Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Reading, Writing & Publishing ~

Why Trying to Write a Bestseller Is Bad for Your Mental Hygiene

If you persistently scan the writing blogs and the publishing news, you’ll find an overabundance of articles telling you how to write and market a book so it will become a bestseller.

Writing A Bestseller

Image Courtesy of Michael & Christa Richert ~

Nearly all those articles are bunk

They’re either written by deluded folk or by people trying to scam you for your money.

I hear a few readers saying, “Alex, how in the world can you write such generalizations?”.

Well, partly from my own experience and partly from the experience of other rational people.

Let me share a few quotes from my past post, What About All The Authors Whose Books Don’t Sell Very Many Copies?:

“An extremely small percentage of writers sell more than 500 copies of a book…”

And, this one from a New York Times Bestselling author—nominated for the Hugo, Nebula, Prometheus, and John W. Campbell Award for Best New Science Fiction Author:

“…in business school there’s this point made that if you interview rich people who have won the lottery, you might come to believe that playing the lottery is the only way to become rich. I thought that was interesting. One of the things I’m constantly trying to point out is that we’re not doing nearly enough to highlight both median and failure modes, because that’s where the real lessons lie.”

Then, a quote from a linked article, Survivorship Bias:

“If failures becomes invisible, then naturally you will pay more attention to successes. Not only do you fail to recognize that what is missing might have held important information, you fail to recognize that there is missing information at all.

“You must remind yourself that when you start to pick apart winners and losers, successes and failures, the living and dead, that by paying attention to one side of that equation you are always neglecting the other.”

If you are pinning your hopes on writing a bestseller, I heartily suggest you go to that past post of mine and read it and all the linked material

Also, I feel that beginning the process of writing a book with the dream of it becoming a bestseller is going to make the writer, consciously or subconsciously, write in an imitative fashion—trying to write to the folks who like bestsellers—killing any true originality and honest creativity

Certainly, there are methods and practices that will help you make sure a book sells as many copies as the market will bear.

And, it has been argued that the never-closed nature of e-book stores (and, the fact that a book will stay on the shelves as long as the e-retailer stays on the “Net) can, eventually, help a book sell more copies.

Bottom-line, unless you’re some hot-property sports or movie or business person with a Traditional Publishing house’s money behind you, you need to write a book that expresses your deepest creativity and let the sales-chips fall where they may

I knew my book, Notes from An Alien, was non-genre and non-niche, so I self-published it and give it away—I want readers, period.

Finally, to round-out this argument, I’ll share some excerpts from Ursula K. Le Guin‘s article, Up the Amazon with the BS Machine:

“Best Seller lists have been around for quite a while. Best Seller lists are generated by obscure processes, which I consider (perhaps wrongly) to consist largely of smoke, mirrors, hokum, and the profit motive. How truly the lists of Best Sellers reflect popularity is questionable.”

“If you want to sell cheap and fast, as Amazon does, you have to sell big. Books written to be best sellers can be written fast, sold cheap, dumped fast: the perfect commodity for growth capitalism.

“The readability of many best sellers is much like the edibility of junk food. Agribusiness and the food packagers sell us sweetened fat to live on, so we come to think that’s what food is. Amazon uses the BS Machine to sell us sweetened fat to live on, so we begin to think that’s what literature is.

“I believe that reading only packaged microwavable fiction ruins the taste, destabilizes the moral blood pressure, and makes the mind obese. Fortunately, I also know that many human beings have an innate resistance to baloney and a taste for quality rooted deeper than even marketing can reach.”

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13 responses to “Why Trying to Write a Bestseller Is Bad for Your Mental Hygiene

  1. Martina Sevecke-Pohlen June 26, 2015 at 12:38 pm

    Although it’s hard to accept: nobody is waiting for yet another book! Authors may dream that their book will be an exception – it very likely won’t be. Therefore it is tempting to help the bestseller along with writing after a formula. And people always love formulars. They are looking for the right way to teach , to raise their children, to dress, to write … I keep repeating over and over again that authors can only write good, original and valuable books if they do it in their individual way. After all, the many differnt books on how to write a bestseller should make people suspicious.


    • Alexander M Zoltai June 26, 2015 at 6:56 pm

      Two points, in particular, stand out in your comment, Martina:

      “…the many different books on how to write a bestseller should make people suspicious.”


      “…nobody is waiting for yet another book! Authors may dream that their book will be an exception – it very likely won’t be.”

      And, as to formulas—writers and readers, both, should grow up and stop making and ingesting baby food :-)

      Liked by 1 person

  2. philipparees June 26, 2015 at 1:45 pm

    Bravo Alexander. Can’t be said too often. The neglected truth, the contradictory statistic that might persuade a few more not to write unless they absolutely have to! Those of us who have learned that the hearth is cold, and kindling burns for half a day are called kill joys. All those how to, here pay me programmes of certain success would have to sell books instead. It seems that even those are now struggling with even the three bonuses and the introductory offers being extended beyond the final count down are sounding a trifle threadbare.

    It seems your abandoned book has found a greater cause- to tell it like it is! Can one write without hope of any kind? I will have to find out!


  3. Alexander M Zoltai June 26, 2015 at 7:01 pm

    Dear Philippa,

    Writing without hope of any kind is not to be considered.

    Hope should never die that at least one (and, more likely, a handful, at least) of readers will have needed to read one’s book…

    But the “neglected truth” does need more shouting about…

    Also, no matter what one’s thoughts about a life following this one, perhaps one’s work may well live on and be greatly admired………


  4. Nicole June 27, 2015 at 7:08 am

    Hi Alex! ^_^
    Great post.
    Two things.
    A) I got my new copy of Notes from An Alien, yesterday! I can’t wait to read it again. I forgot to fix my order so I do need to get another copy for the Little Library at the park down the road (I think I told you about it).
    Also, sidebar, the deliver doof tossed it in a puddle of water on my porch and apparently, it stayed there over night (marinating in dirty porch water?) and guess what! It survived the Alabama Natural Elements + Careless Delivery Dude Torture Test. (Lol here) It was packaged so well, it didn’t get even a little bit wet. ^_^ Kudos to Fast Pencil. No, this is not an advertisement.
    Moving on.
    B) I forgot what B was. Oh, yeah! “B” was, I read more than I write, but when I *do* write, I find that every single time I stop and think about anyone (at all) reading it (ever) it throws me off and I can’t even write right anymore. It’s like someone shuts off the water and everything stops and the party is over. I hate it. So I try my best to avoid thinking about anyone reading the final product, at least while I’m still writing. I guess that ends up being an issue because maybe you do have to stop and consider if you’re getting your point across or if you’re saying things in a way that easily translates to the average person or else maybe you’re not expressing yourself well, and isn’t that the point in writing things down?
    I’m sorry if I’m confusing. It’s 6 in the morning and I’m eating a cherry sucker. Lol!

    Happy Saturday & Thank You for Sharing. ♥

    Liked by 1 person

    • Alexander M Zoltai June 27, 2015 at 11:05 am

      Well, Nicole, you’ve done it—written the most encouraging and delightful comment ever contributed to this blog :-)

      Definitely, Kudos to FastPencil—and, when I’m done writing this reply, I’m going to re-blog something here from their own blog…

      And B:

      I think you have a powerful method to assure you write from your authentic self (as Arton might say…).

      Though, I suggest when you get what I call a “clean draft’—“pretty much” where you think the writing should be—you share it with a couple trusted people—not family—and see what those Beta readers say…

      You certainly need to hang on to what your writing wants to be; but, you may get some feedback from the beta readers about “rough edges”…

      And, a happy Saturday to you, too!!


  5. Kate Rauner July 26, 2015 at 2:03 pm

    Thanks for the post – the truth will, indeed, set you free. I’ve begun to suspect that a lot of advice is an echo chamber. One “tip” is to make money off wannabe authors with advice – I’ve seen many posts that seem to contain a lot of copy/paste and pacing outlines to force your story into. I’ve also read a number of successful novels that violate “standard advice.” (If you’re curious, posts on these books at )


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