If we knew what was sure to sell, wouldn’t we all be writing it? Aye, there’s the rub.
But some types of fiction lend themselves more to breakthrough bestsellers than others. Here are 5 of them.
1. The “Dammit, I Could’ve Had That Idea!”
These are the books we all could have written if we’d only thought of them first. They pretty much sell themselves. There may only be 7 basic plots for stories, but these books make it look like they’re Story 2.0 and kick off a thousand copycats. Like the one about the neglected orphan boy who finds out he’s a wizard and has to go to a special magic school. Or the one about the tortured forbidden love between a shy, friendless young girl and a tetchy yet devastatingly handsome (insert vampire/priest/son of her father’s mortal enemy as appropriate). Or the one where we revisit the same couple on the same date every year, charting the course of their relationship.
Yes, if only we’d had these simple ideas, we could have all written them. These are the stories where the two-line description are an instant hook that make us pick them up. In fact it’s so simple, isn’t it strange that there aren’t two new such blockbusters every week?
2. The Apparent Rip-Off or “Me Too” Book
These are the books that make us roll our eyes up to heaven, make some disparaging remark about how they stole their idea from Thingummy and there isn’t an original bone in their spine, before we buy them anyway.
These books seem to be mere rip-offs of whatever is in vogue at the moment. But they still needed to be written, and we still buy them. For every paranormal romance which rides the bumper of Twilight or derivative mummy porn sailing in the tailwind of in-itself-derivative 50 Shades, there are a thousand as-yet-unlabelled copycats which never break through, because their genre isn’t What’s Hot Today.
Bottom line: to become fashionable, you have to be ready for the latest fashion. And that’s an art in itself.
3. The Reworked Classic
Similar to the Rip-Off, but less timely and more calculated. This is Bridget Jones nodding to Jane Austen; this is Song of Ice and Fire nodding to, then flying past, beeping its horn and laughing raucously at every member of the fantasy canon to date. So long, Tolkien. Hasta la Vista, Homer.
These books take the core and hook of an old story and dress them up with shiny new sparkles and often, a touch of grit. They are a marketer’s dream. Imagine the short pitches:
“So what would have happened if Cinderella got a flat tyre on her way to the ball and had to be rescued by a troubled billionaire with a disturbing knowledge of car jacking?”
“Ever wondered who would have died if Oedipus’ mother had actually been his sister, and that sister was Joan of Arc?”
That’ll be €8.99 please.
4. The Winning Formula Vol. XIII
This is a deceptive one, because the winning formula only becomes winning after it’s won, in which case it’s sort of chicken and egg – geddit? It doesn’t tell us how to get there. It only tells us when we have reached our destination.
This is the formula book which takes off and results in either of 2 scenarios:
- Author makes lots of money writing more of them, and laughs all the way to the bank
- Author is trapped by winning formula and can never write anything else because they need to make a living and nobody wants to read their other stuff. Resulting cash-laden trip to the bank is not accompanied by mirth of any kind
This is the lone renegade ex-military man tracking across America in a post-9/11 post-Equalizer world, or the troubled cop with a weakness for line dancing and dairy-free yoghurt hunting a depraved serial killer whilst struggling with the tragic and sudden death of his wife, grandmother and chiropodist in a freak piano storm incident. This is the world of the Series. And we will buy all of them in the airport on our way to Costa Burna.
5. The Theme is Obscure, but The Writing’s Only Gorgeous
This is the most risky venture, but also the most fulfilling. Here is where all those prize winners live. This is Literary Fiction, dudes. If you were to sum up these books in 2 sentences, you’d think afterwards “now why would anyone want to go and write a book about that?”
Who could possibly think that a story about a man going for a walk and thinking about stuff could run into 265,000 words? Or that another tome regarding, say, the trimming of a garden hedge, but in reality a brain-frackingly clever treatise on coming to terms with ones own mortality would warrant 150,000 words and a few prizes, some of them involving actual cash? But they do, because they put the words together awfully nicely, and they describe the human condition better than anything else that month, and their books make people with big brains (and the time to concentrate on big books) feel like their brains are getting even bigger.
Basically, nobody is going to make any money out of this whatsoever until the author either wins prizes, dies, or gets knighted by Seamus Heaney. A few intellectuals stick it out. The rest of us mortals would give up long before we started eating the wallpaper.
So what are you waiting for? Get writing!