Skip to main content

5 Easy Steps to Writing a Bestseller

1. Write a good book.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Yet it can be difficult to accomplish. A good book is unique, with compelling characters, voice, and plot. It’s not easy to come up with something original when you’re writing within the confines of a genre like romance, where the tropes are set in stone and so many romance novels have already been published. But it CAN be done.


Column by Katie Oliver, author of PRADA AND PREJUDICE and the
Dating Mr Darcy series. She loves romantic comedies, characters who
"meet cute," Richard Curtis films, and Prosecco (not necessarily in that
order). Her latest Carina UK/Harper Collins book, WHO NEEDS MR.
, is out now. She currently resides in South Florida with

her husband and two parakeets. Find Katie on Twitter

Put a new spin on a tired trope by turning it on its head. Is the heroine typically kidnapped and carried off to the castle by the Scots hero? Flip it. Let the heroine kidnap the hero. Instead of the heroine keeping her baby a secret from the hero, maybe the hero is keeping his own child by another woman a secret from the heroine. Play with those tropes. Turn them inside out

A good book should have compelling characters that readers will love/hate/care about; strong conflict; good pace; and a plot where stuff happens. Plot is important. Nothing is more disappointing than reading a book that starts off with a great, kickass opening and interesting characters only to fizzle out in the middle.

Every scene should move the action/plot forward, foreshadow something that’s about to happen, provide characterization, reveal a major plot point, show a strong display of emotions, or raise (or answer) a question. Every single scene in your book has a job to do.

2. Provide a unique and eye-catching book cover.

Book covers go through cycles. In the 1980s, romance covers featured ‘the clinch’—a hunky hero with rippling abs (usually Fabio) clutching a beautiful, bosomy heroine against his open-shirted chest. In the 1990s, chick lit ruled, and drawings of leggy, stylish girls shopping/walking dogs/sitting in cafés decorated the covers.

Today covers can run the gamut from a photograph of a stiletto shoe or a glittery diamond necklace to cozy illustrations of a bakery shop or a small seaside town. Following the popularity of 50 SHADES OF GREY, stark covers with a title and an image of a pair of handcuffs or a mask were all the rage.

Image placeholder title

Hook agents, editors and readers immediately.
Check out Les Edgerton's guide, HOOKED, to
learn about how your fiction can pull readers in.

Whatever your book cover’s design, make sure it’s eye-catching and original enough to capture a reader’s interest. You want it to stand out.

3. Generate good word of mouth.

This goes back to number one. Write a good book, and if readers like it, they’ll tell their friends. And those friends will tell their friends. I get a lot of emails from readers telling me, ‘I love your books—now my friend is reading them, too’.

You can also help your book’s discoverability by retweeting and sharing other writers’ posts, giveaways, blogs, etc. This includes participating in blog tours and offering a chapter or two of your book on your website. I did this to great success on one popular blog, which ran the first few chapters of AND THE BRIDE WORE PRADA for three consecutive Sundays before Christmas.

Most authors and bloggers are happy to feature you or your book on their website or blog. And don’t overlook indie authors—they have a large, loyal following and are generally very supportive of other writers, whether indie or published.

Just remember to return the favor. Promotion is a two-way street. Which leads me to my next suggestion.

4. Promote, promote, promote.

And by ‘promote,’ I don’t mean inundating your Twitter followers or Facebook friends with a constant stream of buy links to your books. Promote by connecting with readers, friends, and followers. Offer interesting content related to writing, or interviews with other authors. Post cartoons, host a writer on your blog, share your opinion on the latest episode of Poldark. Be interesting, be interested in others, and be yourself.

Another excellent promotional tool is a book trailer. Don’t have any money to spend? There are plenty of free programs available. If you have an Apple computer, you have iMovie, a program that allows you to create professional book trailers easily and quickly. So get out that director’s chair and start creating!

5. Sponsor a giveaway.

Make your giveaway exciting and fun. Offer readers something other than bookmarks or a copy of your novel; offer something new and different. I like to ‘theme’ my giveaways to my books. For AND THE BRIDE WORE PRADA, I gave away a bottle of Prada Candy perfume, a Scottish Barbie doll, and a heather-scented custom candle. Yes, it costs more to offer good prizes – but the excitement it generates is well worth it. My giveaway had 6,234 entries…and the book became my first official best seller.

Coincidence? Maybe. But I’m convinced the giveaway drummed up excitement and got the word out. And after all – that’s what every writer wants, isn’t it?

Check Out These Great Upcoming Writers' Conferences:

Screen Shot 2014-12-17 at 3.39.23 PM

Your new complete and updated instructional guide
to finding an agent is finally here: The 2015 book
GET A LITERARY AGENT shares advice from more 
than 110 literary agents who share advice on querying, 
craft, the submission process, researching agents, and
much more. Filled with all the advice you'll ever need to
find an agent, this resource makes a great partner book to
the agent database, Guide to Literary Agents.

Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:

Historical Fiction Authors Don’t Expect Their Characters’ Battles To Appear in Modern Headlines, but Here We Are

Historical Fiction Authors Don’t Expect Their Characters’ Battles To Appear in Modern Headlines, but Here We Are

What happens to historical fiction when history repeats itself? Author Addison Armstrong discusses writing about the past and seeing it reflected in the present.

From Script

Art and Independence (From Script)

In this week’s round up brought to us by Script magazine, exclusive interviews with Neil Gaiman’s “The Sandman” television writer Vanessa Benton, Allegoria writer-director Spider One, Hulu’s Prey screenwriter Patrick Aison and director Dan Trachtenberg, and more!

Steven Hartov: On Shocking Truths in Historical Fiction

Steven Hartov: On Shocking Truths in Historical Fiction

New York Times bestselling author Steven Hartov discusses the surprising truths he discovered when writing his new historical fiction novel, The Last of the Seven.

Larry Beinhart: On Rejection Leading to Mystery

Larry Beinhart: On Rejection Leading to Mystery

Award-winning author Larry Beinhart discusses what he learned in the process of writing his new mystery novel, The Deal Goes Down.

writer's digest wd presents

WD Presents: A Competition Announcement, 6 WDU Courses, and More!

This week, we're excited to announce our self-published e-book awards, 6 WDU courses, and more!

Leah Franqui: On Killing Our Critical Inner Voices

Leah Franqui: On Killing Our Critical Inner Voices

Award-winning playwright and author Leah Franqui discusses how she examined her life through a fictive lens with her new novel, After the Hurricane.

Pacing Your Fight Scene (FightWrite™)

Pacing Your Fight Scene (FightWrite™)

Trained fighter and author Carla Hoch discusses how to pace your story's fight scene and shares three examples from writers who tackle pacing differently.

Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Rushing the Drafting Process

Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Rushing the Drafting Process

The Writer's Digest team has witnessed many writing mistakes over the years, so this series helps identify them for other writers (along with correction strategies). This week's mistake is rushing the drafting process.

Kwana Jackson: On Finding the Right Home for Your Story

Kwana Jackson: On Finding the Right Home for Your Story

USA Today bestselling author Kwana Jackson discusses writing her new romance novel, Knot Again.