June 14, 2012

How to Transform Your Novel into a Bestseller

Dennis the wild boar


5 Secrets to Writing Success

Warning: This post contains sarcasm.

The publishing industry is a complicated business…but there are certain absolutes:

  • Publishers want to publish bestsellers.
  • Agents want to represent bestsellers.
  • Writers want to write bestsellers.
  • Readers want to read bestsellers.

Not all writers have the vision to predict or anticipate what will be the next favorite color for the ever-fickle buyers. So the dilemma is, once you realize you are behind the eight ball, missed yet another market opportunity, how do you transform your work-in-progress into a bestseller.

It is not such a daunting task.

Let’s assume you are writer “x” who recently finished an epic fantasy. Your world is populated with elves and dwarves, and it is set in the magnificently dark realm of “Not-so-wonderland.” You have sent it to every agent—all 5,000,000 of them—blatantly ignoring polite requests, even pleas, to not query them with such projects. Despite these Herculean efforts, rejection slips are piling up. Don’t worry. All is not lost.


Simple Steps To the Bestseller List

  • Open your word processor’s find-and-replace dialogue box. In the “find” section type in “elf” and replace it with “vampire.” Now replace “elves” with “vampires.” In approximately 2.6 seconds—based on an average length manuscript—you will be on your way to a bestseller, but you’re not done yet.
  • I will assume the search is still open. Now replace “dwarf/dwarfs” with “werewolf/werewolves.” Getting excited? You should be. Dream of what you will do with all the money you’ll make once the NY Times reviews this, and then get back to editing.

Not Done Yet

Okay, this will require a little more work. Search for all instances of werewolf/werewolves, previously dwarf/dwarfs. Find all things associated with the former. Dwarfs, for example, seem to be fond of large hammers and axes. I haven’t seen werewolves use these so we might want to cut them out. Replace them as necessary with large fangs and the ubiquitous morphing/shapeshifting descriptions associated with the transformations. A few other things will have to be changed: Longevity of elves versus vampires, means of death, time of day when they are allowed out. You’re getting close, but the final step is a tough one—what to do with the world?

One More Hurdle

For a year, perhaps more, you slaved over creating your dystopian world of “Not-so-wonderland.” You now worry that work has been in vain. You’ve got page upon page of prose describing daily occurrences of everyday disasters resembling acid rain, perpetual darkness and so forth. How do you change that into a modern-day urban fantasy? Despair sets in. You are ready to give up.

Cheer up. This is actually the easiest part. Go back to the find/replace dialogue. Type in “Not-so-wonderland.” Now type in the name of a major US city. It can’t be New York or Los Angeles. For safety’s sake I’d keep away from the top ten. Use a place like Austin, or Seattle, or Indianapolis. You won’t even have to change the names of your rivers, or the composition of your terrain. Few people know whether Austin is in a desert or has mountains towering over it. The only thing people know about Indianapolis is that they have a speedway. (Okay, so you’ll need to have the werewolves and vampires race a few times). And they know that Seattle is wet. (Oh, and that pesky coffee company is there, so have a few vampires stop in for a latte. You don’t need to remove the capes; people will think they are raincoats.) If you opt for Austin, readers might know they play a lot of music and talk funny. So have a vampire say “howdy” now and then as they prowl Sixth Street—at night, of course. The added benefit of Austin is they have all those bats hanging out under the bridge.


After that, you’re done. Make, or refresh, that coffee that has kept you going through this tedious process and be happy that it’s over with. Feel free to be ecstatic. There is no need to fine tune your agent list. That one you have—the five million plus agents—they are all targets for your new query. In the subject line make sure to put ‘Query Warning—subject matter contains vampires AND werewolves.’

That’s it. You’re done. See you on the bestseller list.

Option Two—The Five Secrets

As an alternative you could try the following recipe. It has been known to work.

1. Write what you are passionate about.

2. Tell a wonderful story that people will want to read.

3. Make it the absolute best you can.

4. Learn to handle the disappointments that will follow.

5. Most important of all—keep writing.


Buona fortuna,




In the interest of full disclosure. I do not write stories about dwarfs, elves, vampires, werewolves, or anything resembling them. I write hard-core mystery/suspense books, although my protags can only be killed by bullets coated with the concentrated liquid from the giant salvinia plant. (It will be all the rage next year. Don’t even think about using it. I’m waaaay ahead of you on this.)


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