Sunday, May 17, 2015

Why Writing a Bestseller is like picking a Blockbuster Stock, on the Saturday Evening Blog Post.

 The Saturday Evening Blog Post presents: Why Writing a Bestseller is like Picking a Blockbuster Stock.

We have all heard the adage, buy low, sell high. It is a simple concept to understand, of course, but a difficult one to execute. Oftentimes, the opposite happens: after reading the buzz and the hype about how well Stock A is doing, the average investor buys Stock A only to see its price dwindle. It might make you feel better to know that the exact same thing happens to authors trying to write a bestseller. The author is affected by almost the same buzz and hype as the investor, and similarly wants to get in on the action, only in this case the action is writing a book to take advantage of the trend. Think of all the blockbusters that spawned scores and scores of copycats and lookalikes and me-toos: Dan Brown's The DaVinci Code; JK Rowling's Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone; Stieg Larrson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo; Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games trilogy; Stephenie Meyer's Twilight Saga.  

There are many more (please leave any notable trendsetters in the comments section) but I think I made my point. By the time the author reads The DaVinci Code, decides she can write something along the same lines, and then writes, edits and submits it to agents and/or publishers, there are thousands of manuscripts with a similar premise. When I was searching for an agent, almost every website I visited said, No More DaVinci Code Spin-Offs, because by this time the market had been saturated with thrillers featuring the discovery of religious artifacts with the potential to change history (and the evil Catholic church trying to keep them hidden forever.)

The way to write a bestseller, then--like the way to finding a stock that will fund that yacht you are jonesing to buy--is to start your own trend. Yup, that's right, be your own trendsetter. It is, of course, easier said then done, which is why so few authors have accomplished it. Making it even harder, is the hard, cold fact that once you have done that (conceived, written, and edited the book that is unique and different) you have to convince an agent and then a publisher that it will sell--not an easy task.

Consider JK Rowling's plight. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone was rejected by a dozen publishing houses. You heard me, the best selling book series of all time was passed on by twelve editors before a small publishing house named Bloomsbury took a chance on it. (Do you think any of those dozen editors would like a do-over on that decision?) Rejecting HP is similar to skipping over Tom Brady in the NFL draft (he was ultimately picked in the sixth round, after six other quarterbacks had been chosen.) In the context of the paradigm I have chosen, rejecting HP is like being given a tip to buy Apple stock on 12/1/08, when the closing price was 11.55$ a share. (APL closed at 112.54 on 12/1/14, a ten-fold increase in six years, meaning a 50,000$ investment in '08 would be worth over a half-million dollars six years later.) 

Let's get back to the author's conundrum. Every author wants to write a bestseller; to accomplish that, he or she has to start a trend (or change his or her name to James Patterson or Nora Roberts.) The problem with that--as evidenced by JK Rowling's difficulties--is convincing the right people that you are on to something. JK Rowling was told "not to lose her day job," which is especially humorous when you consider she was unemployed at the time. But I don't mean to pick on editors, who do, in general, an excellent job weeding out the wheat from the chaff. Is is just an extremely difficult undertaking, made even more challenging by the sheer number of people who want to be the next JK Rowling, as well as the significant cost of publishing a book, which makes it difficult for an editor to want to take a chance on a book which is new and different.

Like any other writer, I would love to write a bestselling book. To this end, I have attended numerous conferences and read scores of books on how to do just that. The advice is always the same: the key to writing a bestseller is to bring something new and different to the table. What I have learned from my experience since then is that new and different isn't enough on its own. Your book has to be new and different, yes, but also believable and riveting and fast-paced and full of genuine characters and on and on. You also have to have a bit of luck, and the timing needs to be right. (Picking a blockbuster stock needs timing and luck as well.)

It can be done, however: Gillian Flynn did it with Gone Girl and so did Paula Hawkins with Girl on the Train. (Maybe I should use the word girl in the title of my next book, seems to be a trend. Also, are there any stocks named 'girl?')

Ok, thanks again for tuning in, and don't forget to check out Prose & Cons, the literary blog for readers and writers. 


Peter Hogenkamp is a physician and author living in Rutland, Vermont. Peter's writing credits include ABSOLUTION, the first book of The Jesuit thriller series; THE LAZARUS MANUSCRIPT, a stand-alone medical thriller; and The Intern, a serialized novel based loosely on Peter's internship, published bi-weekly on #Wattpad. Peter can be found on his Author Website as well as his personal blog, PeterHogenkampWrites, where he writes about most anything. Peter is the founder and editor of Prose&Consthe literary blog for readers and writers written by authors, editors, agents, publishers and poets; a frequent contributor and reviewer at ReadWave; the founder and moderator of groups on Facebook (The Library), Google+ (Fiction Writers Anonymous); and the chief of two tribes on Triberr, The Big Thrill and Fiction Writers. Peter tweets--against the wishes of his wife and four children--at @phogenkampvt and @theprosecons. Peter can be reached at or through his literary agent (Liz Kracht of Kimberely Cameron & Associates) at