So you can read my books

Friday, December 21, 2012


{My muse's image by the talented Leonora Roy}
At the end of this, I will give you 3 secrets to writing a bestseller, but first ...

Publishing is a casino.

You thought it was a business?  Silly rabbit.

I.) Take the term BESTSELLER.  What exactly defines a bestseller anyway?

 A bestseller is usually determined by :

 1) Making the New York Times Bestseller list.

          a.) How does a book get on the New York Times Bestseller list?
          b.) The truth of the matter is it’s rather arbitrary.
          c.) The New York Times has relationships with numerous bookstores that report their weekly  sales to the New York Times.
          d.) The New York Times’ numbers do not include Internet sales, (their ebook list is not considered the REAL LIST) or
                Sales in department stores like Walmart, or sales in local gift shops.

 2) Having a high Amazon sales rank.

          a.) John Locke has shown us how corrupt and flawed that system is.
          b.) Like the New York Times, if a book on Amazon sells steadily but does not sell
          a large number within a short timeframe,
          its sales rank is not likely to go up as high as a flash in the pan.

 3) Selling a large number of copies.

          a.) Well, DUH! you say.
          b.) But that's REPORTED COPIES - and you've seen how many are NOT reported.
          c.) Yet, what about the long-distance runner of a book?
               i.) “Unanswered Cries,” a true-crime book by Tom French, was acquired in 1989 by St. Martin’s for $30,000.
               ii.) It now has 400,000 copies in print in paperback and sold at least 31,000 copies last year alone.

II.) Now, take the ADVANCE ( and don't you wish you could!)


I.) The not surprising but depressing news:

      1.) It's guesswork.

          “It’s guesswork,” says Bill Thomas, once editor in chief of Doubleday Broadway.
          “The whole thing is educated guesswork, but guesswork nonetheless.
          You just try to make sure your upside mistakes make up for your downside mistakes.”

     2.) What is past is prologue:

         a.) It is the way this business has run since 1640,
         b.) when 1,700 copies of the Bay Psalm Book were published in the colonies.
         c.) It was a gamble, and they guessed right because it sold out of the print run.
         d.) And ever since then, it has been a crap shoot.

     3.) The reliablility of a liability of a fixed cost:

          a.) The advance payment to the author is often an estimate of the first year’s royalties, usually 10 percent to 15 percent of expected sales.
          b.) The advance is a liability for the publisher because it is a fixed cost.
          c.) It doesn’t have to be repaid by the author if it turns out to be an overestimate, which it usually is.

     4.) Then, why do Publishers still pay advances?

          a.) To make money, the industry depends on perennial sellers and on best sellers.
          b.) The profit does NOT come from almost sure-fire best sellers by the well-known authors,
          c.) because those cost so much to acquire and market.
          d.) The surprise best sellers provide the life-sustaining large profits they so need.
          e.) Low investment rewarded by millions of sales.

     5.) Some of the best and most interesting books have a unique appeal and how do you research that, much less come up with a formula for finding them?

          a.) Publishers do engage in limited numbers crunching.
          b.) In estimating value, editors rely heavily on an author’s previous sales or on sales of similar titles.
          c.) Based on those figures and some analysis —
               i.) about the popularity of the genre,
               ii.) the likely audience,
               iii.) the possible newsworthiness of the topic of the economy.
          d.) they work up profit and loss projections.
Now, for those 3 secrets to writing a bestseller ...

                          a question:


          1.) No, not the powers or the lack thereof.
          2.) SUPERMAN is the disguise Clark Kent wears to keep from going insane.
          3.) Bruce Wayne died along with his parents.  Bruce Wayne is the mask BATMAN wears to keep from being locked up.
          4.) Both are like sharks: they must live out their natures or die within.
          5.) Their best comic stories contain that truth.  Their worst are blind to it.

     No, but you can see its effects.  In like manner, you can see the THREE SECRETS in every bestseller:

I.) Each winning story has a STYLE that sings to the soul -

     A.) The winning stories are ones that we are drawn into and can’t put down,

     B.) that some element of the narrative winds it’s way into our heart and soul and spirit

     C.) and we are touched beyond explanation ... but not without reason.

          1.) ROBERT E. HOWARD -
               Words tumbled from his pen like scattered jewels catching the moonlight of the imagination.

          2.) ERNEST HEMINGWAY -
               His words jabbed into our reading mind like the slashing downwards of typewriter keys in precise, concise images.

          3.) STEPHEN KING -
               King's sketches in the afternoon of a mundane world with the descending twilight of nightmare

casting grotesque designs on the familiar ... or perhaps the danse macabre was the tune in our heads all along?


          1.) They all entertain.

          2.) They never bore.

          3.) In their time, they were original, never rehashing the tried and true.

          4.) They keep the reader asking, "What happens next?"


              A ground-breaking S.F. novel in the 50's was THE DAY OF THE TRIFFEDS:

              Most of humanity has gone blind.  We follow the steps of one of the few sighted men.  He goes to his hotel and sees a blind man and wife stumbling down the hall.  The husband assures his wife the stairs are right in front of them.

               It is the huge ceiling to floor window.  Our hero watches them both walk through the window to their deaths, refusing to accept responsibility for them.  He feels no remorse.  The world has become dark in more ways than one.

II.) Each Bestseller contains a HERO YOU WANT TO BE

     A.) I do not want to be that hero in THE DAY OF THE TRIFFEDS

          1.) I read the book because I enjoyed the movie with its likeable hero.
          2.) A scenario I would have liked -

               Just before the couple walked through the window, their little girl races out of their hotel room.  Our hero is hard but not hard enough to let a little girl watch their parents plunge to their deaths.  He calls out a warning, and their lives are saved.

               The little girl asks who the strange man is, and the relieved couple answer, "A hero."

               The young man reluctantly becomes the trio's guide.  Every time he is tempted to give in to his base nature, he feels the adoring girl's eyes on him and struggles not to crush what little hope she has left.

               Day by week by month by year, he slowly becomes the hero she always felt him to be.  And she becomes the treasure he has always sought ... in the wrong places.  They eventually become a light even the blind can see.

     B.)  Each bestseller has a hero whose original perils have you ask, WHAT WOULD I DO IN THAT SITUATION?

          1.) THE WALKING DEAD is so popular because it has realistic characters in it.
          2.) Each member of the audience identifies with one of the cast, pulling for that person to survive.
          3.) Each of us wants to win. 
          4.) If you are wise, you will let the reader win through your hero (even if the hero dies, let him attain victory.)

     C.) TWILIGHT succeeded because teenage girls were swept up into what it would be like to become the love object of a sensitive vampire.

          1.) The ultimate bad boy allure.
          2.) combined with a new twist on abstinance!


     A.) To see anew:

          1.) Ever been to an eye doctor for an exam?
          2.) He flips a lense over your eye, asking, "How is this?"
          3.) If it is the right lense, the world takes on new clarity and depth.


          1.) You saw them in a new light, realizing their humanity and feeling a bond to them even though they were pulp heroes.
          2.) To write YOUR bestseller, you must flip that lense over your reader's eyes.
          3.)  In a bestseller, not only is the hero or heroine different at the end of the tale -- so is your reader.
          4.) In a very real sense, both the hero and reader die during the course of your novel.  Neither is the same person they were at the start.


          A SUGGESTION IF I MAY ....

I.) On the Cover of This Sunday's NEW YORK TIMES Book Review -

     A.) Has Fiction Lost Its Faith?

     B.) Is this how Christian belief figures into literary fiction in our place and time?

     C.) As something between a dead language and a hangover?

II.) Half a century ago --

     A.) Flannery O’Connor framed the struggle to “make belief believable” as a struggle for the attention of the indifferent reader.

     B.) The religious aspect in a work of fiction, she insisted, is “a dimension added,” not one taken away, and she explained how she added it:

     C.) “To the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost-blind you draw large and startling figures.”
     D.) It worked:
          1.) Who can forget the nihilist evangelist Hazel Motes in “Wise Blood”?
          2.) or O. E. Parker in “Parker’s Back,” who gets the face of Christ tattooed across his shoulders?
     E.) The religious encounter of the kind O’Connor described
          1.) forces a person to ask how belief figures into his or her own life
          2.) and how to decide just what is true in it, what is worth acting on.
III.)  In today's world of Sandy Hook and Hollidaysburg, child-molesting priests, and the majority of people never mentioning God's name except as a curse ...
     A.) Is faith in God even relevant?
     B.)  If you think it is, can you craft a story that the reader of today would find entertaining and believable?
     C.) In Cormac McCarthy's NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN ...
          1.) Religion is reduced to a reminder of last things.
          2.) In it, the “redneck” Sheriff Bell surmises that Satan created the narcotics trade to “bring the human race to its knees.”
          3.) I told that to Sandra at lunch in Piccadilly,
          4.) And she asked me if I believed in Satan.
          5.) I said that wasn't the point.
          6.) And Sandra said, " I know but do you?”
     A.) Is Christianity "a country for old men?"
     B.) On TV in the '60's, the cowboy hero wore a white Stetson, was clean-shaven, walked on the side of the angels, and named his horse.
     C.) Paladin wore all black, had a villainous thin moustache, could care less about his horse, and sold his gun for a living.
     D.) He was an educated man, quoting Shakespeare and Marcus Aurelius -- and despite wearing black in a black and white medium, his adventures walked in the grey areas of human life.
     E.) Could you craft such a protagonist in today's world in believable adventures of faith among people who no longer gave God a thought?
     F.) You might create your own bestseller if you gave it a try.
     G.) Or look about your world for a new way to sing an old song.

      Oh, don't forget to include laughter.  There is so little of it for so many today.


  1. Alex:
    And the kid in me is Victor and the hero I would be is Samuel McCord. I guess we are kindred spirits, :-)

  2. Sometimes being the hero, puts loss in one family while helping a stranger. Being a hero in our current age comes with a lot of unknowns (weapons, swarming). Are the days of the good Samaritan limited? Not everyone knows Victor's tricks.

    Heroism has its down side. But when you're gone, you're gone. Unless you're invited to Meilori's. (not sure how you get on Roland's A-list)

    Happy Holidays, Roland! Wishing you more success in 2013.

  3. D.G.:

    I put that dichotomy in the adventures of Samuel McCord. His ceaseless striving to help the defenseless cost him his beloved wife, Meilori - who saw him putting strangers above her. (Not true in his heart but sometimes you believe your fears.)

    Long ago, we broke the terms of the lease and since then, the world has been broken, filled with broken people.

    Evil has sharp teeth. You never defeat it for long. It hides in the shadows, sharpening its claws. And it always returns at the whisper of its name. Always.

    Even the original good Samaritan had to risk the danger that the injured person was not merely a thief, posing hurt to lure in a victim. (That was a common ruse in those ancient days.)

    The original good Samaritan put his family's welfare at risk to help a stranger.

    What do we do when we see hurt? The world is awash in agony. We cannot stem the entire tide, only one small spot of beach we stand upon.

    In every day of your life, there are opportunities to perform little kindnesses for others, both by conscious acts of will and unconscious example.

    Each smallest act of kindness -

    even just words of hope when they are needed, the remembrance of a birthday, a compliment that engenders a smile --

    reverberates across great distances and spans of time, affecting lives unknown to the one whose generous spirit was the source of this good echo,

    because kindness is passed on and grows each time it’s passed, until a simple courtesy becomes an act of selfless courage years later and far away.

    Likewise, each small meanness, each thoughtless expression of hatred, each envious and bitter act, regardless of how petty, can inspire others,

    and is therefore the seed that ultimately produces evil fruit, poisoning people whom you have never met and never will.

    It comes down to what sort of inspiration we are comfortable in being.

    All human lives are so profoundly and intricately entwined --

    those dead, those living, those generations yet to come --

    that the fate of all is the fate of each, and the hope of humanity rests in every heart and in every pair of hands.

    May your Holidays be blessed and happy. Thank you for being my friend, Roland