4 Reasons Best Sellers Get to Suck & You Don’t

According to Publishers Weekly, the top 50 million books sold in the U.S. in 2009 were all written by the same 26 people. How does that happen? Think about it.

  1. Readers know their names.

    You can test this one. Are you famous? Absolutely no facility with the written word, no writing experience, not a writer, never going to be a writer? Is learning to write, in fact, way down at the bottom of your To-Do list, somewhere near learning to groom poodles? But a whole lot of people want your autograph?

    Write a book. It will be published, it will be bought, it will make lots and lots and lots of money. Congratulations! You just proved the one fundamental, overriding principle of publishing.
  2. They are professional salespeople.

    On the other hand, are you the opposite of famous? Does nobody know your name, not even your neighbor? Do you go to great lengths to be anonymous, to hide, to fade into the woodwork? Is Wallflower your favorite nickname? (This is me.) But you have a special genius with the written word that is not—as with so many of us—in our fond imaginations, but simply an inarguable fact? (I know. Dream on! But we need this for the sake of the argument.) And, as is true of any genius, you honestly deserve to make your living off this extraordinary talent?

    Write a book. Self-publish it. Do not market it. Do not tell anyone you wrote it. Do not sell it through any channels but individual personal request.

    Let me know how that goes for you.
  3. They have been publishing for decades.

    On the third hand, are you not famous but trying? Do you have a work in progress? Did you start it this year? Do you have no previous experience as a writer, but a real affinity for people like Dan Brown, who appears to be interested in the same things you’re interested in and roughly as good at writing about them as you are? Do you get your faith in yourself as a writer from belonging to online critique groups and writing circles and forums where thousands of strangers trade untrained amateur feedback on each other’s manuscripts? Do you happen to know you’re better than almost all of those guys? Are you certain that publishing fame is just around the corner for you, if only some agent and/or publisher would realize your WIP is plenty good enough to stand up next to most of the shlock published these days?

    Write a first draft. Do not squander your hard-earned cash getting help with it. (Remember what they say: money always flows toward the writer.) Spend a long time sending hundreds of queries and being rejected. Become disgusted with the fame-obsessed publishing industry and self-publish. See above.
  4. They would be just as successful at producing any other mass-market product.

    On the fourth hand, are you not famous or even hoping to become famous but simply in love with the writing process? Do you love being a writer—the practice of wrestling with this craft, studying what professionals are willing to teach you, reading the greats and analyzing their approaches and techniques, applying what you learn to your own work? Have you already dedicated decades of your life to this craft with little or no monetary reward? Are you baffled by the quality of what’s being published these days but too in love with the craft to waste time worrying about it? Is writing part of your personal identity? Do you have drawers in your house overflowing with manuscripts no one has ever read because it means more to you to write than it does to be read?

    Congratulations, my friend. You don’t need instructions on what to do.

8 thoughts on “4 Reasons Best Sellers Get to Suck & You Don’t

  1. Terry Odell says:

    Very good advice. I think #4 is a vital factor.

    Terry’s Place
    Romance with a Twist–of Mystery

  2. I self-published a novel and didn’t bother to market it, but amazingly it sold more than 100 copies. (I only self-published for my friends and family and I gave them copies.) I think the people who hate me bought it, hoping it was really, really, really terrible. It’s not. It’s a comedy crime caper and unless one has a big name, no one is in the market for a comedy crime caper. (I don’t think 100 people hate me, by the way.)

    I certainly agree with all your points, though I do share one quality with poor Flaubert. I agonize over every single word. I want the whole to say precisely what I pictured in my mind’s eye, and some of the time, it doesn’t. At those times, I feel more like cursing the writing process than anything else, but I always come back. In fact, I just can’t stay away. Writing has simply become part and parcel of who I am.

    Your advice is advice all writers should take to heart, Victoria, and as always, you’ve delivered it with that panache that makes it so much fun to read. (Even though I’m sitting here agonizing over a plot point right now.)

  3. Gina says:

    Ugh. It’s like you’re reading my mind 90% of the time. =)

  4. Donna Hole says:

    LOL; does this mean I get to sit in critique land forever and never have to query again? 🙂

    Comes a point where you gotta stop sucking up the learning and get out there. This is where I’m at; gotta query to see if I learned anything . . .


  5. A.

    This is simply brilliant. One of the best and most important posts I’ve seen on the reality of writing.

    I often wonder if the biggest problem is simply that we writers love swimming in delusional pools. Such pretty waterfalls and the temperature is always just right. We are dreamers after all, so who wants to spoil such a good thing with a little truth.

  6. It’s funny, I only realized recently that there is a difference between wanting to write a book and being a writer. Only writers are genuinely interested in the craft of writing. Others just see a book as a means towards achieving other ends: telling their story, promoting their business, fame, fortune etc. (good luck to them with those last two).

  7. You are right on all points. Seems like the difference really is sticking to it, making connections, and selling a great product. I believe they would be successful in any other industry…its the work ethic, I think.
    Edge of Your Seat Romance

  8. Victoria says:

    Hi you guys! I know I’m not keeping up on the comments. I’m sorry! I’m up to my eyeballs in publishing this book (The Art & Craft of Fiction), plus I just had to write a new children’s book for my son, as I do every year at this time of year. I know—you’d think after the first year I’d have learned.

    Thank you for carrying the ball. I love hearing from you all!

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