Writing WTF?

What Makes a Bestseller?

September 25, 2012

As some of you know I’ve been working on a book for the past forever. I’m nearly finished. I know, I keep saying that but that’s only because my editor keeps telling me that. In reality she is in the pool teaching me how to swim and she is standing their with her arms outstretched saying “just a little bit more, just a little bit more” all the while backing up so that even though I have gone a little bit more she is still just as far away as when I started. Thanks, Kelly.

I’ve got a list of tasks, from said editor, the length of my arm that I need to tackle but I got to thinking, after a discussion about Moby Dick and what a long boring book that was, what makes a best seller?

Moby Dick is certainly a best seller and some people might even think it’s great but I bet if it was published today it wouldn’t make a dent on the best seller list.

Why is that?

I was browsing for books the other day and stumbled across Shades of Gray. I can’t bring myself to buy it because I have no desire to read it. It’s fan fiction about the characters from Twilight, another book I couldn’t bring myself to read. Both of these series of books are best sellers. Huge best sellers. And yet no one is calling them classics like Moby Dick.

At least I don’t think they are.

Remember Flowers in the Attic? Remember when everyone was reading it and you couldn’t wait to get your hands on it? The story was silly and ghastly and so wrong. The writing was ok, I think, but it was word of mouth about the story that sold the book. It helped that if your parents knew what it was about they would have taken it away. Remember when you found out that the later books in the series weren’t actually written by Ms. Andrews? For me it was no different than learning that Carolyn Keene was really just a bunch of people, possibly those famous monkeys at typewriters, banging out mystery after mystery.

I loved the books but once I knew the secret I couldn’t read them again. They hired a ghostwriter because the books were such a success and they didn’t want that money train to end.

My daughter is reading To Kill A Mockingbird right now. She is probably too young for it but she picked it out of the book case when she needed something to read and got hooked. That, to me, is a best seller and a classic.

It’s better than Captain Underpants, another best seller.

So, what do you  think makes a best seller? Is it readability, flat out numbers of copies sold or it’s effect on society? What best sellers do you recommend and which ones do you refuse purchase?


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  • Reply Katherine Murray September 25, 2012 at 7:51 pm

    So I gotta admit Jen… I read ALL THREE GRAY BOOKS. ALL THREE. I had no interest in them whatsoever. It took a while, but then I was going on vacation and thought, “You know, I am planning to write, so let me see why this book is selling.” Porn, that’s why it’s selling! Porn and romance. I can do that, right? ha ha!

    • Reply Don E. Chute September 26, 2012 at 3:31 am

      Katherine- I believe all the ‘Gray’ books are being called ‘Erotic Art’…I think because it was written by a women…now if a man wrote books like ‘Gray’ then they would be called ‘Porn’…and probably rightly so.

      PLU from SSF

      • Reply cardiogirl September 27, 2012 at 4:56 am

        Ugh, you can spin anything with the right words, can’t you?

        Garbage man = sanitation engineer
        Porn = erotic art, and
        Kim Kardashian = socialite.

  • Reply Don E. Chute September 26, 2012 at 3:36 am

    I really don’t recommend books [me bad I guess] and I really don’t refuse to read best sellers…I thought for a while that I would read all the ‘Gray’ books and then do a review/post from a Dudes point of view…may still do it, but the more popular they get [making movies out of em now]…the less I’m inclined to do it…go figure (?)

    PLU from SSF

  • Reply cardiogirl September 26, 2012 at 4:06 am

    Whoa, whoa. Carolyn Keene was not a woman who wrote all of the Nancy Drew mysteries? I swear I am being sincere and not sarcastic.

    That’s a major bummer.

  • Reply Vincent Jeffers September 26, 2012 at 5:45 am


    I am so happy you’re on the home stretch. Best of luck in getting those last bits done.

    I’ve always been unable to discern why popular things are popular. Why do people give a rat’s behind about Paris Hilton. Or for that matter, why do people pick up and read People magazine? My mind just doesn’t bend that way.

    I do agree about To Kill a Mockingbird. Brilliant work. In seventh or eighth grade, we were assigned to read it. I read chapter 1 the first night, exactly as assigned. The second night, I just kept reading until I was done.

  • Reply meleahrebeccah September 27, 2012 at 4:57 pm

    I agree with you, To Kill A Mockingbird is one of the best books EVER written. It’s timeless.

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