Thursday, July 7, 2011

What Makes a Bestseller?

Whisper Cape comes out tomorrow, and I won’t pretend to be calm. I am not, being my first I would say there is not a calm bone in my body. So in order to direct some of that nervous energy somewhere I decided to ask the question … what makes a bestseller?
Everyone has an opinion about this. Here’s mine.
 What makes series like J.R. Ward’s sexy and dangerous Black Dagger Brotherhood, Suzanne Collin’s deadly Hunger Games series, J.K. Rowling’s seven Harry Potter books or even Stephanie Meyer’s seemingly ever-popular Edward/Bella/Jacob triangle, best sellers?
Please don’t tell me it’s plain old simple luck at hitting the market at the right time. I suppose that has something to do with it, but there is something about these series that entices readers to the point of obsession.
 New and different worlds. One thing all of these series have in common is the worlds which their characters inhabit, all different and carefully constructed by the writers to sustain their characters and their situations. Let’s take the Black Dagger Brotherhood books, for example. A world with vampires, but not just your ordinary blood-sucking variety that either kill their prey or make them into vampires, too. These are not your mother's vamps but a new and different species entirely populates this world, where vampires are born and not made, though they don't begin to look the part until they're the right age. They can even die during their transformation if not given the proper nourishment from a vampire of the opposite sex. But surely, this different world alone wasn’t what brought this particular series such success. I believe it had to be the "brothers" themselves. All of them are huge, fighting-machine-type males capable of love and tenderness with their own set of problems and failures to overcome before attaining the life and love they all so badly desire. The fact that they are all gorgeous helped too, I’m sure.
 Conflict would also be at the top of the list of what makes a book a bestseller. The authors of these series were very good at filling scenes with action/adventure, change, and conflict. The conflict maybe small, but it is still there. Take Harry Potter for instance. Harry, Hermione, and Ron all changed and grew with each new conflict, making them more mature, seasoned, wary and courageous.  Over the course of seven books, the three became like family members, always facing new and exciting challenges.
I won’t bother going into the success of “Twilight.” That was simple, girl loves boy, boy loves girl, but also desperately wants to suck her blood until there is no more. Then throw in the other boy loves (the same) girl and we have our teen love triangle. These are major conflicts, in my opinion, and many young girls can relate to much of it-minus the PN aspects--in their own love lives. Sometimes that boy is just so unattainable he might as well be a vampire.
In the Hunger Games series, there is a continuing stream of conflict consisting of possible death and injury. Where killing to stay alive is the norm and danger escalates with every turn, Katniss and Peeta are so busy running for their lives they barely have time to kiss. But let’s be real. Of course they kiss.
Failure and success. In any great novel, the protagonist’s story must be interesting and include at least one major goal that the hero/heroine is filled with a desire to attain. It’s the antagonist’s job, of course, to see that he or she fails. Strong heroes and heroines are made, not born, and can only be as strong as fighting their villain makes them. So, if the bad guy or gal isn’t virtually inviolable, there is no challenge for the hero, which can make for a very boring book.
I’m sure there is more to a book being a bestseller, but these stick out to me. Please feel free to comment and add any information you may have as I am very eager to learn. Thanks for reading.



  1. Yeah, well, I had to focus that energy somewhere. :)

  2. All of these are true, Regan. But voice is most important of all. I can't remember the number of book I've read that have ticked the boxes and some with interesting concepts - but the 'voice'? Like listening to the meanderings of a dry and boring old man. Or woman.

    Hope you're having a really good weekend

  3. You're right, Mike. Voice is the most important. Thanks for the reminder.


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