Friday 11 March 2016

Could YOU write the next 'Bestseller'?

So the brand that is 'Richard & Judy's Book Club' is running its literary competition once more. The accompanying letter states:

''If there’s one thing we’ve discovered in picking winning titles for our Richard and Judy Book Club, it is just how many fantastic new writers are out there. Since forming the club with WHSmith, we are proud to have launched the careers of a host of exciting debut authors.

So now it could be your turn to see your book in print. Together with  XXX we’re on the hunt for talented new writers, and when we find one of them we’re going to put them firmly on the road to a £50,000 publishing deal. (My italics)

Are You our next bestseller? We want to meet you.''

This latest competition is cross-making on so many levels. Firstly, the equation of writing with money 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.

...  nowhere is there any definition of what defines a 'bestseller'' apart from the implicit subtext that it equates with money: £50,000 ''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.

Sadly, the blurb 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. 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 16 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.


  1. I know I am always banging on about the way the music biz ended up working - this is the same. Very depressing. All too familiar sadly.

  2. Oh yes, bestselling authors are 'made' just like pop music stars. Art, love for craft and integrity take second place to the publishers' demands. I am not sure I would ever have enjoyed those demands even as a youngster.

  3. From what II gather .... it's at 'second novel' stage that these gilded writers come down to earth with a bang! The publisher, boosted by the money the comp has given them, now takes a hard look at their duckling and decides, commercially, they are NOT going to be a star. Recently read a lot of posts from writers whose second book has been turned down.

  4. On my blog this week I interview Richard and Judy success story, Debbie Howells. If I said I didn't aspire to her success, I would be lying (but don't worry, Carol - my feet remain very firmly on the ground as I know it's unlikely to happen).

    1. I will read. I do not doubt the talent of the chosen one. I DO object to the vast sum of money being dangled.

  5. If you read the ts and cs, they're horrendous - you can't submit anything that's already been submitted to an agent or to ANY competition - and you can't submit anywhere else until you've been rejected by them! Obviously they don't want anyone with any sort of history, which does rule out a lot of serious writers!


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