Veronica's #WritersDiary: Elements of a Best Seller; How Does Your Story Stack Up?
"I don't know. I don't know at all. And that's what's frightening the life out of me. To have no idea..."
Agatha Christie, history's best-selling novelist (billions of copies sold)...
"Best Seller" A status almost every writer would be thrilled to achieve. As writers, we pour our heart and souls into each creation. Weeks, months, years of time, planning, and creative flow go into our stories. Many strive to pen 'the great American (insert your country here) novel', the question is, what makes a novel so great?
For reader's, the tag of a 'best-selling' novel catches the eye of many. Surely if it's achieved that status, it must be good, right? Well, maybe, or... disappointment is around the corner (a huge tragedy, especially when one has paid $14.99 for a Kindle version... #JustSayin) 👀 #Ouch
For today's discussion, I won't include the premise that a best-selling book must be traditionally published to make a huge splash (although the odds are in their favor). The powers and reach of the big-name publishers are well known and a huge factor to a book's success, no doubt. Their bankrolls play a deciding role in getting their best-selling books placed front and center to the public in the bookstores and on-line resellers.
I'll focus on what I consider a few of the major must-have elements that carve the path for a best seller we all can control whether you're a traditionally published or #Indie author (must be equitable these days, right?). Let's get started!
“Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.”― Mark Twain
Plotlines: For me, plotlines are a top factor for books I decide to read, no matter what the genre is. If it doesn't catch my eye or interest, I'll probably pass. Plotlines are the hook--the scenario that makes a reader want to read and a writer want to write. Successful (which leads to best-selling) plotlines shift and change to hold your interest--I'm always on the look for the unexpected plot twist. A groundbreaking plot idea is always appreciated, of course, but old stories can be made new again too...
Plotlines developed around the themes of romance; unrequited love; revenge; hauntings; explorations; mysteries; etc get a new life each time an author writes a tale. Some plotlines never get old (Hallmark Christmas movies anyone?) We'll change locations (same story--different city/country/planet/star systems/metaverses etc); be jetted through time (back to the past, present, or future); and have the characters change in age and circumstance--but for die-hard lovers of a certain type of story plot, it can very well be the next best-seller. My advice? Develop the plotline you'd love to read--chances are, there's a reader tribe out there that can't get enough of it too!
"Don’t expect the puppets of your mind to become the people of your story. If they are not realities in your own mind, there is no mysterious alchemy in ink and paper that will turn wooden figures into flesh and blood.”
—Leslie Gordon Barnard
Characters: Let's face it, the more intriguing or unique a character is, the more you're going to want to know about him/her. Just like the plotline is the hook, the characters are the glue that keeps you turning the pages IMHO. So, what makes a compelling character? For me, a character's inner strength will win me over--they don't have to be rich, powerful, or good looking, but they better step up to whatever challenge and circumstances the plotline places them in.
Milquetoast/meh personalities that don't have a 'spark' lose my interest quickly--they won't survive the tasks at hand. Make me laugh, cry, scream, fall in love, run for my life... Just telling me someone is evil or cool with shallow, mundane examples of gratuitous sex or violence, or having them spew a plethora of cuss words isn't good enough---show me who they are through their thoughts and actions, what makes them tick, pulls at their heart, have them grow in strength in the story.
This year, I've started reading a few 'best sellers' (trad published of the $14.99 variety, BTW) that lost me after the first chapter--I didn't buy in, didn't bond with the MC--and didn't have a reason to care about what happened to them. I want characters (as a writer and reader) who at the end of the story, I would love to share a martini with and discuss their actions in the book! 😁🍸
“I do not over-intellectualise the production process. I try to keep it simple: Tell the damned story.”
The Mechanics: Readability, clarity, pacing--the quicker I'm able to 'dive into' a story, the more likely it is I'm going to enjoy the read. If I'm having to pull out a dictionary every other word, or have to read and re-read a sentence a couple of times to get the meaning, or sift through endless explanations, or the drip-drip-drip of details; the greater the chance I'm just going to give up and move onto the next read.
This is such an important point--I know it's hard to be concise and enthralling at every turn, but it makes for a much better story. I don't need 500 pages when 300 would have done nicely. Understand the ins and outs of your genre with its nuances and selling points. Love your editor. If you stray too much, you're going to lose the reader.
"There is only one recipe for a best seller and it is a very simple one. You have to get the reader to turn over the page."
Writer Magic: Strong openings; interesting dialogue; uniqueness of a storyline and how it's rolled out; a visit to a new world (which could just mean leaving the normal day-to-day environs rather than rocketing off to a distant planet); engaging writer style; big events (with bigger consequences)--this is the secret sauce of a best-selling story, IMHO. What is going to differentiate your tale from others? There are millions and millions of books for readers to choose from, why would, or should, they give yours a gander? The more secret sauce you deploy that makes you stand out, the better chances of your tale becoming a best seller.
So, I've been reading (and in some cases, re-reading) best sellers that deliver on the major must-haves (at least for me), trying to absorb the wisdom and magic that won me over as a reader. What are your thoughts on what makes a best seller (writers and readers)? Are you ready to change things up? How do your stories or reading TBRs stack up? I'd love to know! It's Wednesday, time for #DearDiary:
Speaking of best sellers...
I'm super excited to see Dame Agatha's best-selling play, The Mousetrap in a few weeks at the local theatre in near-by San Juan Capistrano. The OH and I had the pleasure of seeing this play several years ago at the stunning, historic St. Martin's Theatre in London's West End. It's a great mystery and to me, there's nothing like a live-stage performance. It will be interesting to see how this production stacks up!
A thrilling quest and a murder that hits close to home this week from the writers of Twitter...
Author Ken Fry, The Lazarus Succession, 5⭐
International art experts and adventurers, Ulla Stuart and Brodie Ladro receive an intriguing request from a mysterious, former judge with secrets of his own. He wants them to find an ancient painting that is said to hold mystical powers for a dying woman who believes it will cure her ailments. The bounty is high and extremely, time constrained, placing them into the throes of danger. Will this latest challenge be their last?
As they trace the history of the painting and the mysterious clues surrounding the artistic monk who painted it, cover ups abound. The closer they get to the truth and discovering where the artwork is hidden, it's clear someone doesn't want them to live to tell the tale. To complicate matters, Brodie has is experiencing supernatural reactions during their quest. Will his tortured views consume his future?
Author Fry weaves a suspense filled tale of thrilling intrigue and spiritual legacy. The history and what ifs will leave you pondering many premises... A gripping read, highly recommended!
Author Lee Straus, Murder at Kensington Gardens, 5⭐
A stroll in the park takes an unexpected turn when Lady Gold discovers a body. The tragic find takes a shocking twist, leading to her love interest, Scotland Yard's, CI Basil Reed to be charged with murder. Ginger is determined to get to the truth, a quest which takes her to the scandalous, center stage of the world of burlesque.
As she queries her fellow performers, disturbing clues unfold. Will she uncover who is behind the evil deed in the park, or be the next victim? Will her relationship with Basil continue as the truth come to light?
Author Strauss adds another clever whodunnit to the Lady Gold series. An entertaining read for cozy mystery fans!
Next up in the reading queue:
Author Wendy Bayne's #NewRelease in the Crimes Against the Crown series!
Coming up: the 2023 Kentucky Derby and a King gets crowned!
*Official artwork of the Kentucky Derby in feature pic for this section 👆
May 6th is going to be a very busy day for lovers of regal grandeur, beautiful horses, and mint juleps! The 149th Run for the Roses takes place at Churchill Downs--the OH and I will be gathering with University of Louisville southern California alumni to celebrate and tip back a libation or two. This is our first Derby get-together since the lockdowns, and we're all ready to have a bit of racing fun! Did I mention the hats? 😍👒
I'll also be watching the coronation of King Charles III in the wee hours of the morning here before the Derby celebrations begin. I can't wait to see the pomp and pageantry, and of course, the tiaras! 💖👑 Who's ready to party? 📯🏇🥃👑
Welcome to my world. Until next time, have a good one!
Crowns and Kisses,
P.S. Enjoy this final week of April--May promises to be a banner month of celebrations and travel adventures! Gemma and Rikkhe approve 💖👑