My fiction clients often ask me if I think their novel could be a success, or even a best seller. My answer is that once you reach a certain minimum level of professionalism in your writing – which takes some work! – then it all depends on your story and if it resonates with readers. Or more specifically, with many readers who otherwise would have no reason to read your book. That is, people who aren’t your friends and family.
It really does depend on your story. Take, for example, genre fiction, and specifically romance novels or their various subcategories of romance mystery, romance thriller, western romance, and so forth. The authors and publishers who produce these books, which are highly profitable, have an advantage because they know their audience and can give them what they want. The plot lines are standardized, the protagonists of a type, the locations familiar (or exotic, if that’s the subgenre), and the sex scenes carefully calibrated to fall within a range between “mild” and “scorching.” The book covers are very carefully designed to show two people in a physical or romantic relationship (depending on the level of heat), and to give the reader sufficient clues about what to expect. Often the faces aren’t fully shown, which allows the reader to imagine being in the scene.
Once the basic requirements have been met, all that’s left is to deliver the goods. It’s almost like filling in the blanks.
This is why authors of literary novels often tear out their hair when reading a genre novel. “The writing is terrible!” they cry. “The author of this book breaks every basic rule of good fiction writing! How can they get away with it?”
It’s true. If you flip through the pages of a genre novel, you’ll see many writing sins. These include boring “information dumps,” where the author will introduce a character (using many adjectives) and then immediately spend the next few paragraphs telling us about the character – where she worked, why she didn’t have a boyfriend, and how her mother was lingering near death in a lonely rest home. This is meant to help us “get to know” the character. It’s very bluntly done, and most writing teachers will tell you it’s a terrible habit to get into. But it’s part of the genre.
The bottom line is this: the books that sell are the ones that are well written within the limits of the genre and which connect with the reader.
- Thomas Hauck is a published author and professional ghostwriter.