What Makes a Bestseller

I’ve noticed a few things about the books that make the bestseller list these days. Well, I shouldn’t say the bestseller list, but the “most popular or most talked-about books” list, which may or may not be the actual bestseller list. Anyway, these are some traits of books on those lists.

1. Celebrity books – Most of the time, they’re ghostwritten to within an inch of their lives, although sometimes I suspect the celebrity had a hand in writing the book. I think celebrity books are popular because they’re easy to read, and to some degree, we all have a nosy side and are interested in the goings-on of other peoples’ lives.

2. SexFifty Shades of Grey, ’nuff said. Sex sells, and sex in books can be (although is not always) a lot more subtle (and therefore more intense) than sex in movies (well, it seems that way to me). Because you can envision the sex scenes in your mind, not on a screen, it’s that much more erotic, since you see it the way you want to see it. Or maybe that’s just me.

3. Fast-paced plots – Thrillers usually make it to bestseller lists, mainly because most people want a book they can get through quickly and that will hold their attention. Thrillers may not have the greatest depth of plot or character, but they will definitely hook you in and keep you there.

4. Author name recognition – There are a few author names that continually climb to the top of bestseller lists, and people read their books because they know the author is good and has entertained them before. Jodi Picoult, Debbie Macomber, Stephen King, Dean Koontz… you basically know what to expect from these authors’ work, and that’s a good thing for a lot of people who don’t want to read outside of their comfort zone. (And I can be one of those people sometimes…)

5. Catchy titlesBossypants, The Amateur: Barack Obama in the White House, The Hunger Games, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants… a good title is an excellent marketing device. You’re told not to judge a book by its cover, but what about the title? A good title not only leads you to pick up the book, but it gives you a hint of what’s on the pages.

A lot of the time, the difference between a bestseller and a book that sits in the back of the bookstore in boxes is all in the publisher’s/author’s marketing plan, the whims of a fickle audience, and a number of other factors that you, as the author, might have little to no control over. But it pays to remember that a bestseller is not necessarily “better” or of “higher quality” than any other book.

10 thoughts on “What Makes a Bestseller

  1. Great post! I agree – those five factors are usually what sell the most. I think topics such as sex and thrillers sell well because people enjoy that naughty or un-realistic feel to the book. And books are usually read to escape from the normal day-to-day life, so those kinds of books let them do that.

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  2. While I agree that the list you made does speak to books that can make the best seller list, I would not stop there. I would add, “Good Writing”, “Imagination”, “Strong Characters”, “Unique Plots”, and much, much more.

    Your post got me thinking of what I believed to be the root of best selling books, and I found that my initial list featured all of the books I like to read. Then I realized that a survey of what really sells best does NOT include all my favorite books, and in fact, includes books I don’t like at all.

    A real eye-opener, that.

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    1. Definitely – there are tons of things that can make bestsellers. And most of my favorite books weren’t bestsellers either, so… it is interesting.

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