Kathy Lockheart is an up-and-coming best-selling author. Eager to top many bestseller lists, including the NY Times best seller list, her writing spans domestic thriller, domestic suspense, and romantic suspense genres.
Her latest novel, Deadly Illusion, might be one of the best romance novels of all time. Let’s look at the synopsis of this great love story that has it all—mystery, suspense, and dark romance:
Jenna wasn’t going to let the darkness of her past prevent her from building the life she’s always wanted, so she put herself through college and moved to the magnificent city of Chicago. But just when she thought all her dreams were coming true, a shocking incident shattered her fairytale life, and now, she’s hiding a terrible secret—a secret that could cost her everything.
Damian is as gorgeous as he is mysterious, keeping his own dark secrets from everyone he meets. He never thought he’d care about anything again…until he meets Jenna. He knows letting her get close to him will put her in danger, but when he suspects Jenna’s in trouble, there’s only one thing that matters: protecting her at all costs.
Thrust into a terrifying nightmare where a threat looms in every shadow, Jenna and Damian find themselves in a race for survival. Soon, everyone Jenna loves is in peril, and only the ultimate sacrifice can save them…
“I couldn’t put it down.”
In this article we’ll be going over what it takes to make the:
BEST-SELLING BOOKS OF ALL TIME
NEW YORK TIMES BEST SELLERS FICTION
MOST POPULAR BOOKS OF ALL TIME
NY TIMES BESTSELLER LIST
In this article, we’ll also explore what it takes to be among the best authors of the 21st century that top the charts in the New York Times best sellers fiction category, and what factors may help a novel become one of the best-selling books of all time.
First, let’s look at the characteristics of the best writers of the 21st century. For this article, we’ll focus on commercial fiction authors versus literary ones, so we should clarify what that means.
In general, fiction is segmented into literary or commercial writing. And while some novels can be both, it’s important to understand the distinction. Literary fiction focuses on art, while commercial fiction focuses on entertaining. It can be said that literary fiction focuses on prose, eloquently weaving words together like an orchestra’s symphony, focused more on characterization than plot. Commercial fiction uses more straightforward language, focuses plot, and often turns out books in faster succession than literary. As James Parker said in a New York Times article, “We could say that commercial fiction is the stuff people want to read, while literary fiction is the stuff they think they should read.”
Producing fiction best-selling books takes a lot of determination, not only on the creative side but also on the marketing side. A lot is changing in the publishing industry, with the increasing rise of e-books, lower barriers to entry resulting in millions of titles flooding the market, not to mention that thanks to the streaming war, fighting for the time people are willing to devote to entertainment can be harder than ever. But we must look at some of the positives of these changes—namely, the ability to be found online. Whether you are a traditionally published author or an indie author (some say self-published, but I prefer the term indie), you have an opportunity to be found online just like any other author out there. Before, your best shot (heck, maybe even only shot) at becoming a successful author was to be placed in brick-and-mortar shops, and then pray that your publishing house could get good you on the end cap, or even better, a book display. But now, the power of being found is a click away, and with smart filters, categories, sub-genres, and keywords, if you learn how to become found, you can be in the bookshelf of every person on the globe looking at that bookstore. If an author dreams of having the best-selling book in the world, it’s vital that s/he learns the business side of publishing, indie or independent.
Learning search engine optimization, how amazon ranks books with keywords, categories, sub-genres, and how participation in Kindle Unlimited helps with rankings is only part of the journey, however. Because at the end of the day, if you don’t have a good project, there won’t be a buyer, so one must first focus on the writing itself if s/he has any hope of having one of the most popular books of all time.
So what makes excellent commercial writing? I’ve read many, many books on what separates a commercial blockbuster from the pack, but one book in particular that analyzed this better than others is Writing a Breakout Novel, by Donald Maass. In this novel, he compares critical elements in plot, pacing, characterization, stakes, and tension found in the books with the highest commercial appeal, and why they are essential. While there is no fool-proof formula for writing (if there were, I think everyone would be using it!), it helped me break down what authors like Nora Roberts (someone who heavily influenced my writing) are doing so well that resonates with readers.
Let’s look at a few examples:
Character. The possibilities around characters are endless, but let’s think about what the best writers today are doing with their characters. A character needs to go on a journey and learn something over the course of the novel. The stakes for them learning this need to be as high as possible, meaning they have a LOT to lose if everything goes wrong, but most importantly, they must learn something about themselves that they didn’t know at the beginning of their journey. This is a character arc.
Stakes also need to be as high as possible, and if you think about the best novels you’ve read, the stakes were probably both individual and public. Think madman has a gun to your head, but he’s standing in a restaurant full of innocent people, and he also has a bomb strapped to his chest. Why does this resonate so well with readers? Well, not only are the stakes MUCH higher if the hero fails to take the man down but we, the reader, can’t help but know we could be among the patrons sitting at one of those tables. We feel invested because it could happen to any of us. If you look at any of the best-selling books in 2020, you’re bound to see this theme here.
Emotion. The best books are the ones that entertain you, and also make you feel. Sad, happy, scared, thrilled. If you feel something when you read it, you’ve given the reader an experience that will stick with them long after they finish the book. Think Twilight. Some criticized Twilight for not being a literary novel. Yet tens of millions of people worldwide catapulted it to one of the best-selling series of all time, and became super fans. Myself included. Why? In addition to a fascinating story, one of the most unique hooks ever (vampire falls in love with a girl, but also struggles the temptation to kill her), it made us feel. What female out there didn’t fall in love with Edward, or Jacob, or both?
There are many other factors in making a story great, but I hope this helped shed light on some of them. My goal is to tell stories that are so compelling that the reader can’t put it down. To sustain a career as a best-selling author, and have some of the best modern books of all time, and even be among the 200 best books of all time!
I hope you enjoyed this article, and that you’ll check out my home page to see my latest projects.