Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Reading, Writing & Publishing ~

Tag Archives: writer’s tips

What Is a #Bestseller, Really? And, Should an Author Try to Write One?

I have 10 posts here tagged Bestsellers (including this one…)…

The one most folks would associate with the normally understood meaning for “bestseller” might be, Bestsellers . . ., which includes this quote:

“…the definition wasn’t just something like: books that sell a lot of copies.

Here’s my dictionary’s entry ~ “A book that has had a large and rapid sale”

Then, there’s that other post of mine called, Want To Be A Bestselling Author? ~ Don’t Read This Blog . . .

Here’s an excerpt from that one:

“Who made it seem success wasn’t merely the next stage, from which further action becomes possible, but rather a pinnacle of achievement that leaves all other contenders breathless on the sides of the conquered mountain? So, who did that? Businesspeople? Fundamentalist religious folk? Football coaches?”

Which, for me, raises the issue of whether having a bestseller is a rational goal for an author

Then, there’s that post of mine called, So Ya Think Your Book Will Be a Bestseller?


“…I continue to attempt to market my first novel…

“…I shrivel at the kindly meant enquiry, ‘How are sales?’

“…my lovely novel, my first-born, has not sold as many copies as I thought it would.

“I am lucky to live in an era where I have access to the free marketing potential of social media. I realise that. Yet I have still to work out how social media sells or, indeed, whether it does at all.”

Those quotes all come from Kate Evans‘ article, The Measure of Success in Indie Publishingdefinitely worth a read

Finally, there’s that one I did called, Why Trying to Write a Bestseller Is Bad for Your Mental Hygiene.

And, excerpts:

“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.”

“Nearly all those articles are bunk…”

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

I go on to explain; then, later:

“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…”

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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Which Is More Important, The Art of Writing or Its Craft?

I’ve written many times about all the bad advice for writers that’s out there… 

I’ve also written about some of the vast confusions about the purpose of writing.

But, when it comes to the Art of writing, a bit of Craft goes a long way.

And, learning the Craft of writing is more bearable if one is devoted to its Art.

Some might even say that the Art is constructed from the Craft.

And, naturally, there are those who don’t have time for either

Back in 2012, I wrote two posts about diagramming sentences (something I found intriguing and well worth learning back in my pre-college days):

Diagramming Sentences ~ A Lost Art?

What’s The “Best” Way To Learn “Proper” Grammar?

The post at the first link has some fascinating comments from the readers

But, in case you’ve never heard of this tool of the craft of writing (and, didn’t take that link up there), let me show you the diagram of the first sentence of George Orwell’s 1984 :


Some folks might see that as completely confusing.

Some might say, as one of the commenters I mentioned did, “diagrams are such visual word art, a bit like the electric circuitry of language laid out on the page

Now, take a look at the diagrams for the first sentences from Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and Austen’s Pride and Prejudice :

The Great Gatsby

Pride and Prejudice

Those three images are from an aesthetic project by the designers at Pop Chart Lab, and you can see 23 more famous first lines rendered as grammatical diagrams if you visit their post, A Diagrammatical Dissertation on Opening Lines of Notable Novels   ( plus, if you hurry, you might be able to grab {at the bottom of that last link} one of 500 signed prints of this work of Crafty Art :-)

Did you learn sentence diagramming in school?

Did you like it?

If you didn’t learn it, do you think it might be helpful?
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A Trick of The Writers’ Trade . . .

note-taking Line up 100 writers

Ask them all to share one “trick” they use to help them in their writing

Odds are you’ll have between 70 and 90 different tips.

Sure I made that statistic up but it is based on a bit of experience :-)

Suffice to say, there are a scad of individual little unique approaches to getting the writing job done.

Try this one on for fit…

Many writers use notebooks—physical or digital—and checking those 100 writers again would produce around 40 to 60 different approaches to making notes—though, these stats may be greatly inflated by my rather optimistic opinion of the individuality of writers :-)

What if you kept a special notebook/file/space that had a running list of all the odd, hard to categorize ideas and partial ideas you have?

And, further, what if, every so often, you read that master odd-idea file to yourself?

This is not my idea.

I’m sharing just one of Steven Johnson‘s ideas

One of the books he’s written is Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation.

Let me share some of his thinking about that master odd-idea file from an article by him on a site called MediumThe Spark File:

“The problem with hunches is that it’s incredibly easy to forget them, precisely because they’re not fully-baked ideas.”

“And even the ones that you do manage to retain often don’t turn out to be useful to you for months or years, which gives you countless opportunities to lose track of them.”

“…for the past eight years or so I’ve been maintaining a single document where I keep all my hunches: ideas for articles, speeches, software features, startups, ways of framing a chapter I know I’m going to write, even whole books.”

“…the key habit that I’ve tried to cultivate is this: every three or four months, I go back and re-read the entire spark file.”

“Sure, I end up reading over many hunches that never went anywhere, but there are almost always little sparks that I’d forgotten that suddenly seem more promising. And it’s always encouraging to see the hunches that turned into fully-realized projects or even entire books.”

Then, he gives seven random examples of his Sparks—and, then, this:

“…the most interesting part of the experience, which is the feeling of reading through your own words describing new ideas as they are occurring to you for the first time. In a funny way, it feels a bit like you are brainstorming with past versions of yourself. You see your past self groping for an idea that now seems completely obvious five years later. Or, even better, you’re reminded of an idea that seems suddenly relevant to a new project you’ve just started thinking about.”

So, how does this writer’s tip strike you?

Is it too simple to work?

Is it a genius use of time and mind?

Think you could implement it?

Please, do, share you ideas and opinions in the Comments :-)
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Balancing The Writer’s Life

Avid readers might be prone to becoming writers

Avid writers are apt to become publishers

Publishers are learning to interact more immediately with their readers

But this lovely triangle wouldn’t exist without the Writer.

And, these days, many more writers are still heavy readers while learning to be nimble publishers.

Where’s the Balance?

My personal balance involves Inner and Outer needs.

Inwardly, I must read so I can ponder so I can meditate so I can open the portals to let my writing happen.

Outwardly, I must blog and attend to Google Plus interaction while assuring myself sufficient time with my friends.

Inward must balance with Outward

Recently, Victoria Grefer, on her blog, Creative Writing with the Crimson League, wrote about balance in the post, Being an Author who Blogs…. The Biggest Minor Inconveniences.

Here are a few of the things she has to balance:

Do I work on the blog, or my novel?

The approaching deadline.

You want to write about your books, but in a big way, you can’t.

I’ll let those interested go read her full post

When I contemplate the balancing I must do in my life to support my being a writer, I keep coming back to one benchmark for judging what needs more weight or what must be trimmed:


Here’s the origin of the word from the Oxford dictionary:

late Middle English: via Old French from late Latin authenticus, from Greek authentikos ‘principal, genuine’

Are the things I’m balancing of equal genuineness?

Am I attempting to balance the principle factors?

Kill your darlings” can definitely apply to not only factors of your writing but to activities and “priorities” that don’t help you maintain your Authenticity—keep you from being true to yourself.
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Do You Keep A Journal?

journaling Some writers never journal—some journal more than any other type of writing

Some who journal use computer programs, some paper, some on scraps, some in costly blank books

And, some writers just do it in their minds :-)

I found a site that really drills down on the whole journaling experience—Shack’s Comings and Goings.

In fact, the site is still working on filling out an extremely ambitious outline of journal topics—check out Journaling for Creativity {scroll down a bit for the outline [notice how some of the topics aren’t yet links]}.

On that page they say:

“Creative journaling is a close sibling of personal journaling; you may even consider them to be twins, but not identical twins. These twins look and walk quite differently, they engage you quite differently, they reason quite differently.”

“Personal journaling tends to be mostly introspective and inwardly focused. Pages are filled with reflective notes on a day’s actions and thoughts about the writer’s passage through them. Other times they may be populated with pensive predictions about tomorrow’s actions….

“The focus of creativity journaling is outwards. A part of a creativity journal will always be about personal awareness, personal growth, personal thoughts, but we are so incredibly small compared to the massive world around us and the journal reflects this. The journal is filled from the enormous world around us. Filled by being aware and looking for the seen and the unseen, the why and the why not, the ‘what was’ and the ‘what will be’ that surrounds us all.”

Within that massive outline is the topic The 24 types of journal entry when Journaling for Creativity and within that section they say:

“When looking down the list, you may think that some types of entry appear to be a complete journaling topic all on their own. This is in fact true, but we are not stand-offish; any journaling practice that feeds, assists and develops the creative-mind is likely to be rounded up and corralled into our journaling for creativity stables.”

I, personally, have tried all kinds of journaling but have yet to find one that works with my writing life

I do, however, realize that many folks swear by journaling—wouldn’t ever stop—treasure the results.

So, if your not sure you should journal or if you’ve been using the same journaling style for a long time, do go check out this site :-)
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