How to Write a Bestseller: Tips from the Industry’s Finest

Yoda had wisdom and Don Quixote found chivalry, while Alice seized her wonderment. Much like their makers’ triumph, each character had a secret spice, a golden ticket, an elixir of life to power their quests. Bestselling authors have one or more of these and lucky enough we don’t need magic spells to know their secrets. Some have their mere wordsmith flair, while some venture on modern ways. Amidst our findings, four elements became evident – product, category, writing, story.

Take your pick, choose from the finest. Whichever suits you, the following tips will hone you to create great work, if not a bestseller. We’re aiming for the latter.


The Product:


Tim Ferriss 


Photo from Telegraph

If you want a “bestselling book” that’s worthy of that label, you need a good book. – @tferriss

“My general recommendation is this: If you can’t dedicate at least a year of full-time attention to a book (which might be 70/30 split between writing and PR/promotion), don’t bother writing it. There are exceptions of course. Some cocaine-fueled novelists I know can knock out a rough draft of a book in 1-2 weeks (!). I’ve seen memoirs completed in 1-2 months. But, alas, I’m not fast. I’m slow, what Kurt Vonnegut might call a “basher” or a “plodder,” and I write how-to content that requires a shit-ton of research and first-hand experimentation.” – How to Write a Bestselling Book This Year

“Do yourself a favor and choose to write a book with a totally new and unexpected hook. This bakes marketing and word of mouth into the content and sets you up for a perennial seller. If your thesis is confusing or unclear it makes it very difficult to market. An unclear thesis also makes it hard for your readers to talk about it and recommend it to other people, which is the main thing that drives book sales.” – Ryan Holiday @RyanHoliday, Everything You Need to Know to Create a Bestselling Book

“Don’t talk about what you’re writing. I think it’s much better to let these things gestate in private, that way you can be free to try stuff out without any fear of being judged or worrying whether it might not work.” – Sophie Kinsella @KinsellaSophie, Top 10 tips for being a best-selling author by Alison Feeney-Hart


Dean Koontz


Photo from Patheos

When reading how-to tips from any writer, always remember that what technique or attitude works for him or her might be so alien to your creative nature that to adopt it unthinkingly will do you no good and might hamstring you. While grammar, syntax, and craft can be taught, writing fiction is–or should be–such an intensely personal enterprise that the story and its meaning comes from a place deep inside yourself and involves approaches that are unique to you. Take advice, yes, but think it through thoroughly and be sure it works for you. Dean Koontz @deankoontz, Dean Koontz: How to Write a Bestselling Novel


James W. Hall


Photo from James W. Hall’s Website

 A truly big book is a perfect blend of inspired premise, larger-than-life characters, high-stakes story, deeply felt themes, vivid setting and much more. It is a kind of literary gestalt, a welling up of inspired material… – James W. Hall @jameswhall, How To Write A Bestseller – According To The Formula by Peter Winkler



Donald Maass


 Photo by Maass Agency

Get out of the past. Get over trends. To write high-impact 21st century fiction, you must start by becoming highly personal. Find your voice, yes, but more than that, challenge yourself to be unafraid, independent, open, aware, and true to your own heart. You must become your most authentic self. – Donald Maass @DonMaass, Writing 21st Century Fiction: A Sneak Peek by Rachel Scheller


Jo Nesbo


Photo from Jo Nesbo’s Website

Be the psychopath. – Jo Nesbo @RealMrJoNesbo

“Writers work similarly to actors; you have to be able to identify with a character. Even if you’re writing a psychopath, you have to find that little piece of psychopath that you have within yourself, and then you have to enlarge them a bit. Scary? Well, that’s what you have to do. Most humans are complex — we’re so full of different ingredients that we’ll be able to find most things within ourselves. Just use your imagination. Crime writing can be a dark universe, so, mentally, it’s tiring to write.” – Jo Nesbo’s Guide to Writing a Bestseller

“It’s that sense of possibility. That feeling of your heart welling so big it could explode. Everything felt so big and so important in that moment, like all the parts of the universe had finally—yet fleetingly—clicked into place. It’s, in a word, intense.” – Rachel Scheller @R_Scheller05, Writing for the Young Adult Audience

“Ever since I began writing, I’ve been a collector. Not of things—shells, stamps, figurines, stuffed monkeys, autographs, etc.—but of possibilities. Odd happenings and images from around the world and in my dreams that could—and often do—make their way into my writing. While many might be considered mundane observances, paired with the right character in the right situation, I know they’ll make terrifically fantastic occurrences.” – Kristin Bair O’Keeffe @kbairokeeffe


The Writing Part:

Cliff Pickover 


 Photo from Wikipedia

Show Not Tell. It’s better to show through a character’s actions than “tell” by having the narrator describe. Ex. 1: “Garth became nervous” is “telling.” It is better to “show” with: “Garth’s hands trembled.” – @pickover

“Use “Said”. When readers read “said”, their eyes barely pause. The “said” goes almost unnoticed. This is what you want. Replacement words, such as “remarked”, stick out obtrusively, which is what you don’t want.” – @pickover

“If the author creates compelling characters and natural dialog, he or she is 90% of the way to success. My feeling is that the way in which a writer writes is actually more important than the plot. Stephen King, who writes so well, could write a novel about a peanut butter sandwich and it would be great.” – Cliff Pickover @pickover, How to Create an Instant Bestselling Novel


James Patterson


Photo from James Patterson’s Website

Write stories the way people them. – @JP_Books

“I think what hooks people into my stories is the pace. I try to leave out the parts people skip. But that’s my style. I read books by a lot of great writers. I think I’m an okay writer, but a very good storyteller.” – World’s Best-Selling Author James Patterson on How to Write an Unputdownable Story by Joe Berkowitz

“Short chapters keep people reading.” – @JP_Books

“Pull literary heists. Do I steal from other books? Definitely. And if I’m a thief, I can tell you I’m stealing but I can’t tell you who I have robbed.” – Jo Nesbo @RealMrJoNesbo

“Let the title choose itself. There are no rules when it comes to the title of a novel. Ideas come in all different ways.” – Jo Nesbo’s Guide to Writing a Bestseller

Philippa Pride

Free Your Creativity Masterclass

Photo from The Guardian

Make it a daily habit. The only way to improve your writing – or get started at all – is to do it daily. Brande recommends 15 minutes. Philippa says seven minutes, because it’s very achievable but also enough to make progress. The real test is whether you can commit to the routine. – Philippa Pride @the_book_doctor, How to Write a Bestselling Novel by Emma Cook

“If you stuff yourself full of poems, essays, plays, stories, novels, films, comic strips, magazines, music, you automatically explode every morning like Old Faithful. I have never had a dry spell in my life, mainly because I feed myself well, to the point of bursting. I wake early and hear my morning voices leaping around in my head like jumping beans. I get out of bed quickly, to trap them before they escape.” – Ray Bradbury @raybradbury

“Find a paragraph that sounds exactly the way you want to sound for this work, and tape it to your computer so that it’s always in front of you.” – Brian A. Klems @BrianKlems, 3 Tips for Consistent Tone

“It’s easy to daydream about your story but you have to sit down and write.” – Andy Weir

“Creative energy is like toothpaste. Once you squeeze it out you better use it because it’s gone after that.” – The Three Most Important Tips to Writing A Bestseller


The Story:

Steven James


Photo from Twitter

Imagine that I’m telling you about my day and I say, “I woke up. I ate breakfast. I left for work.” Is that a story? After all, it has a protagonist who makes choices that lead to a natural progression of events, it contains three acts and it has a beginning, a middle and an end—and that’s what makes something a story, right? Well, actually, no. It’s not. – Steven James @sjamesauthor

“Cause and effect are King. Everything in a story must be caused by the action or event that precedes it. When a reader tells you that he couldn’t put a book down, often it’s because everything in the story followed logically. Stories that move forward naturally, cause to effect, keep the reader engrossed and flipping pages.” – @sjamesauthor, 3 Secrets to Great Storytelling

“A story is a set of motivational units, strung like pearls on a string. Every scene must serve a specific purpose. Every scene should propel the story forward. Every scene must make the next scene inevitable.” – David Gerrold @David_Gerrold, Worlds of Wonder

“And if, while your egoistically trying to get immortality, while you’re trying to make the world a better place, while you’re trying to get at people who put you down, please don’t forget, you have to entertain us. You have to enable us to look at ourselves. Because when we’re looking up at the screen, we’re not looking at the actors who are saying your wonderful lines, we’re not looking at the characters you have so lavishly and lovingly created, we’re certainly not looking at you, we’re looking at ourselves. Because only we are the storytellers. And only we can give you immortality.”Julian Friedmann @julianfriedmann, TED TALK: The Mystery of Storytelling

What writing tip revived your work? Let us know in the comments section below.

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