You want to write a bestseller. Just admit it.
Don’t you put your hopes in every book, thinking: This might be it?
Don’t you yearn to crack the bestseller-code, discover that one formula that will get your books to the top?
I will let you down.
There is no formula.
If there was, everybody would write one. But wait! Don’t click away, disappointed with yet another useless article. There is one unfair advantage that bestselling authors have over others. And there is an unfair advantage over other writers I will give you right now on how to write a bestseller.
How to write a bestseller by answering one question
There is one question that will reveal your book’s bestseller potential. The question is: Why?
Why do you write your story? Have you ever thought about this?
Whether you start writing or aspiring to write a fiction or non-fiction book, have you ever stopped to wonder: Why?
You could answer the question in countless ways, all of them legitimate: self-expression, passion, life experience, a strong argument …
But is there a right answer to this question? An answer that could turn your book from average into a bestseller?
Ted Dekker calls this answer “the unfair advantage”, an advantage that will take you to the bestseller list.
How to write a bestseller: the author’s journey
Dekker wrote his first two novels over the course of three years. He also rewrote both of them from scratch and got published two years and three novels later. His best work did not come to him right away.
He explains how he came to the realization of the “unfair advantage” and understood why the first versions of his two novels did not work and have been constantly rejected.
Now, he has written over 30 novels and sold over 10 million copies worldwide.
But what is his secret of success – this “unfair advantage” that apparently took him from writing average stories to climbing the bestseller list?
The principle of transformational fiction
Dekker argues that every story we write has to be about two different kinds of transformation.
#1 The transformation inside the character
Your main character starts out with a question he needs answered, a goal and a quest.
By the end of your book, he or she cannot stay the same. A deep-seated change has to occur inside of him – his outlook on life, his character, his decisions – not just on the outside of his world.
This principle is not new. Everybody is talking about the character arc, but do we really understand it?
“We cannot ask which is more important, structure or character, because structure is character; character is structure. They’re the same thing, and therefore one cannot be more important than the other.” – Robert McKee, Story
There is much to be considered when creating characters: goals, backstory, conflict, likeability, to name a few. It is easy to get lost in the details.
Transformation is a simple yet important principle to guide you. Your character’s outside transformation – his success or failure in reaching the goal – is the plot that forms the structure of your story. But beneath, there is another layer – the inner transformation. And both of them are neatly intertwined, even the same thing, as McKee puts it.
Your readers want their minds blown and their hearts touched while they embark on the journey with you. This can be accomplished by a clever plot, but the essence is still missing.
I never seem to remember movies like Mission Impossible or Jason Bourne in detail. Yes, there were some great action bits. A clever and surprising ending. But nothing stuck with me in the long run.
Bestsellers live from word of mouth. If you want your book recommended, your readers have to be invested with the characters even while they are not reading. They have to remember.
Inner transformation is the key. A shift of worldview. The fight of an inner wound and demon.
But this principle raises a tough question: How do you make the transformation real and believable without sounding preachy?
Dekker suggests an unusual solution.
#2 The transformation inside of you
Let’s come back to the question we asked in the beginning: Why do you write this story?
There is a right answer. One that will set you free from the pressure of being published, pleasing everybody, even the pressure of writing a bestseller (ironically).
There is a second transformation that needs to take place in your story.
You, the author, need to be transformed along with your own book.
Dekker always sets out to write his books with a problem he struggles with on a personal level. He dares to become very vulnerable in his stories. When he wrote “Water Walker”, he had an inner struggle on the issue of “healing”. While plotting and writing his book, he set out to find a solution; an answer for himself and his characters. He was transformed along with his characters.
You are the first reader of your book. The first one to live this adventure. The first one whose life might be changed along with the characters.
This is the key to authenticity, and ultimately, the way to write a bestseller. If you write to change your own life, the change will bleed onto the page.
Many authors refrain from a drastic transformation in their fiction because they are scared to sound preachy or intrusive. Think about McKee’s quote. True transformation is equal to story structure, so the only way to show authentic transformation is through action and plot. The underlying level to all of this is your own authentic quest for an answer.
Why do you write your story? To change your own life.
You will become the greatest beneficiary of your story. And the blood of your transformation that is captured on the pages will inevitably transform your reader.
How to write a bestseller using the unfair advantage
I was challenged when I heard about this unfair advantage, asking myself about my own transformational journey while writing my novel.
As a writer, you do much more than putting words on paper. You are an adventurer, philosopher, and you need to be unafraid to experience the world, meet people, and confront the issues of life.
Ask uncomfortable questions. Be bold. Be vulnerable, and your readers will pick up on that.
What is your take on the unfair advantage? Let me know in the comments below.