How to Land on the Bestseller List

(Originally published on Brevity’s nonfiction blog 6/9/16)

I always tell my writing students that they shouldn’t set out to write a bestseller. They should write the story they feel compelled to write, the one that is burning inside them. The one that only they can tell. They should also keep in mind publishing trends and what is happening in the marketplace, but this should not box in, nor define their creativity. Naturally this does not apply to my own writing. I am dying to write a bestseller, and after years of continually scrutinizing the bestseller lists, I think I have come up with a foolproof list of aids that will help me get there.
…Change the title of my novel from The Last Act to Wednesdays With Pugsly: The World’s Ugliest, Yet Somehow Most Adorable Pooch Who Never Graced a Calendar.
…Replace the phrase “sideways glance” with “hot, lustful undressing in the mind.”
…Explore the possibility of having George Clooney pose for cover art.

…Finagle book jacket blurbs from any of the following celebrities: Simon Cowell, “Bravo, not a false note;” Britney Spears, “Best (and only) book I’ve ever read;” Madonna, “Kathy has made a convert of me;” George Bush, “It’s as good as that other book I read;”
…Explore plagiarism as a marketing tool.
…Ask my agent if she thinks I’m too old to enroll at Harvard as an undergraduate. Possible plot line could be – fifty-five year old woman enters Harvard as a freshman, sell it as “Legally (Fake) Blonde Meets Cocoon.”
…Move in next door to Oprah and become her new best friend. (Find some dirt that will destroy Gayle King first.)
…Change name of book to anything with the words “secret,” “Christmas,” “diet,” or “adorable dog” in the title. The Secret Christmas Death of an Adorable Dog? Nine Lives of a Christmas Dieter? Who Moved My Christmas Tofu? A Secret Miracle Christmas Diet for Both You and Your Precious Pooch?
…Look into product placement to attract potential advertising sponsors. My protagonist, a chocolate lover, could just as easily be a Godiva chocolate lover. And drink only Veuve Clicquot Champagne. And wear only Cole Haan shoes. And drive a BMW, Five Series. You get the idea.
…Consider making my protagonist (now a suburban newspaper columnist) a vampire, with cute twin teenage vampire daughters. (Can dogs be vampires? Look into this possibility.)
…Become an undercover nanny, life coach, or personal chef to some really rich people, take notes, and then write a book about them.
…Maybe cutesy, heart-warming dog books have had their day in the sun. Explore possible memoirs using other pets. Maybe Days of the Iguana. Or Clipped Wings: What My Parakeet Taught Me About Overcoming Life’s Obstacles. Or how about Gerbil: Life Lessons From the Flywheel.
…See if I can get adopted into a family that is more dysfunctional than my own so I have better material for a memoir someday. Or ask Mom if she minds if I change her from the nicest mother who ever lived to a pill-popping, alcoholic, obsessive compulsive, many times divorced, always inappropriately dressed, binge-dieting, dog-hating, library book-stealing mother whose six daughters succeed against formidable odds and become perfect mothers with perfect children who always do everything right.
…Try writing a sort of backlash to The Secret. Maybe No More Secrets: Lessons as Plain as the Nose on (Your Adorable Dog’s) Face.

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