It’s a New Year. For many, the calendar moving into January means it’s time to finally write that bestselling book you’ve been dreaming about, talking about, doing-everything-but-writing about. No matter what type of book you’re writing, here are a few key tactics that will help ensure you create a product people are willing to plunk down their hard-earned cash to buy. If you want to write a bestseller this year, then read on.
Make a List and Make a Choice
If you have one idea for a book, chances are you also have three or four more. Though some writers find that juggling projects helps keep them from boredom, it’s ideal for most beginners to focus on one idea at a time. But which one should you start with? Which will help you write a bestseller? Trends come and go, and it’s difficult to predict what will hit the lists, but to give yourself your best shot you want to pick an idea that lights you up. List your five favorite, burning-a-hole-in-your-mind ideas you’d like to write about. Think through each of them and choose the one that:
- you are most passionate about now and will be for the next two years (it can take time to write a full-length book worthy of publication)
- you’ve thought through in the most detail (if you’ve fleshed it out, that likely means it’s captured your interest, or at least is closer to being draft-ready)
- seems most viable (in terms of you being able to write it at your current skill level, or it being appropriate for your platform/business goals, and it making sense logically as a concept)
Most successful writers build unique disciplines for themselves that serves them throughout their careers. They may write every day or on certain days each week, at certain times, and even in certain locations. Some even create little rituals to get in the right frame of mind.
Once you choose your idea, to write a bestseller you’ll want to build a discipline. Commit to finishing at least one complete rough draft before you work on anything else. The process itself can help you cultivate a strong writing habit that will ensure your other four great ideas actually make it onto the page.
TIP: If you’ve got tons of great fiction ideas but tend not to finish your drafts, consider giving NaNoWriMo a try. The month-long writerama happens every November, but you could also create a similar challenge next month for yourself or with friends to help hold you accountable. And though NaNoWriMo is for novelists, you could replicate the event with nonfiction if you wanted. A little competition could be just the motivation you need!
Before you write a single chapter, consider the value of thinking through and mapping out your book.
Some writers consider themselves “pantsers,” meaning they fly by the seat of their pants and write without much thought to where they’re headed. It may sound like fun, but beginning writers cause themselves unnecessary grief by taking this approach. When you don’t plot out at least the big “beats” of your story, you set yourself up for a lot of unnecessary writing through scenes that ultimately won’t work, characters who may need cutting, and dead ends when you write yourself into a corner. For nonfiction, you may end up going off track with anecdotes, lessons, even whole chapters that don’t effectively get your reader from point A to point B or that are redundant.
You may eventually write a bestseller this way. But it’ll take you a whole lot longer, and the distractions may keep your project from its full potential. These mistakes are avoidable if you become a “planner,” starting with an outline instead.
Creative folks may fear that an outline is too restrictive, but this is false. First, they’re often assuming an outline must be the rigid type they learned to use for grade school essays. Second, while an outline helps keep your writing on track, it isn’t carved in stone. You can, and should, adjust your outline as the Muse dictates. For example, if you take the time to consider what your climactic moment will be, you can figure out what scenes must happen leading up to that moment to make it truly powerful (not to mention believable). But if you have a great new idea for a scene while writing, you can always add that in (and adjust your outline to match).
If you’re writing fiction or memoir, the construction of the story you’re trying to tell plays an essential role in how, or whether, readers can engage with your book. In nonfiction, the right structure and flow of information can make the difference between overwhelm and success. Sketch out your architecture now for a compelling narrative later.
Find Your Tribe
Writing can be a lonely endeavor, but it doesn’t have to be. Who will understand your struggle to find just the right turn of phrase more than other authors? Partnering up with writer friends or a critique group can make the journey more fun and even more productive. We tend to perform better with deadlines and accountability, and knowing it’s your turn to submit a chapter or two for feedback this month can help you get your butt in that chair.
But mingling with other writers isn’t just a social activity or an accountability play. It’s also an excellent way to get early feedback as you conceptualize, outline, and start drafting your book. The best writing partners are those who can be honest, detailed, and constructive. Other writers will be able to articulate weaknesses and suggest solutions using vocabulary and skillsets similar to yours (if you’re lucky, better!).
Your loved ones make excellent cheerleaders, but poor writing partners if you want to write a bestseller. Despite their best intentions, they can’t be trusted to provide the feedback you need. And neither can your own brain, in a vacuum. It’s simply impossible to be completely objective about our own work. It’s difficult even for those of us who are trained for it!
What’s the point of spending years trying to write a bestseller if you never finish it? The only way to get better at writing is to write more; the only way to finish a book is to get your butt in that chair on the regular. So don’t wait for the perfect “writing day” or your new computer or desk chair. While it’s good to think through some things before you start writing, you don’t have to know everything 100%. It’s okay to leave some room for creative inspiration!
I recently read The 12 Week Year by Brian Moran. He’s speaking mainly to business owners, but the concept is relevant for all of us who want to achieve something. The problem, Moran says, isn’t that we don’t have enough information to succeed. It also isn’t that we don’t know how to set goals or make plans. What we have trouble with is executing. If focusing on “finishing my book” is too overwhelming, shift your focus to the daily or weekly tasks. Let go of the outcomes and just take the steps forward. Let your success rest on taking those actions consistently, and not on what they ultimately produce.
In other words: Butt. In. Chair.
All the planning and preparation in the world is for naught if you don’t write the damn thing. So get to it, already.
Founder of The Writer’s Ally, Ally E. Machate is a bestselling book collaborator, award-winning editor, and expert publishing consultant who loves using her insider knowledge and experience with the publishing industry to lead serious authors toward success. She and her team live to help make great books happen, whether that means showing a writer how to improve a manuscript, get an agent, or self-publish; or coaching an author on growing her platform to sell more books. Since 1999, she has supported hundreds of authors on their publishing journey and takes pride in serving as their books’ best ally.