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What makes a Book a Best Seller?

Updated on October 16, 2015

What are the Rules for Writing Successfully?

There are three rules for writing a novel...fortunately no one knows what they are”

When asked the question "what motivates us to write " it got me thinking about the above quote found on a window of a shop in Chelsea, London, and the various writing styles that people have and what it might take to make a good book a best seller. And it gave me hope that one day I might just crack the code of success!

Is there a tried and true recipe for success?

Have some found the magic formula while others search their whole writing career to find some measure of success to no avail?
What do classic writers such as Tolstoy, Salinger, F Scott Fitzgerald, C.S Lewis, Anna Sewell, Tolkien, Blyton, Steinbeck, SE Hinton, DH Lawrence, Hemingway and James have that makes a number one hit?
Or more recently modern writers such as Dan Brown, John Grisham, Stephanie Meyer, J K Rowlings, Mathew Riley, Nicholas Evans, Le Carre.

I think to answer these questions some truth can be found in the quote above found on a book shop window. Because if you are an avid reader and read widely it’s not hard to see that a best seller comes in many forms. Fiction, non fiction, fantasy, speculative fiction, biographical, poetry, historical and literary among many, and cater for all tastes. On any best seller list the writing style is enormously varied and the authors have won over scores of readers world wide.

It seems obvious then that there are no set “rules” genre, tense or language for writing a successful book as the variety of best sellers from the following Authors show us.

Dan Browns Da Vinci Code - Mystery and Intrigue

Beatrix Potters Peter Rabbit - Classic Children

Nicholas Evans Notebook - Unforgettable Romance

Tolkiens Hobbit - Fantasy

Meyers Twilight - YA Paranormal with a love story twist

And the list goes on...

These are all successful authors with differing writing styles and genres. A dichotomy of style within different genres.

But what do they have in common?

No secret recipe, no set formula just the magic of good story telling.

Most of us would agree the best stories are ones that we are drawn into and can’t put down, page turners where some element of the narrative winds it’s way into our heart and soul and spirit and we are touched beyond expectation and explanation.

So what makes a good novel great... I am no expert but perhaps some of the following elements that I have learned are of significant value in the writing process are worth considering.

1. Commitment. There is more to a best seller than good luck and great story telling and my guess is and I suspect that most of us know that unless a writer is spectacularly gifted in the vein of Stephanie Myer or J K Rowling there definitely must be more to it. Singularly one of the most significant factors to cracking the formula for a successful novel is hard work and effort. Commitment is a must for manuscript development. I think it would be safe to say that most writers beginning a manuscript have no idea of the work involved that has to go into the editing process to produce a polished end product that a publisher will be drawn to, read and hopefully publish. Dedication and commitment are key factors.

All the luck in the world and fantastic story telling definitely helps but without the hard work of editing a manuscript, editing and re editing, a story is just another story with all it’s blemishes and mistakes such as punctuation and spelling, structure and lay out and many other foibles and faults.

2. Passion for writing helps. Passion to write what you love or know helps to make a story unique. Passion to look for and find a fresh take on stories that have already been written. Passion to maintain the authentic nature and voice of your characters and storyline and passion to write about things that you don’t like, believe in or easily deal with for the sake of the story.

3. Resilience. Writers need resilience to continue their craft when facing submission rejection; peer and reader criticism; and working with editors who will inevitably bring change to their manuscript. Writers must be prepared to accept that editors agents and publishers may not be enthralled with their efforts and need to contain their horror and watch and accept that large sections of their manuscript sometimes whole chapters are slashed away and refined making way for a tight polished finished product. 'writers can’t afford to be precious with their work' . An editor or publisher may not like everything you write, the characters in your story, the introduction to the story, or the way it ends. It is difficult to face criticism at any time but even more so when a writer has poured countless hours of their time, effort and passion into a manuscript to be told it's not up to par. It may require effort but it is crucial to a successful outcome to not take their input personally. Remember that their experience and suggestions are vital for yours and your manuscripts development and are to be endorsed wherever possible.

The Writing of a Great Book

What are the Elements that make up a great Book

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Perhaps the right tools may help!And a comfy chair to think in!
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And a comfy chair to think in!
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    • carter06 profile image

      Mary 3 years ago from Cronulla NSW

      Thanks for dropping by Peg..& for naming the author of that famous saying:) I loved it when I saw it on a shop window in Chelsea some years ago..good luck with the fine tuning of your novel.. Cheers

    • PegCole17 profile image

      Peg Cole 3 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      I like your summary of three rules for writing: commitment, passion and resilience. I'm still trying to fine tune that novel that I've written and find that my passion passes for a while before returning, then my commitment wanes, but I'm determined to be resilient to the end where it finally ends up published.

      W. Somerset Maugham said it well when he said, "There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”

      The rules change with each author and what applies to one doesn't actually work for another as you've explained well here.

    • Huntgoddess profile image

      Huntgoddess 3 years ago from Midwest U.S.A.

      No problem carter. It just makes me sick.

      Dostoyevsky would be so ashamed.

    • carter06 profile image

      Mary 3 years ago from Cronulla NSW

      Thanks so much Huntgoddess..for bringing this to my attention..gosh it's my or first that I'm aware of..will look into it..Cheers

    • Huntgoddess profile image

      Huntgoddess 3 years ago from Midwest U.S.A.

      This article has been plagiarized at the above link. I found out about this fraudulent thievery website from HP Forum. I was checking it out for some of my stuff (which I did not find . . . YET), but I've been doing some random investigation.

      They have many, many pages of articles there, perhaps all of which are plagiarized from Hubpages. It's all in Russian, but you can just translate with the Internet.

      BTW: Great Hub.

      I'm too upset to read it all the way through now, but it looks good. I definitely want to continue :-)

      Take care. Please make a complaint. I think it's called "DMCA?"

    • carter06 profile image

      Mary 4 years ago from Cronulla NSW

      So glad you like my quote btw:) and I don't think that you are a cynic in making your comment I think you are right!! It's def 50/50 talent/luck & who you know will only help to get your writing out there and is imperative to building your writers platform..I have attended writers festivals and met some fantastic people & some that are really helpful..

      Think it's a dream we all have for people to love what we write!!


    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      I hate to be the voice of the cynic but look at the author blurb on most best-sellers. How many of them went to Ivy League Schools? How many of them already had careers in the New York City publishing network? I really think about half of writing a best-seller is luck and/or talent and the other half is who you know - just like most everything else in life.

      Still, I like this discussion and anything that keeps us motivated to keep writing is helpful. I feel the same way anonymous and suspect many of us do. I'd just like to be read.

    • carter06 profile image

      Mary 4 years ago from Cronulla NSW

      Hi anonnymous, thanks so much for your comments...and I sincerely hope that you will have your dream come true and be published one day!!

      If I have helped to get you motivated with this hub to seek publication, even in some small way, I am honored and wish you every success:)

      As for what makes a best seller? Many, many reasons, and determination to get your book out there..good luck..cheers

    • profile image

      anonnymous 4 years ago

      I love to write. I've been writing since I was ten years old and am now

      24. Ever since I started writing, my big dream was and still is to get a

      book published. I would love, love, LOVE to make it big! The reason for

      this is not necessarily because I would want to make lots of money or

      be famous, but because I want my books to get read. And I've always

      figured that books that don't make it big never get read. They just sit on

      the bookstore shelves or librabry shelves forever and collect dust. Nobody ever finds out about them.

      The only book series that I've read that doesn't have Best Seller written across it that has actually succeeded pretty well, that I've seen, is the Dragon Spell series. It's an extremely well-written, captivating christian fantasy that has the potental and all the makings and ingredients to be a

      best-seller but surprisingly, isn't on the list.

      I've always wondered why that is. The books are most deffinately best-

      seller materieal and sell pretty good in quite large numbers but aren't

      on the list. This dose give me a clue that just because a book doesn't say

      best-seller on it doesn't necessarily mean that it won't sell good. Because Dragon Spell doesn't say best-seller on it but it certainly sells like one.

      I desperately hope that one day if I ever get a book published that it will make it big too! That's my biggest dream and I hope, one day it will come true!

    • carter06 profile image

      Mary 4 years ago from Cronulla NSW

      So glad this hub was helpful for you Sulochana - my aim was to include tips that would be helpful...cheers

    • profile image

      Sulochana Rai 4 years ago

      I like writing articles and also stories ..Recently i have been writing my opinion on peoplespeak in our newspaper. The above three things just made me realize that they are very important for a writer..thankyou..

    • carter06 profile image

      Mary 5 years ago from Cronulla NSW

      Thanks for dropping by Nell, it's always good to see you...perhaps real life stories like some of your hubs are your thing Nell & turning them into ebooks could be profitable for you...anyway thanks...cheers

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 5 years ago from England

      Hi carter, I did manage to write an ebook, but that totally flowed because it was a real life story to do with me and my family, but sitting down and just thinking about an idea gives me headache! lol! I wrote a book back in the 80s on an old electric typewriter and thought it would be cool to transcribe it to pc, but its rubbish now! so old fashioned I would have to start all over again, oh well never mind! great information, and voted up! nell

    • carter06 profile image

      Mary 5 years ago from Cronulla NSW

      Thanks so much TT, appreciate you coming by and voting...I guess the info can be useful for any one writing...thanks for pointing that out...cheers

    • TToombs08 profile image

      Terrye Toombs 5 years ago from Somewhere between Heaven and Hell without a road map.

      Carter, you offer some very good advice and guidance on what a write should strive for, regardless of whether they wish to be a best seller or someone starting out on hubpages. Well done and very helpful. Voted up and more!

    • carter06 profile image

      Mary 5 years ago from Cronulla NSW

      Thank you for your insightful comments are right it is subjective because literary taste is so different...and like you say there have been books that win awards and make the best seller category that are hard to see how they get to the top the list...and how many books sell thousands of copies owing to some controversy and people buy because they want to see what all the fuss is make some really good points here, thanks...cheers

    • LABrashear profile image

      LABrashear 5 years ago from My Perfect Place, USA

      This is definitely a tough question. It is pretty subjective. I mean, you can have the obvious person at the top of the best seller list, but like you said, there are different genres to break down from there. There are some mega big best sellers that I have tried and tried and tried again to read, but can't seem to get them read. There are some I've read that I cannot understand why they are not at the top of the list. Passion is one part, but I think perseverance and good marketing don't hurt either!

    • carter06 profile image

      Mary 5 years ago from Cronulla NSW

      Thank you Salamon, sorry I missed your comment...send me an email & I will respond...cheers

      It is a great quote Jainismus, I really loved it when I saw it & had to share it...thanks so much for your votes & sharing...cheers

    • jainismus profile image

      Mahaveer Sanglikar 5 years ago from Pune, India

      Great Hub, useful for writers. The quote “There are three rules for writing a novel...fortunately no one knows what they are” you have given at the start of the Hub is very interesting.

      I have voted up and shared this Hub with my followers.

    • profile image

      Salamon István 5 years ago

      Hello Cartero6 I would like to ask your name, because I am writing my final paper to graduate...and I used your opinions about what makes a book bestseller :)

      Respectfully Salamon István from Transylvania :)

    • carter06 profile image

      Mary 5 years ago from Cronulla NSW

      Thanks for your interesting comment never no until you give it a go...2 years ago if someone had told me I'd write a 50 thousand word novel, I would have thought it a bit crazy but feat accomplished now, and I'm still writing and totally love it...and hubs as well...

      Give it a go you won't be sorry and...please sign a copy for me :)

      Best of luck!

    • Mritzert1 profile image

      Mritzert1 5 years ago from Canton, OH

      Great article and quite an interesting read! I often wonder the exact same thing myself. I've always had a passion to become an author of YA books someday. Here's hoping I possess some of the traits it takes to write something successful.

    • carter06 profile image

      Mary 5 years ago from Cronulla NSW

      bagamall please accept my apology for late reply and very much appreciate you dropping by my 'What Makes a Book a Best seller' hub...yes editing can be a cruel process...but an oh so necessary one my friend...cheers

    • carter06 profile image

      Mary 5 years ago from Cronulla NSW

      Thanks for your kind comments glad you found it helpful...cheers

    • carter06 profile image

      Mary 5 years ago from Cronulla NSW

      Thanks for dropping by jools and for your votes...yes the cutting process is a painful process at first but is totally for the best...and 'the book thief' sounds amazing I so want to read it!!!

    • Jools99 profile image

      Jools99 5 years ago from North-East UK

      Carter06, good hub! I can't imagine sitting with someone who cuts swathes out of your writing :o( but you have convinced me that this externalising is probably for the better. I love a good page turner and read all kinds of books - I have just read 'The Book Thief', a tale of a young orphaned girl growing up and sheltering a Jew in the second world war; that was a page turner, excellent book.

      Voted up, etc.

    • bgamall profile image

      Gary Anderson 5 years ago from Las Vegas, Nevada

      I hate editing, unless it is done on the spot, on the fly.

    • carter06 profile image

      Mary 5 years ago from Cronulla NSW

      I am learning that it is easy to come up with a good story or idea but it takes hard work in the editing process and then determination to improve it.Thank's thebiologyofleah for your insightful comment. Great you found it thought provoking!

    • thebiologyofleah profile image

      Leah Kennedy-Jangraw 5 years ago from Massachusetts

      This is an interesting topic, definitely a mystery writers have been trying to crack for a long time! I like your three points, from a writer's persceptive I think they make total sense. I've never attempted to write anything longer than an article but I imagine having resilience and commitment are key.

      From a reader's persceptive- for me the three things are simpler- there is a good idea-the overall concept of the story; the follow-up- the plot points in detail; and being a good writer. With the third point, it's simple, the author either has it or doesn't.

      A recent favorite author of mine is Tana French and she represents all three, her overall story idea is good, she follows it through with a good plot throughout and she effortlessly seems to be a good writer. Her writing draws you in.

      To compare I read a book a while back called The Sherlockian, recently published the premise was two stories intertwined- a modern day murder mystery occurring at a Sherlock society convention and a story line featuring Arthur Conan Doyle. Here the idea was great, but the follow through and writing weren't. I actually wished while reading it someone else took the premise and ran with it.

      Great hub, as you can judge by my long comment, it was thought-provoking!