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How To Write A Best Seller

What makes a book a best seller?

Firstly, content, of course. You may think that your life is worth telling the world about, but that doesn’t mean that its worth reading. If you really want to write an autobiography, pick out sections of your life that will be interesting, and make sure that it makes sense to others. “And then..” can mean the following minute, hour, day, week, month or a completely different period of your life, but to the reader they may not have a clue. Change names to protect the innocent (and guilty); you don’t want a lawsuit! When writing about a particular time in your life, back it up with events or other stories based around that time period. Maybe you are writing about when your Aunt Maud was in the WRENS, so include more details about the war time, as this will entice fans of that era to read your book. Remember, your life is known by you but not by others, so make sure you explain anything necessary.

Write out a plan before you start writing. Just a basic one may do, planning out each chapter and the contents within it. It doesn’t have to be set in stone, but can be a good starting block and point of reference. If you need particular facts in it, such as location details, knowledge of a career that your characters are working as, research it, ideally before you start. You may be able to stop at the end of each chapter and research the next one, or you may prefer to plough through the whole thing in a matter of days. Some find the planning stage tedious, but it really does help you keep on track. Of course, you can go off track too, as the story develops, but my need to refer to the plot to get to the end result.

If you are writing other fiction, such as sci-fi, it’s not so difficult to focus on facts as they can be as made up as you want them to be. Make sure that the details you add are consistent. Having the planet Xorb next to the moon of Xantol is very exciting, until you forget that the moon is not called Xantol, but the planet that it orbits is called that instead. Don’t confuse your readers. Readers can create their own misconceptions by themselves. For example, Frankenstein is the creator of the monster, not the monster itself. You would hate to read about Frankenstein creating a monster, who is suddenly referred to as Frankenstein itself, unless the writer has explained that it is named after its creator.

If you wish to delve into historical fiction, please research fully. This, along with any non-fiction work can be picked apart by anyone. Unless you have been sat next to someone watching a film, saying “this is wrong, a plane can’t actually invert at such and such angle and blah blah blah” you may not understand the importance of accuracy. The slightest detail, such as the fabric of an item of clothing not being invented or the mis-spelling of the name of a dinosaur, or indeed getting the wrong time period of said dinosaur, can get the backs up of any keen enthusiast. Know your facts, as much as any expert would do. Your editor can only do so much to check your work, and you can’t expect them to do the research for you (unless you are prepared to pay out a lot!).

Make sure there is a beginning, middle and end. This is primary school teachings! I was once given a book that a friend of my Dad’s had written and self-published. He signed it and I gave it to my son, who was around 4 at the time. The illustrations were fantastic, very appealing to a young child, but there was no storyline. It basically consisted of a farmer (or similar) who had a tractor. The farmer went onto his farm in the tractor every day. On the farm he saw X, Y and Z. At the end of each day he went home. Maybe if the book had included pop up pictures or had a hide and seek style it would have been better, but it was in the style of a story book. You don’t want your readers thinking “why?” “and” or “so?”.

The cover needs to scream READ ME! Make sure that it appeals to the potential reader. Bright and cheerful for children and young adults, for example, and relevant to the book, obviously. You can find standard book cover designs or your publisher may help with this, and sometimes they can be jazzed up to be more appealing, but be prepared to pay out a little extra for that cover that will attract your readers.

The technical aspect of your writing is also very important. I mentioned earlier about consistency, and now I will elaborate more. The consistency of events happening is essential to not confuse your readers, but also with your style of writing. For example, are you writing in first person, where your main character is the protagonist, or third person? Whichever you choose, keep it that way throughout the book. Keep your tenses consistent. Don’t state “I went to the shop” and then say “while I am at the shop I am getting the newspaper”. It would be “I went to the shop, and whilst I was there I bought a newspaper.”

Editing and proof-reading your document is essential. Spellcheck and grammar functions are a great asset, but they aren’t fool proof. They won’t find such mistakes as gender errors, and there will be times when you write He and the S doesn’t come through. He is a valid word, so there won’t be a red squiggly line under that!

Once in bed I felt a sense of satisfaction. I had managed to but both feet in a bath which had water in it. It may not sound a lot if you aren’t sacred of eater, but I was a step in the right direction.

How many mistakes did you spot there? Without even looking at grammar and punctuation there are already 3 obvious mistakes that should jump out at you.

Once in bed I felt a sense of satisfaction. I had managed to but both feet in a bath which had water in it. It may not sound a lot if you aren’t sacred of eater, but I was a step in the right direction.

These are all valid words in the English dictionary, so spell check wouldn’t find them.

and couldn’t sit still for long periods of time as my boy would seize up.

How about this one? Would your BOY seize up?

and couldn’t sit still for long periods of time as my boy would seize up.

These are all mistakes that I made in my book, and this is another issue I need to raise with you. If you wish to edit your book yourself, which I strongly recommend that you don’t, do it chapter by chapter, or sooner if you can. As a writer, you can become word blind, and not notice these simple mistakes. If you really don’t want to pay out for a professional editor, get a friend or family member to look it over. Trust me though, if you do this, be prepared for the “Erm.. did you mean to put this?” smug comments throughout, and be prepared to check it over again after them. You may disagree with mistakes that they have pointed out. If there is a difference of opinion, check it out.

If all this hasn’t put you off writing your dream book, great! We’ll discuss publishing, promoting, marketing and distribution next time!