Hobby? Career? Or are you aiming for best seller?

My writer/friend, Ann, came to visit me on Thursday, and she brought me a Writer’s Digest she’d finished reading and the book section of the September 2nd Wall Street Journal that listed new releases coming soon by prominent writers.  Prominent, in this case, referred to what I’d consider literary fiction and nonfiction.  I’m more of a genre reader myself, but I enjoy reading about any author and his writing process, and it’s fun to read outside of my usual interests once in a while.  So Ann gifted me with a few hours of entertainment with a little bit of insight tossed in.

I especially enjoyed a sidebar on page D5, an article–How to Write a Bestseller–by Tobias Grey. Matthew L. Jockers and Jodie Archer have a new book coming out September 20th, THE BESTSELLER CODE.  They’ve identified certain things that make books sell.  They listed which verbs sell better than others.  What really caught my attention, though, was that, according to their theory, “Subject, not genre, has a much greater impact on driving a best seller.”  They claim authors “who choose two topics which feed off each other” do better than books which try to cram too many topics in.  And readers want topics grounded in reality, even if you’re writing mystery or an urban fantasy, so that they can relate to the human experience, like marriage, love, or crime, etc.  To read the entire article, here’s a link:  http://www.wsj.com/articles/an-algorithm-to-predict-a-bestseller-1472659425.

Now, I’d love to write a bestseller.  I think most of us would, but let’s face it, bestsellers don’t happen that often.  So most of us settle for different stages of success.  Writing, for most of us, is a step by step process.  When I wrote my first novel, my only goal was to come up with 65,000 words that all hung together and told a story.  And I failed at that on my first attempt.  I faithfully sent out each manuscript when  I finished it, because that’s what my writer friends said I should do, but  I never expected one to sell.  It wasn’t until editors wrote encouraging notes on my rejection slips that I thought I might be able to get a book published.  That’s when I started looking for an agent, and the agent search became step two on my  list of goals.  That was a learning experience, in itself.  When my first agent accepted me, I thought I was on my way.  Not so.  Just because I found an agent didn’t mean I could sell a book.   That didn’t happen until I found Lauren Abramo, at Dystel & Goderich.  In the meanwhile, I sold short stories, and while that helped my self-esteem, believe me when I tell you, the writer who can earn a living with short stories is few and far between.


Most of us write and are happy when we can cross modest goals off our lists of achievements.  Some people are happy to write in a journal.  It’s a personal way to express themselves.  Some write family events to share with their kids and future grandkids.  Some people write novels to express themselves and are happy to throw the manuscripts in a drawer.  Others self-publish, but don’t promote themselves.  And then some people search for the perfect combination to write and sell, whether its online where they promote and market themselves, or finding a small publisher, an agent, or an editor.  But those writers want to connect with readers.  They want to sell books–the more, the better.

Whatever your goals, whatever in writing makes you happy, I hope you achieve it.  And if you want to be a bestseller . . . well, choose your topics and verbs carefully and good luck!

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