How to Land on the Bestseller List

June 9, 2016 § 9 Comments

By Kathy Stevenson


Kathy Stevenson Contemplates Her Next Bestseller

When I am working with students on their writing, I always tell them that they shouldn’t set out to write a bestseller.  They should write the story they feel compelled to write, the one that is burning inside them.  The one that only they can tell.  Of course it’s good to keep in mind publishing trends and what is happening in the marketplace, but this should not box in, nor define their creativity.

When I impart this sage wisdom, I can only imagine what my students are writing down in their notebooks.  Don’t write a bestseller.  Write from the heart.  I wrote those same notes in writing workshops just a few years ago when I was getting my MFA.  As if writing from the heart – writing from the pure core of your unique, passionate self – would be enough to at least get you published.  No one ever actually talked about getting on the bestseller list.  The true literary giants, the authors we students were supposed to admire were those writers who wrote their books in the thrall of their muse, not the thrall of appearing on The New York Times bestseller list, or getting a mega-deal with a superstar agent.  When that sort of success did come to a few of our fellow students, it was almost as though they needed to discount their part in the louche business side of things.

I have decided that this faux modest attitude shall no longer apply to my own writing.  I am dying to write a bestseller, and after years of continually scrutinizing the bestseller lists, I think I have come up with a foolproof list of aids that will help me get there.

…Change the title of my novel from The Last Act to Wednesdays With Pugsly: The World’s Ugliest, Yet Somehow Most Adorable Pooch Who Never Graced a Calendar.

…Replace the phrase “sideways glance” with “hot, lustful undressing in the mind.”

…Finagle book jacket blurbs from any of the following celebrities: Simon Cowell, “Bravo, not a false note.”  Britney Spears, “It’s as good as that other book I read.”  Madonna, “Kathy has made a convert of me.”

…Explore plagiarism as a marketing tool.

…Ask my agent if she thinks I’m too old to enroll at Harvard as an undergraduate. Possible plot line could be – sixty year-old woman enters Harvard as a freshman.  Sell it as “Legally (Fake) Blonde Meets Cocoon.”

…Move in next door to Oprah and become her new best friend.  (Find some dirt that will destroy Gayle King first.)

…Change name of book to anything with the words “secret,” “Christmas,” “diet,” or “adorable dog” in the title.  The Secret Christmas Death of an Adorable Dog?  Nine Lives of a Christmas Dieter?  Who Moved My Christmas Tofu?  A Secret Miracle Christmas Diet for Both You and Your Precious Pooch?

…Look into product placement to attract potential advertising sponsors.  My protagonist, a chocolate lover, could just as easily be a Godiva chocolate lover.  And drink only Veuve Clicquot Champagne.  And wear only Cole Haan shoes. And drive a BMW, Five Series.  You get the idea.

…Consider making my protagonist (now a suburban newspaper columnist) a zombie, with cute twin teenage zombie daughters.  (Can dogs be zombies?  Look into this possibility.)

…Become an undercover nanny, life coach, or personal chef to some really rich people, take notes, and then write a scathing tell-all about them.


Life Lessons from the Gerbil Wheel

…Maybe cutesy, heart-warming dog books have had their day in the sun.  Explore possible memoirs using other pets.  Maybe Days of the Iguana.  Or Clipped Wings: What My Parakeet Taught Me About Overcoming Life’s Obstacles.  Or how about Gerbil: Life Lessons From the Flywheel.

…See if I can get adopted into a family that is more dysfunctional than my own so I have better material for a memoir someday.  Or ask Mom if she minds if I change her from the nicest mother who ever lived to a pill-popping, alcoholic, obsessive compulsive, many times divorced, always inappropriately dressed, binge-dieting, dog-hating, library book-stealing mother whose six daughters succeed against formidable odds and become perfect mothers with perfect children who always do everything right.

…Try writing a sort of backlash to The Secret.  Maybe No More Secrets: Lessons as Plain as the Nose on (Your Adorable Dog’s) Face.

…Forget dogs or any other animals.  Title my book anything with “Girl” in the title.  Maybe Girl on a BusGirl, FoundGirl with a Secret.  Or maybe keep it mysterious; how about just Girl


Kathy Stevenson‘s essays and short stories have appeared in an eclectic array of newspapers, magazines, and literary journals including The New York Times, Clapboard House, Philadelphia Inquirer, Red Rock Review, The Writer, Chicago Tribune, American Way, and many other national and local publications.  She has just finished writing a memoir about being a sister, The Queen of Everything. She has a recent MFA from Bennington College.

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