Writing the commercial bestseller – the hard facts

Posted on Posted in The Prolific Author


Hello there – remember me?

Yes, I am back from my blogging hiatus. You can blame holidays and deadlines.

And please don’t hate me for the picture of where I spent a lot of time with my nose in a book.

So what is new in Nina’s world?

Well – I have just submitted the revisions on my latest Harlequin Romance title. So that means I have the luxury of some down time to fill the well.  And think about what I would like to write and read more of going forwards in 2012.

What qualifies as luxury? Reading has to be number one, but also catching up with the blog posts and articles on the writing life which get stacked up when I am on deadline. I love reading crime and popular commercial fiction on holiday – and Tess Gerritsen is one of my favourite authors.

Tess Gerritsen was interviewed a few years ago by Sandra Rutton in SpineTingler Magazine about the very real and personal decisions writers take when framing their story. And she had some very intersting things to say about what happens whan an author changes style or genre.

For example;

‘Sandra Rutton : Recently, there was an exhaustive discussion about whether or not the mystery genre is stagnate. You stated:“If you write something different, REALLY different, you get punished for it in reader confusion and poor sales.

Tess Gerritsen:Oh, it’s really hard! When you take on a risky and starkly different project, you’ll face resistance from just about everyone. Publishers want you to repeat your past successes again and again. Booksellers may not know where to shelve your new book. Cruelest of all are the readers, who may simply pass by your daring new book and reach for someone else, someone predictable.

The vast majority of readers want the same thing, over and over again. If you give them something they’re not expecting, the chances are, only a minority will truly appreciate what you’ve done.
So your sales suffer. And that begins the downward spiral of your sales, a spiral that could well turn into a death spiral from which your sales may not recover. And then you can’t sell ANY books, and that’s where being truly creative got you.

Some years ago, I wrote what I think of as my best book, GRAVITY. A thriller without any villains. A thriller set in orbit. It got the best reviews of my life and yet it sold the fewest copies. And it took me years for my career to recover from that disastrous experience.

Some of us long to write the truly creative, truly off-beat book. But we must do so with the full realization that for the most part, the reading public wants plain old-fashioned vanilla.

I think the only way one can survive as both an artist and a working writer is to limit the number of risks you take. You have to give the readers what they crave, the books they’ve come to expect from you. But every so often, just for yourself, write a book you need to write.
Otherwise you’ll get to the end of your career and look back with regret on all the projects you didn’t write, but dearly wanted to.”

For me this interview frames the very real dilemma writers who have more story ideas than time to write them all down face;

  • there are storylines and story ideas which an author is passionate about and wants to communicate to the readers
  • she has to frame those stories into a format and tell them the best way she can
  • she has studied the market and recognised the framework of fiction tropes which seem to be common to the bestselling work by popular authors – but they are the style she writes in
  • she want to be a contracted, working, professional author. She also wants to express her personal voice
  • she knows that literary agents and publishers run a business to make money and to do that they need to sell consumers something they need and want/ or will want.
  • So what genre and niches does she chose to kick start her career?
  • And then how does she break out into another branch and niche and possibly genre without alienating and confusing her readers?

I love writing and reading contemporary romance – but I also love reading and writing crime fiction.

Perhaps this summer is the ideal time to explore some of those options ?

Time to bite the bullet and get down to create a product which can appeal to a wide audience and will make itself irresistable to the market – and STILL retain a unique and special voice.

Better get to work.

2 thoughts on “Writing the commercial bestseller – the hard facts

    1. Full marks to the lovely lady with the good memory. Flutter flutter. And many congrats on your new release. Perfect for when the rain eventually clears LOL

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