21 Keys to Best-Selling Fiction

June 27, 2008 at 6:47 am | Posted in Writing Craft | 3 Comments
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There are certain things readers want when they invest their precious time reading a novel. So many things compete for their leisure time and attention: family and friends, other activities like watching television and movies, participating in sports, tending hobbies, and traveling. It takes something special to make a novel stand out and propel it onto the bestseller lists.

But what is the key to making your book a bestseller?

Give readers what they want.

So, what do they want? And how do you go about giving it to them? Fortunately, James V. Smith Jr., the author of The Writer’s Little Helper, has the answers and provides a comprehensive list to help you unlock the secrets of successful fiction. He explains how you can start by analyzing and understanding the 21 key traits that exist in current bestselling fiction:

Appeal to the intellect. To you, the writer, these keys refer to how you research, organize, and structure your story. These are the large-scale mechanics of a novel.

  • Utility (writing about things that people will use in their lives)
  • Information (facts people must have to place your writing in context)
  • Substance (the relative value or weight in any piece of writing)
  • Focus (the power to bring an issue into clear view)
  • Logic (a coherent system for making your points)

Appeal to the emotions. These are ways you engage the reader to create buzz. Do these things right, and people will talk about your novel, selling it to others.

  • A sense of connection (the power of personal involvement)
  • A compelling style (writing in a way that engages)
  • A sense of humor (wit or at least irony)
  • Simplicity (clarity and focus on a single idea)
  • Entertainment (the power to get people to enjoy what you write)
  • A fast pace (the ability to make your writing feel like a quick read)
  • Imagery (the power to create pictures with words)
  • Creativity (the ability to invent)
  • Excitement (writing with energy that infects a reader with your own enthusiasm)

Appeal to the soul. With these traits, you examine whether your writing matters, whether it lasts, whether it elevates you to the next level as a novelist.

  • Comfort (writing that imparts a sense of well-being)
  • Happiness (writing that gives joy)
  • Truth (or at least fairness)
  • Writing that provokes (writing to make people think or act)
  • Active, memorable writing (the poetry in your prose)
  • A sense of Wow! (the wonder your writing imparts on a reader)
  • Transcendence (writing that elevates with its heroism, justice, beauty, honor)

Now, that you have all the keys, it’s time to unlock the doors to fiction success and give your readers exactly what they want from your novel.

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3 Comments »

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  1. Feelin’ rusty and stale with my writing…love the guidance.

  2. It’s a great little book (242 pages, 5×8 trim size). It’s full of quick, two-page gems on everything from POV to pacing, word choice to editing.

  3. Great advice here! Getting the reader to connect can be the hardest part at times. I need to check out that book.


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