The ten characteristics of a bestseller, an extract from Write a Bestseller by Jacqueline Burns

1 A bestseller ‘knows’ what it is and for whom it is written. It knows its audience. It is clear what the story is really about and conveys that clearly to the reader. It is written for an identifiable audience and genre, so making itself more easily discoverable.

2 Bestsellers have a good backstory. This creates authenticity around a novel, as well as providing ready-made hooks and angles for publicity. It is also the why and the how of the book’s creation, which readers are invariably fascinated by.

3 Bestsellers either present a unique concept or a fresh spin on an old subject. The material is unique in some way; or, if not, it shows how it is demonstrably different from the competition. So, if, for example, it is important to the subject matter to be timely or contemporary, then it captures the zeitgeist at just the right time. If it covers an old subject, the writing casts fresh new light that dazzles with its cleverness, or has such a clear stamp of a winning approach that everyone wonders why no one thought of it before.

4 Bestsellers contain good enough writing. Bestsellers are well written: they’re readable, not necessarily literary masterpieces, but written well enough to keep readers turning the pages. And, more often than not, they will have been improved through feedback and professional editing.

5 Bestsellers have a strong and clear voice. They can be loud or quiet but they’re distinctive and sound unlike any other writer. They’re not dulled or swamped by being stuffed with every thought, opinion and idea the author has. If there is a cathartic aspect to the writing they make it work, taking Hemingway’s advice to ‘write hard and clear about what hurts.’

6 Bestsellers engage with their readers to create powerful word of mouth. They speak to the reader by telling a story that readers will care about and enjoy enough to invest their money and time in it, and afterwards their energy in telling others about it.

7 Bestsellers have impactful covers. Bestselling authors know that their cover is a key marketing tool that can create a winning first impression. They have covers that
adhere to genre conventions and don’t mislead the reader by having an off-genre cover.

8 Bestsellers can grow out of being part of a series. Each book in a series helps to sell another. Publicity and marketing yield more return for effort because they benefit multiple books rather than a single one.

9 Bestselling authors use brand and platform to make their book visible. They understand that visibility is everything and they work hard to build it. And they’re switched on to the value of genuinely and effectively engaging with readers.

10 Bestselling authors have bold and energetic marketing plans. Whether trade or self-published, bestselling authors market their books with gusto, and are guided by a clear PR and marketing plan. What’s more, they start doing so well in advance of the publication date, and they keep on going well after it. They also measure and monitor what works and what doesn’t for every book’s campaign.


Buy a copy of Write a Bestseller here or at a LWC event.

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