Want to write a book that sells? Great stuff: let’s aim to reach as many readers as possible! Here are three top tips to help you write a commercial bestseller:
1. Know Your Market
Make sure you’re up to date with what’s selling within your chosen genre. A certain rather large online retailer handily breaks down the genres of books into bestseller charts. Whatever you’re writing – whether it’s crime, women’s commercial fiction, thriller etcetera – find the relevant chart and familiarise yourself with the top twenty. Straight up: ignore classics, and anything that was published more than 18 months ago. As much as possible, you want to be looking for what is being bought and sold by publishers right now. And then read some – at least six. Look for the expectations of the genre: watch for reoccurring patterns and rhythms. Does your book align with those key elements, whilst offering a fresh twist or angle? If not: fix it. And take a look at the titles in the chart: you will see fashions in these too. It’s not a deal breaker, but if you tonally align the title of your book to what is already on the shelves, it will help strengthen your pitch package.
2. Have a High Concept, Big Book, Banging Idea
What is a high or strong concept? What about a big book? And why do agents and editors all say they’re looking for them? A high or strong concept/big book idea is a way of saying you can sum up what your book is about in one or two short snappy sentences, that will make most people who hear it want to read it. A book about a serial killer? Not a high concept. A book about a serial killer who isn’t on trial, but is on the jury? That’s a high concept. (Hat tilt to Steve Cavanagh’s Thirteen, which has that exact set up. A number of you will now seek it out: ta dah! It works!). Why do agents and editors want this? Isn’t a good old fashioned well told story enough? Sadly, not always nowadays. Think about it like this… Everyone’s busy, right? You’re busy. You want a book to read on your holiday: but you have minutes to pick one, the kids are crying for sweets, they’ve just called your flight. Which are you going to select? The book that says it good, but doesn’t really stand out from any of the others, or the one with the whopping great hook on the front cover? Have a high concept and you have that ready-made 'salesy' hook to grab those readers.
3. Keep it Pacey
There are so many competitors for our time nowadays: not just other books, but terrestrial TV, streamers, films, podcasts, computer games, social media, and the entire rabbit hole that is the internet. How do you hook people in, and keep them? Keep that pace up! You want your reader to keep turning the pages, to keep reading ‘just one more chapter’, and ultimately keep them desperate to find out what happens next?! Make sure your writing is tight and pacey to really reel people in, and hold on to them. If they feel like they’ve been on a rollercoaster ride of a book they had to devour, they will recommend it to others.
Angela is the author of the crime thrillers On My Life (Hachette, 2019), Trust Me (HarperCollins, 2017), Watch Me (HarperCollins, 2016), and Follow Me (HarperCollins, 2015). She also wrote the humorous memoir Confessions of a Fashionista (Penguin Random House, 2013). Follow Me was named Amazon’s Rising Star Debut January 2016, long listed for the Crime Writer’s Association Dagger in the Library 2016, and short listed for the Dead Good Page Turner Award 2016.