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Sunday, August 26, 2012

Reverse Engineering a Hit Novel or How to Write a Best Seller

I open the forum to all writers of all genres. 
How do you go about planning to write the next mega hit novel?
As writers, we all strive to create the best-selling novel. What is a major component of the best-seller?  I believe it is the initial idea which will eventually become the plot. There are a number of reasons people pick up books: the cover art or the familiarity of the author. But I surmise it is the idea which is the ultimate hook. It is the concept which allows the novel to endure because reviewers and readers will criticize or applaud the book’s ideas. It is the substance which will bring about additional readers once marketing campaigns, cover art or the catchy title becomes dissected further.
Using this premise, how does one create the hit idea? This is an elusive endeavor because there is no formula. Possibly, an author could borrow on the idea of the latest best seller. This is probably least commendable but has certainly been done.
So, without ‘borrowing’ how do we find the hook which will entice the literary agent to pitch the book to the publisher? This question, if answered, would be an author’s goldmine.
As indie authors we go about the process without much of a clue. We must write our entire manuscript and edit it over the course of months or maybe years to find if it has marketable acceptance. It is not a very efficient way to create art if your intention is to market it on a mass scale. We cannot get inside the heads of literary agents who often send us rejection letters saying ‘this idea doesn’t excite me enough to offer representation’ or some equivalent phrasing that I’m sure we’ve all had the fortune to receive in our inboxes at least one (or possibly hundreds…thousands?) time or another.
It is suggested we test our ideas out on other writers in workshops. This would provide a litmus test but would it be effective? How many different opinions might we receive on our idea? And, if the idea is a sound and marketable one, might we be afraid of having our idea stolen?
I do not have an answer to this dilemma. So I birth a novel through its inception and send out a query microencapsulating it in a paragraph or two, hoping I got my idea through to the literary gatekeeper. Maybe I did – or didn’t. Regardless, more often or not, the agent will respond enigmatically. It’s not the premise they want or can get behind. But we still do not know what it is ‘they can get behind’ do we?
The dilemma continues. Without borrowing an idea or two from the current best seller, what else could we do to find what the publisher and reader wants without resorting to complete guesswork or reverse engineering the best-selling novel?
I open the forum and welcome your ideas on this never ending quest!


  1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts! I am writing a fiction novel right now and I often ask myself the same thing!

  2. My big idea has been percolating since the movie League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. I have my own cast of extraordinary literary heroes and enough Steampunk, I hope, to satisfy the craver after Victorian clockwork tech. Human trafficking is also a big issue and a great opportunity to put heroism and personal sacrifice on display so I have included that. I also think people are ready for characters who rely on God and the Scriptures rather than just their own human or mystical strength. The Alexander Legacy series is going to incorporate all of these things and more!