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What makes a best seller?

5/29/2013

Pile of Books on Book ShelfDo you ever wonder what makes a book a best-seller? You know those books everyone talks about. The ones everyone must read? I do.

As a writer of course you want to write a best seller. Any writer who tells you otherwise is probably not being entirely honest. Of course first they want to write the book they want to write and then they want to find it is loved by the masses.

I’ve been in a book club or about 7 years. We’ve read most of those best sellers. Kite Runner – check. A Time Traveller’s Wife – check. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Pie Society – check. We Need to Talk About Kevin – check. Room – check. The Memory Keeper’s Daughter – check. You get the idea…that’s just the international books. If there has been a ‘must read’ Australian book we’ve read it too.

Here’s the funny thing about that. Someone (or several someones) in our group hated every one of those books. (OK no one hated the Guernsey one….that was a lovely book). Even if we thought they were well written and interesting there was stuff we really didn’t like about them – major stuff. The plot, the characters, the story arc, the ending, which person it was written in (ie first, second or third). Yet every one of those books is a best seller.

Sometimes I do think there is an emperor’s new clothes affect. It’s great, everyone says so, you must read it and you must laud it. Some of my least favourite books have won most of the awards in recent years.

I think it’s a phenomenon in genre fiction as well as literary. I read romance and I read chick lit and I like a good mystery and I’ve downloaded bestsellers I couldn’t finish in all those genres as well. Am I judging them more harshly because I have higher expectations or am I just befuddled by their success? I don’t know.

So what makes one book rise above the others even in it’s class? Why Dan Brown? Why Janet Evanovich? Why Lionel Shriver? (In those three cases I know why, but you get my question, right?)

What do you look for in a book? What do you think makes one book stand out from the crowd?

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