Writing The Bestseller: Romantic and Commercial Fiction
Is there a great book in you? Or several great books?
Writing the Bestseller offers practical advice and wisdom from a dozen successful authors who have sold hundreds of thousands of books, experiencing all the ups and downs of the publishing industry. What to do, what not to do, as romance and commercial fiction have their own rules.
Writing the Bestseller doesn’t sugar-coat the work involved. Instead, authors who’ve been there tell you how to understand the genre and reader expectations. The rewards of writing a bestseller are worth the effort, and these authors share what they’ve learned over the years so you, too, can succeed in today’s competitive market.
“A master class in writing compelling and unforgettable fiction. Writing the Bestseller deserves a spot right beside your keyboard…” – Elizabeth Boyle, NYT bestselling author of Love Letter from a Duke and If Wishes Were Earls.
Featuring Megan’s essay (originally delivered as a plenary address at the Romance Writers of New Zealand Conference in 2013 and adapted only slightly here), “Heroines Don’t Take Potty Breaks: Six Secrets to Building the Bestselling Novel.”
Writing The Bestseller: Romantic and Commercial Fiction
From Megan's essay. "Heroines Don't Take Potty Breaks: Six Secrets to Building the Bestselling Novel."
I’m here today to talk about secrets. Important secrets. Secrets that will allow us all to break through whatever walls are holding us back and storm the publishing world, the New York Times list, that new genre we have our eye on, our dreams of hybridization and world domination, whatever it is that we want the most.
Maybe the deepest, darkest secret I can tell you is that I have no idea how to do this. No matter who I ask, they don’t know how to do it either, even if they’ve already done all the things I’m still dreaming about so feverishly. We speculate. We hope. We ask inappropriately probing questions of our editors, our agents, our fellow writers, searching for answers. We talk intelligently about distribution and packaging and marketing and numbers and sales and all those things that sound a lot like math to me, which I’ve been avoiding for the better part of my life, hence my very practical decision to be a writer when I grew up. And someone in the room - no matter what room it is, no matter where I am, no matter what year it is or what reason we believe publishing is dying at the moment - someone always seems to know exactly how we can utilize these things, or certain algorithms, or the ritualistic worship of particular blogs or personalities or spreadsheets or their friend’s sage advice. And yet somehow they never seem to catch that same comet by the tail.
Which leaves luck, but no one likes to talk too much about luck, because those conversations too easily slip into tally sheets and points-counting and endless debates about who’s getting the biggest piece of the pie. I sold my first book just over ten years ago. I’ve written almost forty of them so far, depending on how you count. Do shorts count? How short? 10,000 words? Online freebies? I don’t know. But that’s not the point. That’s tallying and counting.
This is the point: there is no pie.
Trust me. I’ve looked. I’ve even tried to bake my own now and again. There’s still no pie, no matter what anyone tells you. No one has a bigger piece than you. That’s fear talking, and maybe a little bit of bitterness, too. The truth is there is room for all of us. Because there has yet to be born a reader who has a set limit of good books she will read. Oh, she might make claims to the contrary, but we know better. We know - because we’re all readers too - that every single reader out there wants one thing and one thing only: that book.
That book that keeps her awake all night when she has to get up early the next morning. That book that makes her tear up when she’s reading it, or talking about it, or even just thinking about it the next day while she’s supposed to be doing something else. That book that she refuses to lend out, that book she replaces or keeps extra copies of, just in case. That book she personally takes from shelves or emails as gifts to everyone she thinks ought to read it. That book. That’s the book readers want.
So all you have to do - all I have to do - is write that book.
But that’s actually good news, because despite how many people you know who want to be writers - including all of those people who laugh when you tell them you write romances and then claim they’d “bang one out” over a weekend if they could find the time, though not one of those people ever manages to have a free weekend for some reason, especially after you invite them to share their results with you - despite all the people trying and all the people doing it and all the people dreaming about it, there are still more readers. The world is full of readers. Which means your readers are already out there, waiting for you. All you have to do is reach them, which is easier today than it’s ever been.
All we have to do is write the book. Isn’t that liberating?
The real secret is that there isn’t any secret. There’s no magic bullet. The only thing I know for a fact works is you with your butt in a chair, pounding out those words. There’s only finishing that word, that sentence, that page, that book, and then moving on to the next no matter what happens: rejection, publication, success, hideous reviews on Goodreads, whatever. The greatest act of creation - and the secret to success - is this: sitting back down. And writing. And writing more. As often as you can.
But the magic is in the how, and that’s what we’re going to talk about today. Craft.