You’re writing fiction for money, because as a freelance writer, you’re writing to pay your mortgage and feed your family. You know that bestselling fiction authors are raking in five figures each month.
Of course you want to do that too.
The good news is that if other authors can do it, so can you… The bad news? It’s this — luck plays a major role in whether or not your fiction sells BIG.
Writing fiction bestsellers: luck is part of the equation
Luck is involved, because:
- Readers want what they want, and their wants can change rapidly. Witness the “50 Shades” phenomenon. No one saw that coming;
- Timing plays a part too. Let’s say that your agent offered a novel to a traditional publishing house a few years ago. The consensus was: “not for us.” You thought the novel was a stinker… But three years later, that particular genre is hot, and you watch ten novels, similar to your so-called stinker, climb up Amazon’s rankings… Ouch. (This is a reason to self-publish. No one knows anything, least of all editors at major houses);
- And so on and so forth… Luck is real. Excellent, but unlucky, novels get little or no recognition.
We have zero control of what sells, and what doesn’t, but we can control our writing. So, let’s focus on what makes a bestselling plot.
What makes a bestselling plot?
We covered some tips in Write Fiction For Readers: 3 Tips For Narrative Drive.
The three tips in that article are all vital to a bestselling plot. Please read the article, if you haven’t read it, and apply the tips to your current fiction projects.
I’ve covered those three tips again in this article, because they’re vital elements. You can’t over-state their importance.
1. Control Information: stop blabbing
In fiction writing, you write to enable readers to use their imagination. The less you direct their imagination the better. This needn’t mean stripped-down sparse prose, nor does it mean that you must create indigestible literary fiction.
It does mean that you avoid explanations. Tell readers just enough of what they need to know, at just the right time. More here.
2. Create a life or death situation for your main character
As we said here, the “death” needn’t be literal death, but it must be something which would destroy your main character.
I can’t read New Adult fiction, because it’s too angsty and “much ado about nothing” for me. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t sell. The hot sellers sell amazingly. Again, more here.
3. Remember to use open loops: close one, open another
Ah, open loops… an amazing strategy and one you need to use.
The open loops device is closely related to our first “control information” tip, of course.
In my current novel, an historical mystery, I’ve only got another 7,000 words to write, and I’m happily closing all the open loops, because the Climax approaches. More on open loops here.
Now for another two elements of great importance…
4. Readers want to learn something new: setting is everything
One of the benefits of reading is that you learn stuff. We mentioned the “50 Shades” phenomenon. My theory is that its popularity owed a great deal to the subject matter. Many readers had never heard of those things, and they wanted to learn more.
Check out the current NYT Bestseller List. At the time of writing, July 2018, the bestselling books all owe a lot to their setting and milieu.
For example, the top seller, The President Is Missing, is written by Bill Clinton and James Patterson; readers expect to learn something new when they read this thriller.
Major bestsellers always have a “here’s something you don’t know” slant.
4. Spice it up with a sprinkle of humor
Humor is a challenge, and it can be dangerous. That said, if your mind works that way, and you can add a little humor when you’re writing fiction, you’re golden.
Occasionally authors will add a some humor in the first draft, but usually, once they have the story down, authors deliberately look for situations in their scenes, and in their dialogue, which can they spice up.
Writing fiction bestsellers: keep writing, and get creative
We’ve talked about luck. However, creativity counts. Look for ways in which you can offer readers something they haven’t read before, while staying within a genre’s expectations.
Happy writing… and may Lady Luck be with you. 🙂
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