How to Write a Bestseller

Six Parts:Fiction or non-fiction?TopicsWriting the bookReviewing the writingBe humblePublishing and waiting...

Many a budding author dreams of writing the book, the one that turns into a bestseller. It's the book that gets you known and paid well. Not having written a bestseller yet doesn't necessarily show a lack of talent because there are tricks to making bestsellers, and it's not always stuff that sits well with the pure artist, like being trendy and being able to let go and let the editors have their own way with your writing. Provided you're made of stern enough stuff though, why not give the bestseller track a chance––you just never know.

Part 1
Fiction or non-fiction?

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    Decide which area of writing works best for you. If you're flexible, maybe try both. You never know which might work best. The next steps provide the things to consider in making your choice.
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    Choose fiction. Take a look at How to write a short story and its related wikiHows for detailed assistance. Prepare the profile and the background of your characters in advance. The would-be bestseller must be easy to read and:
    • Your readers must be able to sequence the events from earliest to latest; a reader will quickly give up if they are all mixed up and unclear.
    • Your readers must be able to tell in what sequence the events in your book 'occurred'.
    • In general, infinitely super-glue the attention of your readers through connecting traits in your characters, amazing plots and fascinating story-telling.
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    Choose non-fiction. Look for a relevant topic that a great many people are concerned about. You have two angles: find out whether anybody has yet written about it. No? Great, go for it. Yes? What unique angle can you provide that hasn't yet been covered?
    • Refer to as many useful sources as possible on the topic.
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    Think mish mash. Who says this bestseller has to be a novel or a non-fiction style? It might be a blog, an autobiography, a travel-log, an esteemed reference text, a children's book, a school textbook (captive audience, bound to be a bestseller) or a book of fierce humor. It might be other [insert here]. Choose whatever style works for your quirks and abilities and run with it, right to the many publishing methods now available to you.

Part 2

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    Select your topic. In general, selection of the topic will be helped by some or all of the following:
    • You're passionate about the topic. You could write on it until the cows come home and then some.
    • It's a really popular topic, either currently (get moving then) or perennially (always have a unique angle though).
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    If you're writing fiction, some additional helpers include:
    • You already know your characters inside out and think you've met them personally. Writing about them will be a breeze.
    • You have a plethora of current day fixations, addictions and fascinations in your notebook, waiting to fly off the page and accost your characters and mess up their lives. People love to be able to connect with the everyday stuff that rankles, perplexes and overwhelms.
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    If you're writing non-fiction, the following also tends to help:
    • It's something you're an expert at/in. Or you are willing to research it to death. Nicer still if you have a certificate or degree or oodles of experience to back up this expertise and/or research. It helps people feel that you're reliable.
    • You have the phone numbers of experts you can call on to ask questions about when you're stuck or feel like making it up.
    • You like what you're writing about. If not, you're very good at standing in the shoes of different perspectives and you're able to remain objective. How long you can keep that up will determine how successful you'll be at getting the book completed.

Part 3
Writing the book

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    Take notes all the time. Carry a notebook with you wherever you go and capture the ideas that pop into your head at the time they appear.
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    Find the time to write. Few people can afford to be novelists-in-residence without some income source earned by fair means or foul. Unless you're Alain de Botton, who writes living off an inheritance (although now his writing makes the money too), you'd best make the time wherever it's free. Use your time on the bus to and from work, during lunch, after dinner, on the weekends, during vacation blocks.
    • Asking for time off work to write a bestseller should be done with care. Judge the nature of your workplace first––the more conservative the establishment, the less likely this will be something considered worth their loss of your time.
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    Be focused on the purpose of this book. Bestsellers do not need to be the best written; some may well be, but it can also take many years before the public catches up with such genius unless you also manage to win a literary prize. If you want to be great now, just start typing or writing, get it down and then fiddle with it later. Procrastination and perfection are the enemies of the bestseller.
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    Write a synopsis of your book. A plan, an outline, whatever you will. You can mind map it if you prefer. There are lots of rules for doing this. You can even read those too if you like. Or you can just get stuck into it and write, write, write. Not everyone does this the color-by-numbers way, so find your own path.
    • Fiction: Set out the characters, their traits and quirks, their motivations. This should be fun; fill them out as they grow in your mind. If they're based on your neighbor or ex-lover, make sure they're unrecognizable unless you enjoy being sued. And write out the situations you want to develop in your book, the plot so to speak, the series of events, be they fortunate or not so fortunate. And how will this all end? A cliffhanger, a surprise, a happy ending or a kaboom and everyone dies?
    • Non-fiction: Consider the need for sections, methods, parts––how will you break things down? Chapters can be nested inside sections, etc. Say you're writing about people's love of apple pies. Section one could cover what the apple pie is, with stories of people waxing nostalgic about apple pies from years gone by. Section two is where to source the best apples for pie making. Section three is a stack of apple pie recipes. Section four is troubleshooting failed apple pies. Section five is photos of your favorite apple pies off Instagram. And so forth... Some topics, like cats and beer, people will never get enough of and all you need to do is have a modern, current angle. Other things that are way too cliched, like celebrities and pop music, and you'll need funky new ways of bringing such over-written topics to people's attention that they don't already know.
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    Review progress frequently. Is the writing taking you where you want it to? Is it good, interesting, fathomable, fascinating, gripping, useful, entertaining, sparkling, witty, trendy, or whatever combination of such things you're trying to make it?
    • Don't be afraid of splitting elements off for other projects. Sometimes you are mid-stream writing about one thing and another insists on birthing itself. Write it down, label it and put it aside for your next project. Avoid trying to add too much to the one piece you're writing now. After all, should you manage the bestseller, you'll need to produce more after and these side ideas are perfect germs of new bestsellers for later.
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    Set a deadline. Miss it various times. Set more deadlines. Miss those too. After all, life has a habit of getting in the way. Eventually, set the uncrossable deadline and mean it. This time, finish the book. Enough already! There is a point at which you must choose between being an author-in-waiting and a published-author-hoping-for-a-bestseller. Decide and get on with the writing to completion.
    • Be realistic. A book on the lost herd of rice carving gnus of outer Mongolia will likely take longer than a fiction piece about vampires destroying the local tea party. Especially if you need to budget the money and travel to outer Mongolia to verify the research. Deep research can take years; you can nudge your imagination quite a bit faster.
    • Holes can be filled in later. That is what friendly reviewers and your not-so-friendly editors are for, pre-publication. Listen to them; they can see the trees you keep missing for being deep in the proverbial forest.

Part 4
Reviewing the writing

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    Go over the work thoroughly. Read your own work after a break. Correct grammatical and spelling errors. Remove stuff that is fluff, bloat, nonsense or simply adds nothing special.
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    Have the work reviewed by colleagues, coworkers, acquaintances. While you may be tempted to get friends and family to review it, do you really believe they'll be able to tell you honest irritation, dislike or criticism? Be fair on them and realistic and only ask people who are less inclined to flatter you or be subjective. For example, you may join a writer's club and meet a few critics who are able to give you suggestions on improvement.
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    Try to come up with a unique or catchy title for your book. As a case in point, if your book is about global warming, the title can be 'Coats are Useless': The uselessness of coats indicate the impossibility of winter since we wear coats in winter. However, avoid getting stuck on this aspect. Many an author wastes time trying to come up with the perfect title, only to have the publisher hate it and change it anyway. Put some effort into the title but not all your spare time.
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    Submit your book to a journalist who has a good reputation (who does not trample authors' work). Maybe this does not seem specific. You can have your book listed in a catalog or you can write to a newspaper/magazine to advertise your book. Better bring along positive comments from other reputable magazines and/or critics.

Part 5
Be humble

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    Let your editors rip the work to pieces. Don't pontificate about how amazing your writing is. Editors are crafts persons just like writers and they are there to help not hinder you. They are there to polish the gems and bring them to their shiny potential, hopefully bestselling potential. Embrace this help for all it is worth and let them make their suggestions. Entertain their suggestions seriously.
    • Friendly editors are useful for easing you into the editing experience. Nasty ones are just nasty and are good for sharpening your wits against and allowing you some self pity. At the end of the day though, look for the ones in between––nice to invite to a dinner party but very fierce about their craft and the ability to make your craft look better.
    • Submit the book to a publisher only if you do not mind having the book edited impersonally. This can be a good or a bad thing, depending on how you choose to view it. On the whole, the experience of that editor and the backing of a publishing house and its already established reputation can only be good for you. There are people who purchase based on who published the book, not just who wrote it.
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    Make essential changes. Ultimately, you need to make good judgment calls about what to leave in, what to rewrite and what to pull out, based on your editor's and reviewer's comments. Trust both your own instincts and what they have said, but be careful about both. Your own instinct can sometimes just be stubbornness parading as "truth", while not every reviewer or editor will get the totality of your writing. Try to get some distance from the writing, give yourself time to consider the comments made about it, then come back to it and assemble it for its last phase, the publication.

Part 6
Publishing and waiting...

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    Decide how the book will be published. There are different possibilities, such as using a renowned publisher, vanity publishing or publishing eBooks or blogs online.
    • Choose a well known publisher and half the battle can be won for bestseller status. Suggested examples are Oxford University Press and Penguin Books, which publish many bestsellers. However, publishers reject a lot of attempts at book deals, so have a huge list to work through and don't give up. Keep sending that manuscript out, again and again until it gets accepted. If not, vanity publishing is more accessible than ever.
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    Let the publisher do the marketing needed. If you've chosen to use an established publisher and they've accepted your work, expect them to market the daylights out of the book. If they don't, ask why not. If you don't like the answer, you might need to return to the drawing board but it is worth pushing them before giving up.
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    Wait. Some bestsellers are sleepers. Some might need nudges from you. Share the link to where it can be bought from on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, etc. Give some away in blog or Facebook competitions. Tell friends and family it has been published (the one time you can guilt them into helping through this whole process). Give some away as Christmas gifts. Send copies to a favorite celebrity. Market yourself.
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    Understand that there is no guarantee that the bestseller magic will happen. It completely depends on the situation, the whim of the buyers, the tone of the season, the calibration of the planet... Really, there are lots of things that go into making written work turn bestseller or viral. You can do your best to achieve this but apart from the well known (and very bankable) churner authors in such areas as crime, law and romance, most authors live with hope. Your publisher can do some things but even they can't perform miracles, so be patient. If, after a year or two, the book seems to be doing the ordinary thing, like being bought occasionally, go back and write again. It just means you've still got a bestseller waiting to emerge, so don't give up.
    • Consider sending your book to literary award groups or organizations. In some cases, the publisher may need to do this on your behalf. Getting an award can be helpful though, both for recognition and a little bit of handy cash.
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    Start writing the sequel. Get onto this really quickly if your work is a bestseller; your readers are already hanging out for more. Ditto if it isn't a bestseller––the sooner you get back to believing in your writing, the better.


  • If you do get a book deal, get a lawyer to check your contract. Royalties for a bestseller are not to be sniffed at.
  • Be observant. What do people care about, want to know more about, never get enough of? Think about catering to what interests people when wanting to write a bestseller. You can always leave more esoteric and deeper-meaning writing for the rest of your spare time post-bestseller.
  • Get it translated. Encourage people in other countries to get to know your talents. The more bought, the better. For all you know, the Swedes or the Japanese might be more aligned with your way of thinking than you realize.
  • Check reviews of your book or work. These can indicate where you need to make changes in your next effort. Or, they might just be mean, in which case, you are free to burn them and down a pint/cocktail or two.
  • Keep a record of how many books you've sold and whether it has made any bestseller lists.
  • Launch parties are useful. People like parties. Bookish people like parties focused on books. Use such an opportunity to push that book. Do signings, smile an awful lot.


  • Avoid being haughty and difficult. Petulant behavior can permanently spoil your chances of becoming a bestseller writer. In such a case, people may not remember what you have done, but they will remember how you made them feel.

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