So you can read my books

Monday, February 14, 2011



It's all about money.

I hear protests out there in the cyber-darkness. Yes, writing is literature. And literature, when done well, is art. You're right.

Crafting great prose is an art form in and of itself. You and I write because we must. We are artists. Still ...

We can only write as much as we want if we can support ourselves doing it.


Those are what we must write if we are to find fulfilment in writing for a living. But how do we write bestsellers?


We drive by wrecks all the time. I drove by one not too long ago as a limp, bleeding woman was pulled gingerly out of a bent, steel coffin of a car.

Drivers slowed almost to a crawl. Me, too. It was an irresistible force tugging my eyes to the sad scene. For the other drivers, too. We couldn't help ourselves.


We identified with that woman, who just minutes earlier had been driving down this same highway as we were doing then. We could be her. In a sense, we WERE her.


That is it. We are all vulnerable. We know it deep down though we live mostly in denial of that fact. When we see someone struck down by circumstance or cruel fate, we pause, drawn to the scene. We identify with that person.

Subconsciously, we pull for that person to overcome the challenge -- because we identify with that person. When she or he triumphs over the overwhelming crisis, in a way we do as well. When she slumps in defeat, our spirits slump with her.

It is the spectral nocturne we try to ignore : the dirge of natural selection, the arabesque of convoluted evolution, and the haunting refrain of our need for survival.

This tearing of this veil of denial is the common cord that binds the human race together.

Identification. Vulnerability. The bleeding wound. They work every time.

If your main character is not vulnerable in every chapter, you have a problem. Your MC must face loss himself or face the loss of someone for whom he cares deeply. He must be worried and afraid in some sense.

If he doesn't care deeply in each chapter, the reader won't either. And the first reader you will lose will be the agent. And you will lose your sale.

Ouch! That's a loss all of us writers can identify with.

To write a bestseller, write what you know, what all of us know : life is fragile, unpredictable, and shorter than we would have it.

Write each scene, each chapter ending worse for your hero or heroine until the ringing climax. Make it hard for the reader to put down the book.

Write danger, threat, vulnerability ... write hard-won, almost lost victory, and you will have your bestseller.
A movie that ignores all the above advice, promising to be a cult classic anyway :


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  3. Sorry...too many spelling errors in my haste to write my thoughts in this comment box....

    Came through Leah's blog and glad I did. This post was great- struck a nerve....especially the vulnerability part.

    Hope you don't mind I add you to my daily read list.

  4. Dawn, don't worry about the spelling errors. I was an English teacher for a time. I'm used to them. I'm honored that you've added me to your daily reading list. You might want to scroll down a bit to see if I have a pointer or two for writing that might be interesting or helpful. You made my evening. Thanks, again, Roland

  5. Wonderful post Roland- You make it sound so easy! But like everything in life we know its not. But you keep us on our toes making sure we add the ingredients to get what we desire. Thanks again for the post- it really makes me think and look back on my chapters for my current WIP

  6. Bestseller or moderate seller, you're right. The writing has to resonate with the reader.

  7. Summer : It's the teacher and friend in me that wants to make our writing the best it can be so that the agent will stop and notice our submissions. I wish you luck in your current WIP.

    Terry : If we touch the heart of our readers, they will respond and buy our books again. Thanks for enjoying my post, Roland

  8. Great advice, Roland. I'm having trouble kicking up the stakes for my characters. This'll give me something to chew over.

  9. Hi, Leah : I'm glad you got a little something helpful with this post. I wish you luck in being a troublemaker for your characters! LOL.

  10. Wonderful post Roland! Exceptional advice! I agree about resonating with the reader. I've started reading so many novels myself that I thought I would be interested in, only to put them down, 50 or even 100 pages in. The reason? I simply could not relate to either the message, characters or even the writing style. Glad to know you.

  11. Glad to know you, too, Michelle. Relating to the characters is so important, isn't it? Thanks for enjoying my post. Hoped it helped in some small way, Roland

  12. Ha, love the line: Hobo with a shotgun.

    Looks like blood and guts for the sake of it. Not totally my kind of movie, though gore doesn't turn me off.

    My writers group leader asked me not to turn in any more of my womens fiction. Guess I won't be quitting my day job any time soon, huh?

    Been interesting to explore the characters and work out writing issues though.


  13. Excellent advice, Roland and so beautfully written in itself. I hope to explore lots of vulnerability in my latest WIP and will take your words with me.

  14. Like others have said, this is an excellent post. Our characters must be vulnerable and uncomfortable. Sounds so easy, but it's so difficult.

  15. that is very good, Roland. sometimes i read books where the characters are so unreal. it's just words on a paper. that is why a writer must also be an actor- you have to feel what you write- it cant be empty or hollow- and then others will feel it too.

  16. This is excellent advice, Roland, although I want to balk as it feels formulaic. Call me a cynic (you wouldn't be the first), but there is slight correlation between selling well and good writing. Occasionally something of quality will rise to the top, but for the most part, the bestseller list is littered with the likes of James Patterson, Dan Brown, and John Grisham.

    I, for one, don't think this is an issue. Writers who write what folks want to read deserve to have bestsellers, formulaic or no.

  17. Nicely done Roland, and so true. Our characters must suffer. I'd say, even the villain should suffer some kind of loss so the readers can understand him or her better.

    I came over from Jules to congratulate you on your books release. Very cool!
    N. R. Williams, fantasy author

  18. Incredibly well put! You never cease to amaze me with your talent for how to put things. Write what we know indeed!

  19. Roland, what you have said gets to the heart of what writing is about if we are to engage our audience. Your post is elegantly written and well stated, and yes, I agree - If we want to spend as much time writing as our hearts desire, then we need to get paid for it. It's not mercenary or money grabbing to say so, it's just a reflection of life's reality.

  20. Donna : Ernest Hemingway continually ripped F. Scott Fitzgerald. It hurt the man. But he still wrote on a level few of us will ever attain. Your group leader is human, and humans are motivated by a variety of factors. Not all of them pure as the winter snow.

    I have been an English teacher, a counselor, and now a struggling writer. Your fantasy blogfest entries are pieces of engaging, riveting, fun prose. Never let one voice drown your dream. I believe in you, and I would not lead you on were it otherwise. Always your friend, Roland

    Margo : Thanks for liking my post. Vulneralbility is what makes your hero or heroine someone the reader can identify with. It is the key to drawing the reader into our story.

    Carol : Oh, you're right, Carol. It's so hard.

    Annie : What a great way of looking at it. I know I "act" out a scene, especially the dialogue, speaking as each character. I use my long blood runs for that, else they would lock me up! LOL.

    VR : I hear you. Justin Cronin's THE PASSAGE bored me to tears, yet it topped the bestseller list, gained him a million dollar movie deal, and praises from critics. BAH!

    I still believe that if you appeal to the reader's heart, drawing him and her in, making tension and suspense a part of each page, littering your novel with laughter and heartache, you will sell enough books to support yourself as a writer : perhaps not in a mansion but a modest apartment with friends and a feisty cat and dog to keep you humble.

    I want you to balk. It keeps me honest and keeps things interesting! LOL.

    N.R. : Thanks so much. I'll have to visit Jules' site in a minute to say thanks. You're so right about the villain suffering to establish empathy. I try to make sure that each of my villains have moments during the book where you see the hunger, the haunting longing, the sense of innocence lost that lets the reader know there was a magnificent being who somehow lost his/her way, stumbling into darkness.

    Heather : Thanks so much for those nice words. Yes, we all know the heartbreak of being human.

    Tony : I'm glad you saw my intent. As you say : it is not mercenary to want to have huge sales for our books -- it is the only way we will ever be able to support ourselves while we live our dream. May your and Margo's publication dreams come true. Roland

  21. I have tried to follow that rubric but I just can't keep myself from straying...

  22. Love this blog, very dark, lured me in, and then I read your post. Yeah. Nicely put. I'm gonna print it and read it daily to remind myself not to be so blasted nice to my MCs.

  23. Travener : Maps are just guides. Sometimes when you stray off the path, you find something worth the journey.

    Tanya : Thanks. Yes, let's be trouble makers for our characters. When are characters are blissful, our readers are filled with boredom! LOL. Thanks for visiting and following, Roland

  24. It's a great reminder, Roland--the more precarious life is for our MC, the more people will feel really compelled to read on.

  25. Thanks, Hart. Trouble for them means happy readers for us. We are prose trouble-makers I guess. LOL.

  26. Such a strange dichotomy: the balance between artistic integrity and profit. Robert E. Howard never ceases to impress. He was always a commercial writer. The stories he wrote about Conan the Cimmerian were never intended for anything other than to turn a profit. And yet they are still prime examples of good writing, gritty writing, gut-felt writing, writing full of verve and vigor and cold, hard steel.

    Congratulations on the publication of your e-book!

  27. Postman : Robert E. Howard is one of my favorite authors. His prose was lyrical yet seized the heart and mind of his readers. You're right : be can be both artist and mercenary. Odd but true. Roland

  28. Just catching up, and finally had a chance to read this wonderful post. So well written, and so true. I'm a little speechless, which doesn't happen often! Thanks for your constant stream of inspiring posts. I really enjoy your blog.

  29. JM : Thanks so much for liking attempt to make writing easier and more fulfilling for all of us. Your praise helps when I wonder if my post help anyone out there. Thanks for the support. Come back, Roland