What writers do to get on to best seller lists

The Common themes that appeal to readers

Studying what books make the world-wide best seller list can be useful if you want to be the author of a best-seller. There are common themes that appeal to readers and after all, it is readers who create best-seller lists.

Most books, with the exception of one or two, do consistently appear on alternative lists. The list I referred to is a global list compiled by a service called, Global English Editing[1]

The countries with the highest number of readers

The country with the highest reading population is India with readers spending 10.7 hours a week in front of a book followed by Thailand and China. USA is 25th with readers spending 5.7 hours weekly. Further down the list at 27th is UK.

Genres and themes

What interests me are the books that made it onto the list, the kind of genre and the subjects they explored.

Apart from the Xinhua Zidian (Chinese dictionary) which is a reference book all the books in this list either deal with people’s aspirations, their stories and almost consistently follow a strong moral code.

So let’s look at the features.

A single protagonist frequently stands out as the point of view character. This character lives by a strong moral code. For example Darney from A Tale of Two Cities is upper class and abhors the way the aristocracy treat the lower classes. A similar theme runs through Dream of the Red Chamber by Cao Xueqin.

Even Holden Caulfield from Catcher in the Rye regales against the world as he sees it. However, many would say he is an anti-hero with his negative view of the adult world into which he will one day be unwillingly cast.

Many of the stories are steeped in myth or fantasy such as Lord of the Rings, the Harry Potter stories and the Narnia series. However, behind the stories lie battles between good and evil.

The heroes are often on a quest to find a valuable prize. This prize represents good and, once attained, destroys evil. Stories, like the Da Vinci Code, are all about solving the riddle of the Holy Grail which has God-like qualities. These stories are also action-packed and vividly imagined by the writer.

So if you want to be among this elite group of writers what might you do?

1.     Give it an aspirational focus such as the one found in the Alchemist[2]. That is be single minded in your pursuit of a dream. Follow what your heart desires.

2.     Create a powerful protagonist. Someone your reader will be inspired by, relate to, want to see win whatever battle he or she is fighting.

3.     Make sure the reader can’t put it down…so no boring bits and nothing to distract.

4.     The authors create worlds that readers can inhabit using their imaginations.

5.     The characters are multi-dimensional and the reader quickly relates to them.

6.     Aspirational, as in Dale Carnegie’s, Think and Grow Rich.

It is worth studying the books that make it onto lists such as the Global English Editing best-sellers list as they give us clues as to what appeals to readers that can guide what we write if we want the books we write to sell.

Do all books have to have to have themes of good vs evil to be best-sellers? Can best-selling books have flawed characters or do we always need a hero? What do you think?

best-seller lists
how to get onto best-seller lists


Excellent. A lot of good and professional advice. The problem is that not all writers read enough of this advice.