Monday, July 11, 2016

How to become a USA Today bestseller, written by a USA Today bestseller

I was just having this conversation with my friend, and I realized that there are a LOT of myths and otherwise globs of misinformation about how to become a bestseller out there. I figured I'd try to squash a few of them, or as many as I can think of while I'm writing this.

Abby wrote a good book, but no list yet.
1. The secret to becoming a bestselling author is to write a really good book.

Not true, yet true at the same time. Yes, it is the goal of a writer, as an artist, to perfect their craft to write the very best book they can. But I've seen great books that sold ten copies and not so great books that sold millions. Not all good books become bestsellers and not all bestsellers are good books. Regardless of whether your book sells the ten thousand or the ten copies, I personally think you should write the best book you can. Why, if it won't guarantee success? I saw a sign in a factory where I once worked that read, "It takes 6 months to win a customer. It can take as little as 6 seconds to lose one." Now, writing books isn't factory work, but the same premise holds true. How many horrible books have you read that made you sure you'd never pick up that author again? How many meh books? Yeah, write good books. Write the best you can for yourself and for your readers... but this isn't a guaranteed way to hit the list, so... myth.

2. Only books that have been extensively edited and rewritten can become bestsellers.

Sometimes, sure. Other times, it seems like the editor was asleep at the wheel, but look at that book go! Editing is important, though, and if you didn't catch why... go reread #1 on this list. One bad book can be the thing to turn off what would've been your biggest fan. Avoid putting sloppy stuff on the market for your own good, but it still won't guarantee you a list.

3. You have to have an agent to become a bestseller.

An agent can help. I tried for one, back in the day, and I'll likely try for one again. Negotiating contracts is HARD and anyone who tells you otherwise is lying or trying to sell you something. Having an agent means you're less likely (stuff can always go awry) to sign a contract that isn't in your best interest and it increases your chances at getting an advance. That said, I know lots of agented authors who haven't yet hit a list and lots of unagented authors who have (like me.) So, although having another person on your team, fighting for you and believing in you, is great... it doesn't guarantee you're going to hit a list. Sorry.

4. You have to know someone. It is all a Catch 22. You have to have been published to get an agent. To get published you need
Abby lives with a bestseller, but, alas... she has no time
to read a book written by a pug.
an agent. You just can't win unless you know someone.


Now, I know some people. Not well, but I don't always get blank stares when I introduce myself, which is nice. However, when I started this journey? I knew no one. I was just a little lost soul in no where, Ohio, who fumbled around and kept writing the best books I could. I got published before I got an agent by submitting books and not dwelling for too long over rejections. There was no secret handshake, or if there is one... no one has taught it to me yet. So, yeah, you don't have to know someone to hit a list. Also, if you do know someone, sending your 200k erotic romance to them likely won't do a whole lot for your career. Sending your book off to another author in the hopes that they can get you on a list won't do much at all, really. Publishers publish books. Most authors either only self pub or work with publishers or some magical combination of both. Unless the author you're sending your book to is also a publisher (of other people's books, not just their own), sending them your work isn't really the way to do things. 

5. You can only become a bestseller if you're with X publisher.

I know indie bestsellers. I know traditional bestsellers. I know small press bestsellers...
If there was one magical publisher who could guarantee you a list by simply signing on the dotted line, everyone would publish solely with them and not bother with any other method. I've often compared publication with cooking spaghetti. You throw the noodles at the wall and hope they stick. If they don't stick, keep cooking. If they do, do a little dance but remember you have to feed the family tomorrow, too, so... keep cooking. 

Abby likes spaghetti, but she throws none at the wall. She just eats it all.




6. The publishers know when a book is going to be a bestseller. If they offer you a contract, you're golden.

Not so, although I wish this were true. My bestseller? It was rejected by three houses before it got picked up by its current home. Nothing changed about the book. One publisher stated over-saturation of the market and said that, if I resubbed in a couple years, they'd think about it. But at that time, they had to pass. Another stated--hang on, lemme check... Oh, yeah, "regrettably we feel that your story and characters are not sufficiently developed for publication." Nothing changed about the book, but it took a publisher that believed in it enough to give it a shot. Even then, they didn't know the book would hit like it did. They were hopeful. I was hopeful. But we were all just throwing those noodles at the wall and hoping they would stick. 

The original cover for Prince when it listed
7. Cover art is the key. You have to have a cover that is fabulous and really sticks out to make it on the list.


The week my book released, my publisher released another book with a cover that I personally liked better than my own. Both were pretty sexy, but all of the covers in that line are of the same nature. My book cover wasn't magically different than any other nor was it exactly the same as the other books on the list that week. It was a good cover, but it wasn't the best ever. I've seen some truly awesome covers on the lists and I've seen a lot of meh ones. Cover art is great and it seriously might help some, but at the end of the day... there is always one a little better and if the cover is great and the book isn't... readers notice. So, yeah, cover art isn't the silver bullet either.


Basically, I don't think anyone knows which books are going to be the ones that will soar and which ones will have only a cult following by four devoted fans. I wish there were easy answers. I know that the magical formula does seem to include the market being hungry for whatever it is you've written, using an original voice, writing a good story that is well-edited and clean, and then managing to make it be seen in the flood of books published daily. But even if you do all those things, there are no guarantees.

My story, While You Were Writing, is a GREAT story. I'm insanely proud of that book. The cover art was great, it is a contemporary romance that is probably some of my best work, and it was promoted to the best of my ability. It never had half the success of The Penthouse Prince.  If I knew why, I'd fix it, promise. The best I can say to you, if you're hoping to become a bestseller, is keep writing. Keep dreaming big. Keep honing your craft. One day, your spaghetti will stick to the wall. I believe in you.

Can you think of any surefire ways to become a bestseller? Lemme know in the comments section below, because mama needs a new pair of sneakers.

xoxo and happy writing,
virg

1 comment:

  1. Congrats on your success! It's well deserved! :)

    ReplyDelete