Publishers Marketplace 'automat' section has a story lifted out of Newsweek mag about David Balducci. The guy has writted 16 best-sellers . . and get this. . . according to Newsweek, hardly any critic thinks Balducci's books are good.

So it occured to me--if you were a big publishing house, could you literately take a manuscript out of the slush pile (and assuming it had just average talent) groom and preen that script/writer into a mega hit?

Personally, I'm thinking of Clive Cussler. I read all of his novels, I'll admit it. And I walk away dissatisfied every time. All of his plots have vast potential. But his slam-bang style of writing is just so sterile. No color. No true sensations. Just wham-bang, and go to the next impossible feat.

But I wonder: did Cussler's Raise the Titanic hit the right editors's desk on the right day, at the right time, with the editor in the right mood? Did the book make the author? Or did the publisher make the author?

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True, and I agree about their worth, but these people are the competition.
Well, you know, there are special sorts of miseries for all of the stages of authordom. Don't for a moment believe that all will be just perfect once you get that contract. At that point you start learning about the business, and the lessons are all painful.

You apparently haven't looked at the NYTimes list lately. There are a lot of what some people call Literary novels on the list. It's interesting that about 1/3 of the top 35 hardback best sellers were reveiwed by the times, more than half of the trade paperback best sellers were reviewed by the times, and only 4 of the top 35 mass market paperbacks were reviewed by them, and all four were reviewed as hardcover novels.

Now the top 150 of USA TODAY is a different story.

I agree with your final line though: Just focuse on the writing and write the best damn book you can. Then go from there.

That's where luck comes in.
Oh, wow! Thank you, Thomas.

I do read the NYT bestseller list sometimes. Yes, it's frequently disappointing, but now and then it contains a good book. Keep in mind that it tells you a lot about the public and who is being promoted heavily.
Thanks. I.J. Nice words--if we ever meet, I'll take you out to dinner. (make it a cheap dinner, don't have much dinero.--sadly.)
You are very kind, B.R.. Perhaps we'll meet at a convention and buy each other a drink. By the way, I'm a midlist author, and struggling at that.
Cussler tells a story, no matter how improbable. His writing, to me, is trite. He uses trite expressions in his narratives and says the same thing in a single paragraph up to three times, but he does tell a story and that's what makes him, to many of us, a guilty pleasure. The writer told a story, the publisher thought somebody might like it and made the author by putting him out there.

David Baldacci, wrote the wrong book about the wrong president. (My understanding is that it was written about Nixon) Then the right president with the right scandal came along and the story fit perfectly to that scandal.

Another story I heard, which I take with a grain of salt, is that the Doubleday editors decided that they were going to spend a lot of money to create a best seller, and they chose Dan Brown's DAVINCI CODE. I remember having an ARC of the book, a big fat book at that, in my bag at the Left Coast Crime in Montery, I think. So they must have spent a hell of a lot of money. I only read the book because readers I resepected and also got the free book told me it was a page-turner--and that it was.

I think many of us saw what happened. Although we saw holes in the plot that you could fly a Lear Jet through, preposterous situations, and somewhat cardboard characters, Brown told us things that we didn't know we wanted to know. He gave some history of the Knights Templar, exposed a truly radical group within the church whose ideas belonged more in the 12th century, told some history of the church along with a few lies and a lot of conjecture, and made it something special of the story.

Would it have seemed special without the push? Probably not. But it did get me to buy ANGELS AND DEAMONS, which to me was more of the same and too much description of things I didn't particularly want to see--but that's me. Most people I know who read both books liked A&D better than DC.

The secret of the best seller is that there is no secret--short of giving away hundreds if not thousands of copies of a page turner. Many a page turner does not get the word of mouth that it deserves. And when you get down to it, the most important thing a writer can have is not talent, or craft, or characterization, or even story. The most important thing to the best seller is LUCK. Best sellers are a result of our stars ... not of our talent--although chances are that if we write well about something interesting, AND tell a story, that the stars are more likely to align under the sign of success.

All of the above is opinion, but that's how I see it.a
After having read all of the other posts on the subject to this point. I have to confess that I am a hack.

I just tell stories as best I can with the best I know how to do. Which is far from what others might call literary or pretty, but I try to make them consitent with the drives of my characters.
Thank God for hacks. Without them we wouldn't have a genre, or stolen hours of youthful pleasure hidden under the sheets with a flashlight and a book that Mama thought was too adult for tender eyes. Without the penny a word guys we'd have missed out on a lot.
You know, this give-away theory is interesting. Usually you only count on your publicist sending ARCs to the top print reviewers and the trade publications. But I also recall the Bouchercon giveaways. They hooked me with only one of their books (Number One Ladies' Detective Agency). I shall now always wonder if it was the book-giveaway that made the author a best-selling name.
I.J. I'll buy you something made with Rum and I'll drink the Coke.

But seriously, Jack has hit on something that strikes home. The aspect of just simple, plain dumb luck comes into play and makes a huge difference on who gets picked for publication and who isn't. Of course there has to be a certain level of talent. . . that's a given. But sheer stupid luck plays big time,

Or persistance. Blind faith in your abilities and the thick-headedness to believe you can overcome your bad luck by being doggedly persistant. That's the only way I know in combating luck.
Luck is the outgrowth of Persistence. Have you noticed how many of the jumbo lottery winners--or even the state million-dollar lottery winners have bought a hell of a lot of tickets? How often have you seen that plant or office that bought tickets for a 30, 40, or more to share are winners? You have to stick with it.

And the fickle market, she--or is it he--does change.

(In truth, if you want to be rich, don't be a writer, it is cheaper and less time consuming to buy lottery tickets. And you may even have a better chance.)


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