From Mid-list Writer to Bestseller!

I used to watch the BBC in the old black and white light entertainment days of Billy Cotton, see young men dancing and singing in chorus lines, and wondered if these actors set out wanting to be Laurence Olivier. Most of us have to settle for less than our most stellar imaginings. I doubt that many people had a vocation to become 'mid-list writers'. It used to work fine as a category however. The industry labeled you that way and paid you enough to get by on. You were free to concentrate on your art.

Now the mid-list writer is on the endangered list, extinction pretty guaranteed. You can build some spin around likely sales of your next book, but publishers increasingly look to sales of your last one. Sell 20,000 copies in the States and you've a chance of your next book coming out, but don't expect anyone to buy you lunch. It's a commercial world.

So if you want to survive for long in this game, one thing's obvious. You've got to write a bestseller.

Easier said than done. Take a look at the bios of bestselling authors and it's easy to get intimidated by their lists of PhDs, medical degrees and the like. They have a take on the modern world of high finance, underworld banking techniques, hi-tech tax scams, laser weaponry and the like that leaves me flailing to catch up (my own favoured brand of bestseller is the thriller). But you've got to set yourself a challenge now and again.

"You're going to try and write a bestseller?" James told me, "then study them first! Read a whole bunch and work out exactly what makes them so successful."

So I did. I have a spread sheet as wide as my arms stretch, filled with columns that analyze success. Some of the bestselling factors I expected, some surprised me. The research DID change the way I was writing - and rather than crimping my style it was fun, a good challenge, like limiting a sonnet to fourteen lines. The book that came out of it all, LOOK WHO'S WATCHING, is in the mail to a US agent as I write. I like to think of it as a bestseller, though can't afford to buy enough copies myself to make it so ... it's out of my hands now. Over to you.

I'll post some of the bestselling lessons I've learned on this site though in the coming days. If they prove useful to you, if they help you write your own mega-hit, remember me and come back and write me a blurb some day!