M.A. Wohl

Writer on a Quest

Nope, not a post on how to write bestsellers!

That post is about:

  • trying to define what is a bestseller, and
  • what is the difference between a bestseller and a novel that sells well?

I hope it can help clarify the idea and give a little positive boost to the writers who needs it (including your’s truly).

Fair warning, I’m going a bit academic on this particular topic, which I studied in university (there’s no college in my francophone bubble; we go from elementary school, to high school, to Cegep, to University and to being broke for twenty years).

So, get comfy !

Big dif’

Some people think there’s a special formula to write a best selling novel; many are selling the idea anyway.
Other people, like me, think there’s no such thing.

But. But. BUT: if there’s no formula for writing a best selling novel, there is, however, a sort of formula for writing a bestseller.

Yep, there’s a difference, I promise!

I’ve decided to write this after reading an article about a bestseller author and her soon-to-be-published 183th book.

183. Books.

And I spent five months on a 60 k novel this year…

In order to put a stop to my feelings about the productivity of some writers, and their success, and etc., I needed to remind myself what was a bestseller.

And why I wanted to write a novel that sales well (best case scenario; it all depends on the readers).

Bookshop flashback

I used to wonder, while I was putting the books on the shelves, in the bookshop where I used to work.

How on Earth those novels, THOSE novels could be bestsellers?

Often, I (it’s not a condemnation, it’s my opinion) thought those bestsellers were poorly written – poorly translated too, while we’re at it.
Very often, 400 pages will go by without a single original thought to be found anywhere: the characters were cliches, as well as the plots and tropes and, argh, everything was just bad (again, my opinion).
Week after week, I was stacking all those bestsellers on the shelves, puzzled… and a bit envious.

Why those books were bestsellers if it wasn’t for the story, for the characters or, sometimes, not even for the author?

WHY?!

What is a Bestseller Book?

I was in the 18 to 34 years old bracket then, still a student at Laval University.
So, when I saw there was a class about « Bestsellers », I immediately enrolled.
It took me two or three class’s to finally get what the teacher was trying to say.

See, she kept talking about the culture of consumerism, about text format, cover designs and literature genres.
She was saying bestsellers’ books were a product created for purposes of pleasing the masses.
She was talking marketing strategy, popular literature legibility.
Instead of talking about bestsellers books.

It did hurt my romantic feelings toward literature, the beauty of books and book writing, the art behind the written words.

I wasn’t the only one at lost. The class, jam packed at first, was quickly abandoned by a whole bunch of my classmates.

But finally, against my romantic conceptions of what a novel should be, I got it.
This class was not about the magic formula to write bestsellers.
It was about what was a bestseller. Not just about the sales.

A bestseller is a kind of books written within the parameters of any literary genre.

Bestsellers vs Novels that sales well

According to the teacher, a bestseller was not only a book. It was a product specifically design, from the inside out, to be bought by a specific audience, over and over and over again.

If author Danielle Steel popped up right there in your mind, it’s because you got it.
Danielle Steel writes very good bestsellers (I’m not a fan, but one must rendre à César ce qui revient à César as we say in French).
On the other end, J.K. wrote amazing, powerful, mind-blowing good and well written middle-grade novels that sales very, very, very well. Not bestsellers.

A bestseller is more than a money maker

A bestseller is not defined only by its sales number.
It also about the design, the format, and the literary genre.

Let’s take a look at a Danielle Steel novels.

Design. The books all look the same.
Her name is printed in big golden letters, on either a photograph or a very bright, uniform color.

Now, format, for the old fashion printed version.
The text is either large print or regular, no matter in what language it is translated. Each book is less than 400 pages.

And last but not least, the literary genre.
Danielle writes Romance novels. Mystery Romance, Historical Romance, Contemporary Romance.
It’s her brand.

And her bestsellers, like many other bestsellers novels, are sold everywhere.
Pharmacies, big retail stores, big chain bookstores and indie bookstore alike.
Or, for the past thirty years, they were sold everywhere.

Legits

Writing a book, any book, requires time and effort, some thinking and suffering (just a bit!).

Bestsellers books are legitimate literary work.

And they are the ultimate comfort reads!
As a reader, when you pick a Danielle Steel book, you know what’s going to happen: you’ll be graced with a bit of tragedy, loads of romance and happy, happy ending.

On that note, I thank you very much for reading.

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Until next time, dear writer friends…



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