Saturday, 7 December 2013
Could YOU Write The Next Bestseller?
Good Housekeeping, that bastion of recipes you cut out but never make, and clothes meant for thinner, more glamorous women who are not you, is running another of its literary competitions. Last time, the comp was about self publishing, and I got very cross about it and wrote a cross blog. You can see the result here.
This latest comp (see title) is equally cross-making on many levels. Firstly, the equation of writing with ''bestseller'' is misleading as it suggests that there is very little kudos or purpose writing a book unless you intend it to join the 0.00000001% of those that have attained ''bestseller'' status.
Because ... nowhere is there any definition of what defines a 'bestseller'' apart from the implicit subtext that it equates with money: £250,000 ''advance'' is offered to the winner, plus 'advice' from an agent and a publisher. This advice will inevitably involve rewriting the whole thing, then altering and tailoring the book to fit the zeitgeist of the publisher's list. In other words, many such books are not written, they are created in-house.
You don't believe me? Most of the 'bestsellers' from 50 Shades to Harry Potter have achieved fame thanks to re-writes, coupled with the carefully structured publicity campaign of a crack marketing team. Some aspect of the writers' lives or experience has been seized upon and a narrative built around it. Exposure is everything. The classic example of this? My former editor at Usborne was one of the 25+ to reject the unsolicited mss of Harry Potter, before Ms Rowling got an agent, who was able to place the book. The editor did not even remember reading it. Go figure.
The comp also features three successful writers who offer some useful and sound advice to the would-be literary star. However, the words 'hits', and 'bestseller' and 'top of the book charts' occur with such frequency that it says more to me about their reason for being picked than the good advice offered.
Also, the comp makes no mention of the fact that many popular books have achieved their position solely on word of mouth. You read it, like it and recommend it to a friend. The buzz grows, the book sells, and suddenly the writer is topping Bookseller or Amazon lists. Nobody can set down the formula for that. Nor for the 'slow burn' book that might take years to rise from the general pool - though this is less likely to happen today, as publishers want fast results.
Nor is there any mention of the hard work most writers put in day by day to publicise their book. Sales do not happen by themselves. Sadly, there is also not a single mention of the fact that writing a 'bestseller' is by no means the end of it. Once fame and fortune has beaten a path to your door, you will be under immense pressure to write the ''next'' bestseller, followed by the one after that.
So do I think you should not aim high? Absolutely not. I believe you always write looking at the stars, but aware that your feet are planted on the ground. Would I have liked to have written a ''bestseller''? Maybe when I started out being published, yes. Now, with 12 published books and many more unpublished ones, I really don't care any more, deriving much pleasure from a reviewer that ''gets'' the book, or someone who has enjoyed reading it and takes the time to tell me. However, if you want to go in for the competition, go for it. Good luck, but keep a tight hold on your integrity.
If you would like to read a free sample of my new novel Diamonds&Dust, A Victorian Murder Mystery, you can do so here . US readers can do so here
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Well said, Carol. However, I still hope that Diamonds & Dust is a bestseller. Xx.ReplyDelete
That would be nice - but unlikely ..and if it does, you share in the fame, don't you!!ReplyDelete
another brilliant post Carol, and although your comments might put off less serious writers, I think most of us know we have joined the worst club in the world, but we still write, for that is what we want to do. We have been down the agent/publisher road and came away thoroughly disheartened. Thank God we can DIY these days!ReplyDelete
I think 'less serious' writers should be put off!!! Not that they will listen to the likes of me! As you say, we know why we write - it's in the same category as why we breathe! I think it's a shame that this is equated with ''fame'' ..which is NOT why we do it!!! (As I know!!).Delete
We'd all love to write a best seller but I suspect there are few of us who would like to be caught up in the media circus that accompanies it. I am more than happy writing at the level I am and getting satisfaction from completing a manuscript that I believe to be well written.ReplyDelete
Scott Eagen was saying something similar yesterday: http://scotteagan.blogspot.co.uk/2013/12/pay-attention-to-story-not-money.htmlReplyDelete
Great minds, eh?
will check it out..am doing a blog post on NOT rising to rude tweets etc in a week or so, someone splendid a splendid one on the same topic tooDelete
Brilliant. My advice to anyone who decides to write purely for "fame and fortune" is ... wake up, look at your bank balance and decide if you wouldn't rather buy another house! And yes, if you CAN'T write, nobody in the world will be able to teach you. It's like being musical or having a gift for painting.ReplyDelete
All that happens is you go to classes, listen to advice and churn out "lookalikes" or in our case "readalikes".
I gave this advice to someone who said that they wanted to write to "make some money" ... get a job in your local DIY store, it's much more reliable and less stressful.
Those who can't write but have been "coached" are very noticeable - they produce "readalikes" just like people like me with no artistic talent at all do when they go to painting classes. They produce the same as everyone else.
Thanks for your comments (Blogger sends them to me..I know they disappear, but they do arrive..... so feel free to post singly....should you post again). I really wish there weren't so many ''creative writing courses/degrees around.. as you say...the UEA one produces the ''same'' writers..you can pick them out after a while!!! I think one's style can be improved, and there is always something to finesse, but in my ranty opinion, you either ARE a writer, or not. Now, someone is bound to jump in and disagree.......Delete
An enlightening and most interesting read as always Hedges!....( yeah, so keep it up...no pressure )...*smirk*...Now then, regarding THAT competition...they know where they can shove it...and should they be reasonably adept in the art of contortionism...I'm quite sure the necessary manoeuvre is attainable!ReplyDelete
This highly informative post of yours serves to uphold my long established considerations, those being that this world is as twisted and as warped as a politicians promise!....
And as for 'bestsellers'.......as my little old Granny used to say, inbetween glugs of her favourite boot-leg gin....."One man's bestseller is another man's loo roll!".......( she usually fell over at this point )....:D....xx
It is annoying ..because it creates an impression that there is only one reason to write: for success and money..and it is so not true! You and I, wazzock, write for the pure pleasure of it - though the dosh to fund a nice black Maserati wouldn't come amiss.... or in your case, a more upmarket gutter.Delete
I think we all HOPE we become bestsellers but I think we know it's not likely. You don't have to be a bestseller to be successful though. I think being able to write for a living is success.ReplyDelete
I agree ... and I look at all the hard work you put into your writing ..and I am full of respect!!!Delete
What a good subject Carol. I have no idea why some books are bestsellers,what does that even mean,we don't all enjoy the same kind of book. Everytime I hear of bestseller I think Of Fifty Shades of Grey that book was the first thing you saw walking into Tesco and sainsbury's it was at the front door of every bookshop. I bought the first one on kindle our of curiosity and I'm no expert but even I could see it was very badly written, nearly every time the main charcter spoke she said,"Oh my" I would love to count the number of times. There was no story at all. I will put money on it that the film is completly different and she doesn't say,"Oh my" even once.ReplyDelete
50 Shades is the classic 'risen without trace' book, isn't it! An once she got taken on by a big pub. and had tp prodeuce the NEXT book .... well, a big nothing!! QED.Delete
The problem with bestsellers is as you say, the pressure to write the next one. Then you end up with the formula books - same story, different setting. And with all the pressure and hype, how many of us would really want that? Very well said, Carol! The reward of a letter from an appreciative reader is the best one although of course making a small independence from writing wouldn't come amiss. I still dream of sailing away on my barge...ReplyDelete
You know what? I dream of sailing away on your barge too!!!Delete
When I go, I'll keep a bunk just for you! xxxDelete
Great post CarolReplyDelete
I love writing, currently struggle with finishing and want to write my way, not how others think I should. Do I want to be successful? To me I already am but would like to 'retire' from my day job and spend more time writing.
Food for thought, as ever MrsH.ReplyDelete
Good to remember there's LOTS of ways to be successful.
Ladies, you are soo right ...success is not entirely from monetary gain ..it annoys me that it is always so equated, and every newspaper article focuses on ''how much' a writer has been offered, or the prize they have won is worth.Writing full time is a dream of all of us ...what you have to factor in though..and I'm currently finding this to be the case, that writing has to find its level with publicizing you and the current book. Not an easy balance to achieve!ReplyDelete
very astute observations! It is a mystery to know what the magic formula is to become a "best seller". I write because I love it. I am an indie author and have used a good publisher. I try to market as best I can but I admit I find this a chore. My book came out the day after I was made redundant so its commerciality has become more important than it should have. I have had some success, good reviews, a small fan base and readers wanting to read the next one-but I struggle to reach the next level-whatever that is? Then there is the feeling of slight inferiority when people say-"oh you self-published then?" even though I am thinking of many successful authors past and present who have done just that. It certainly is a learning curve-and although remuneration helps-it isn't the driving force-I just want to share my books with readers and keep on writing...ReplyDelete
Thanks for these comments.I wish the setters of these competitions (and I'd also include NanoMiMo as well) would stop pigeonholing writers and pressurizing them to ''achieve''. What you don't see on the header pic is my self-published ebook ..as D&D would have been had not Crooked Cat picked it up. There are some amazing writers and beautiful books via this route. And an AWFUL lot of crud by the established one! Keep writing!!!Delete
Is it Ok, after struggling for years, to write a 'bestseller' and lots of money (this has not happened to me!!!!) At what point does a struggling but popular midlist novelist become a spawn of the Devil 'overnight' success?ReplyDelete
Quite. I have been rising without trace for ages. It's the ''instant'' aspect that is worrying. As you say, so many writers write on, produce splendid novels that sell ...but their ''worth'' in the eyes of some is negligable. I am a midlist novelist...and have now been dropped by both my publishers as they are not interested in me; I don't make them enough money.ReplyDelete
A refreshing read. As someone who hopes to complete their first novel and tread either the traditional or the self-publishing route, it puts writing as a career in perspective.ReplyDelete
I disagree with you about one aspect of writing courses though, as I took 2 Open University Creative Writing courses which I did find helpful; but in another sense I agree with you - stories start in the imagination, which can be stimulated but how do you teach originality?
In answer to your question - I don't know. I used to teach the A level 'creative writing' unit. ALL students could be taught to write..but that ''spark'' that makes one want to read on...was either there or not. I guess it is the same with art and music.... thanks for your perceptive comments...Delete
An excellent post, Carol (sorry I'm so late to the party, but I've only just seen it).ReplyDelete
I wonder how many readers buy a book simply because it's labelled "Bestseller"? That was certainly the case with FSOC (and no, that isn't a typo) - a classic example of a book which became famous for being famous. In which case - how does it get to be a "Bestseller" in the first place?
It reminds me slightly of the old days of the Top Twenty (remember that?), which was decided entirely by how many copies of a 7" single (remember those?) had been sold over the counter during the previous week. On several occasions I've been into record shops and been told "Oh, we only stock records which are in the Top Twenty." Which rather begs the question: In that case, how do they get into the Top Twenty in the first place?