fiction book with a client’s book in mind or at a literary festival having read the writer’s pitch, and I tend to answer using the suggestions below.

You can start to write a bestseller by following a few simple steps:

1. Read widely in the area you wish to write within, be it romance or crime procedural, historical women’s fiction or general fiction, and be aware of what you like in previously published writing that could facilitate your own e.g. if there is a writer who tends to use four letter names for their female protagonists and always introduces an antagonist to the central characters in a romance series, see whether you can use similar ways of creating similarity without being too close to the previously published author, as this can help to create a loyal fan base. If you are an expert in your field and wish to write a non-fiction book, before you attempt the book proposal for your cookery book or self-help guide do read as many accounts of those in your field who have been published previously and successfully, particularly those published more recently (and build a substantial social media base as soon as possible);

2. Once you are aware of the type of book you like and how this book is written, take note of the trends in publishing and how successful these books have been, asking your local bookseller and checking on Amazon to help you;

3. You have decided on the type of book and on the success of this genre currently; next you need to start writing. For all writers of bestsellers, I would encourage you to consider what my old creative writing tutor used to call narrative drive; how best to progress the story with dialogue, character motivation and plot. This entails being clear on the three aspects mentioned, so once you have decided on the protagonist’s motivation, such as the stimulus for her choice of career/lover or his reasons for becoming a murderer, do think through and make notes on the characters backstory so that they appear fully rounded and you interest the reader in your narrative. Keep dialogue cliché free and use this to drive the narration as you introduce characters, motive and speech between the major and minor characters as well as, of course, an incident that triggers others to follow;

4.You have written your book and want to know whether others think this is a possible bestseller. Choose a reader(s) who enjoys the type of fiction or non-fiction you write and someone you can trust to provide constructive criticism. Alternatively, you can join an association or submit your script to a consultancy that provide feedback to aspiring writers and has a pedigree with bestsellers such as the Romantic Novelists Association or Cornerstones Literary Consultancy. When re-drafting after extensive feedback, consider your own thoughts on your writing along with the readers’ comments and start to think about your synopsis. If you need help with this, do let a reader help with writing your one-page outline too. Your synopsis and covering letter/email can be pivotal to being read by an agent in the first instance;

5. Buy a recent copy of the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook and send your submission to the agencies that appear to be the closest fit for your novel/book. Do tell agents that you are sending to other agencies and, if any show interest, let those you have submitted to know.

My comments about the writing process are equally useful if you want to write a bestseller in 21 days, except you need to edit as you write the first and only draft via computer (this method doesn’t work on paper).

Here’s to your bestseller!

Photo by Marta Dzedyshko

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