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How to Write a Bestselling Novel: 8 Tips for Making the Bestsellers List

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Nov 8, 2020 • 4 min read

The publishing industry is a murky, hierarchical place, but it does tend to yield some fairytale endings. J.K. Rowling was famously rejected by handfuls of publishing houses before Harry Potter became a household name. Romance novel Fifty Shades of Grey tapped into an already popular fan fiction thread and became an unexpected cultural phenomenon. Popular fiction can come from any genre, and anyone committed to the craft of writing—be they a new writer or established veteran—might just have the potential to become a bestselling author.



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8 Tips for Writing a Bestselling Novel

The key to bestselling fiction is right in the name: sell. Topping the bestsellers list is all about getting your new book in as many hands as you possibly can, and there are a few different ways to go about it. If you want a coveted spot on The New York Times bestseller list, you’ll need to focus on book sales through traditional publishing companies: Specifically, five to ten thousand copies sold in one week—and they can’t be sold in bulk. Here are some tips for turning your book into a bestseller:

  1. Consider your audience. Do you want to write for kids or adults? A mainstream crowd, or more literary types? With this in mind, conduct market research by going online or in bookstores to see what’s already out there. Which books appeal to your specific market genre and have enough appeal to be bestsellers?
  2. Establish ironclad habits. You don’t have to be special or important. Your experience doesn’t have to be unique. You just have to be compelled to write, and you have to write every day. Even authors who have been published and continue to sell books still put pen to paper every day because they are obsessed with the act of writing itself. Eventually, you will build a body of work. Then, stay open, say yes to opportunities, and imagine every one of these opportunities leading you farther down the path to writing a breakout hit.
  3. Find the right representation. There are no guarantees in the world of art. You can do all the work and write a good book—even a great book—but it may still disappear into the void. If you wish to be published by a traditional publisher, though, you’ll need representation. The same commitment you brought to writing your novel will be critical when facing the publishing world. In finding an agent, you should know what your priorities are. Do your homework. Most agents specialize in representing certain genres or kinds of work, so you’ll have more success if you tailor your queries to ones who are publishing books in the same family as yours. Build a team that believes in you. Find an agent and an editor who is passionate about your writing.
  4. Cultivate and maintain a fan base. Social media is an important tool for writers today. Plan to be active on it in order to spread the word about yourself and your books. Balance your promotional content with news, humor, live Q&A discussions, and even short stories. Become familiar with the nationwide book fair circuit. There are also tons of smaller local fairs throughout the country. Attending these sorts of events and meet other authors as well as new groups of potential fans.
  5. Tap into your network. Sometimes, a bestselling book really does come down to who you know. Celebrating a book launch with favorable articles in mainstream media, a well-placed interview on a popular podcast, and endorsements or blurbs from other authors and taste-makers in the industry can all bolster a new novel’s sales by giving it credibility.
  6. Be willing to do a lot of promotion. Malcolm Gladwell’s first book, The Tipping Point, didn’t become popular until after he’d worked hard to promote it for years. Dan Brown wrote three novels before his breakout success with The Da Vinci Code, and in much of that time, he had to bring the same consistency and determination to selling his work as he did to the writing itself. For a lot of newly-published authors, promoting your novel means committing your own time and resources. You may have to find your own opportunities, which means seeking out bookstores, libraries, radio shows, and book clubs that can spread the word about your novel. You may have to make appearances and do your own preparation work for book signings and talks. Like writing a novel, these short-term investments of time and energy will pay off in the long term. Ultimately, you’re investing in yourself.
  7. Create a niche for yourself. What can you do to make sure you’re different from everyone you’re competing with? Keep in mind that different doesn’t necessarily mean better—trying to be better than everyone you’re competing with is setting the bar too high, and comparing your own book to anyone else’s is a recipe for despair. There’s already one Stephen King: Give readers a reason to read you. Embrace the parts of your style or identity that make you different. People want a glimpse of a perspective different from their own.
  8. Learn from your reviews. A well-written bad review can provide valuable feedback. It can be painful but instructive. It can help you grow as a writer. But don’t forget that the critic is not your audience. Your readers will receive your work in all kinds of different ways. One critic doesn’t represent all of them.

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