Showing posts with label bestseller. Show all posts
Showing posts with label bestseller. Show all posts

Thursday, April 24

Chapter Length And Genre

Chapter Length And Genre

The other day I wrote about James Patterson (see: 7 Tips From James Patterson For Writing Suspenseful Prose). I learned a lot about the man, things I had known but hadn't thought too much about. For example, Patterson sells more books than anyone else and has done so since 2001; one out of every seventeen hardcover books sold has Patterson's name on it.

Now, granted, Patterson doesn't write all these books himself. Some believe that whenever he writes a book with another author that Patterson's sole contribution is his name on the cover.

While I wouldn't be the least surprised if Patterson left the bulk of writing to his co-authors I think he contributes one very important thing: the outline.


Whether are not to outline can be a contentious subject. Some writers feel outlines sap a story of its life, of its artistic worth. Others feel that without an outline they could waste valuable time going down dead ends, doing rewrite after rewrite after ... well, you get the idea.

One thing that I have heard from every writer who has used an outline is that it saves time. Sometimes a lot of time.

It came as no surprise that James Patterson uses a detailed outline. The extent to which it changed during the writing did come as a surprise. I believe that sometimes writers think of an outline as something set in iron, but it's not. It just gives you a detailed account of where you've been and where you intend to go. You can always change your mind.

I think the great advantage of an outline is that, like a map, it lets you know where you are.

Since Patterson's chapters are short, averaging about 600 to 700 words, even one paragraph of chapter summary composes a significant amount of the book. If his book is 60,000 words long, the outline would be about 1/6th the length of the manuscript!


A few months ago I began listening to the podcast Under The Influence, by Terry O'Reilly. The podcast is all about how advertising affects ordinary people. 

One of my favorite episodes is Advertising Alumni, about famous people who began their careers in broadcasting. When I heard James Patterson's name mentioned, it took me off guard. Here's an excerpt from the program:
"Patterson took a job as a copywriter at J. Walter Thompson in 1971. He went from being a writer to Creative Director to running the ad agency in only two and a half years, and was later named CEO at the age of 39.

"While there, he penned the slogan, "I'm a Toys 'R Us Kid" for the toy retailer, and "Aren't you hungry for Burger King now" for the fast food giant.

"He wrote his first book on the side, called, The Thomas Berryman Number in 1976, but it was turned down by over 30 publishers.

"When it was eventually published, it would win Patterson the Edgar Award for Crime Fiction.

"But his breakthrough book came in 1992, when he published Along Came A Spider.

"Against all opinions in publishing, Patterson insisted the book be promoted with television commercials. He wrote, produced and paid for the commercial himself, and aired it in the three most influential book cities in America - New York, Washington and Chicago.

"When the ads went on, the book jumped onto the best seller list immediately.

"In 1996, James Patterson would leave the advertising world, and focus on novel writing full-time.

"Unsatisfied with the publishing industry's informal approach to marketing, he handles all his book advertising - from the design of covers, to the timing of releases, to the placement in retail stores. And he demands to see market share data and sales trends.

"Stephen King once called James Patterson, "a terrible writer."

"Patterson just shrugged it off, saying that thousands hate his stuff, millions like it.

"He has written over 100 novels in the past 30 years, 47 of which topped the NY Times best-seller list, making him a Guinness Book of World Records holder. And he has sold more books than Stephen King, John Grisham and Dan Brown combined." 
My takeaway from this is that James Patterson has a goal: he wants to sell a lot of books. 

How is he doing that? By writing the kind of books people want to read. 

Of course, that's the trick, isn't it? Figuring out what people want to read, what kind of stories they'd like to hear. One aspect of this, one that I've overlooked until recently, is chapter length.

Chapter Length

I was in a drugstore yesterday and stopped by the rows of books they have at the back of their magazine section. Right on the end was one by Mary Higgins Clark (incidentally, Clark, like Patterson, used to be a copywriter)[1]. 

For my article on James Patterson I had gone through various books of his and calculated the average length of his chapters, which turned out to be around 640 words. As I stood in the drugstore isle, I opened one of Clark's books and looked at the length of her chapters. 

They were about the same length as Patterson's. 

When I got back home I checked and found that her latest book (published April 1, 2014), I've Got You Under My Skin, has an average chapter length of 768 words. I'll Walk Along (published May 12, 2011) has an average chapter length of 1,021.

You may be thinking: so what?

I mentioned these chapter lengths to a friend who doesn't read anything on the bestseller list and they were surprised. "That's short!" they said.

And it is. Very short. But that's only when you compare these books to books from other genres.

My Research

Here are the chapter lengths of two of the top sellers in the Amazon Kindle Store:

The Target, by David Baldacci. 
- Published: April 22, 2014
- Currently #1 on the Kindle Store.
- Around 1,555 words per chapter.
- Genre: Thriller, Assasination thrillers

The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt
- Published: Oct 22, 2013
- Won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
- Currently #2 on the Kindle Store.
- Around 24,767 words per chapter.
- Genre: Literary Fiction.

Now, of course, that's not even close to being representative, but what a difference! The Target's average chapter contains 1,600 words while The Goldfinch's average chapter contains 25,000 words. That's a novella! That said, of course the books couldn't be more different. Baldacci writes light entertainment; a literary snack if you will; while Tartt's book won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. 

I looked at a few more books and found that, as one would expect, there are trends within genre. Romance books tend to have longer chapters (about 3,000 words or so), as do science fiction novels. Thrillers, though, tend to have shorter chapters of around 600 or 800 words. 

I would like to write another post about this sometime, about the average chapter lengths of the bestselling books in each genre and how that has changed over time.

In Summary

It sounds simple, perhaps even simplistic, but I think that the key to James Pattersons phenomenal success has been, at least in part, his focus on creating stories readers want to read. I think he approaches writing with marketing in mind and uses his talent for catching the public's interest to write books that will entertain them.

Part of crafting a book that will entertain is knowing the expectations genre readers have when they open a book. For instance, thrillers are supposed to be, above all else, suspenseful. Page turners. Romance books are supposed to be about the emotions, the ecstasy of love won and the agony of its loss. And so on.

It may sound silly, trivial, but readers of a particular genre or sub-genre also expect chapters to be a certain length.

Common sense might tell us that a chapter can't be 600 words long. But Patterson shows us that it can. 

What genre do you write in? What is the average length of your chapters?


"Before beginning the actual writing of her books, Higgins Clark prefers to develop an outline and perhaps detailed character biographies. Each chapter is continuously revised as she writes, so that when she is ready to move on to the next chapter, the current chapter is considered done and is sent directly to her editor. By the time the editor receives the last chapter, the book is primarily done." (That information comes by way of A Conversation With Mary Higgins Clark.)

Photo credit: "Far de Capdepera" by *Light Painting* under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Sunday, February 24

Exposing The Bestseller: Money Can Buy Fame

Exposing The Bestseller: Money Can Buy Fame

Yes, money can buy fame. In this case, a lot of money.

The Price Of Fame

ResultSource is a company that, for about $50,000 will guarantee your book, however briefly, will make it onto the bestseller lists.

For instance, take the enterprising Soren Kaplan.
Mr. Kaplan purchased about 2,500 books through ResultSource, paying about $22 a book, including shipping, for a total of about $55,000. (The Mystery of the Book Sales Spike, Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg, The Wall Street Journal)
In return, ResultSource made sure Mr. Kaplan's book, Leapfrogging, sold 3,000 copies in its first week pushing it into the number three position on "the Journal's hardcover business best-seller list". In addition, "it hit No. 1 on on Aug. 7".

It's amazing what money can buy.

There is a trick, though.  Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg writes:
To make a business-book best-seller list, a title doesn't need to sell as many copies as in other, bigger categories, like general fiction and nonfiction.

A title that sells 3,000 copies in a week, for example, might hit the Journal's business list, confirmed Nielsen BookScan. (The Mystery of the Book Sales Spike)

But Mom! Everyone's Doing it!

Here's what Soren Kaplan has to say about his decision to game the system:
I ... was introduced to someone who had just left her role as an executive at Harvard Business School Publishing. She was the first to mention “bestseller campaigns” to me. According to her, “everyone” was doing it, especially for non-fiction business books like mine.

I also spoke to two of my professional heroes, gurus in the field of management and both regular staples on the Thinkers 50 – the who’s who list of the world’s leading business thought leaders. Both of them told me that if they hadn’t used bestseller campaigns for their own books, they wouldn’t have hit the bestseller lists. “Guruship,” they told me, came from playing the game in a way that reinforced their personal brands as thought leaders. Ponying up the dough for the bestseller campaign was a small investment that would pay off later in speaking fees and consulting contracts. (Debunking the Bestseller)
Soren Kaplan was told that "Three thousand books sold would get me on The Wall Street Journal bestseller list. Eleven thousand would secure a spot on the biggest prize of them all, The New York Times list."

11,000 books at $22 a pop is a far cry from 30 pieces of silver, but it feels the same.

Do you think buying ones way onto the bestseller lists is a common practice?

Other articles you might like:

- The Importance Of Finding Your Own Voice
- Write A Novel In A Year, Chuck Wendig's Plan: The Big 350
- Plot, Story and Tension

Photo credit: "Viv does XPRO Fujichrome (tungsten) T64" by kevin dooley under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Tuesday, October 16

Amazon Ranks Authors In Terms Of Their Book Sales

Amazon's Ranks Authors In Terms Of Their Book Sales
Amazon's Top 100 Authors

It used to be that only books were ranked against one another but now Amazon is doing it to authors. The question is, what does this mean for writers? I'll talk about that in a moment but, first, let's see what exactly Amazon Author Rank is.

Amazon Author Rank

While only 100 of the top selling authors, both overall and in any category, are publicly ranked against each other, all Amazon authors have been given an author rank. From Amazon's Author Rank FAQ:

What is Amazon Author Rank?

Amazon Author Rank is based on sales of all your books relative to the sales of other authors. [...] Like the Billboard charts, lower numbers are better. [...] Amazon author rank is updated hourly.

What's Included in Amazon Author Rank?

[W]e look at paid sales of all of an author's books on It includes books in Kindle, physical and audio formats.

Where will Amazon Author Rank be seen on

An Amazon Author Rank will only appear for authors in the top 100 overall or in the top 100 in a browse category. Amazon Author Rank will appear on book detail pages in the More About the Author widget, on an author's Author Page and, on the Amazon Author Rank page.
For instance, this is Debbie Macomber's Author Rank from her book page for The Inn At Rose Harbor: A Novel:

Click to enlarge

What Does Amazon Author Rank Mean For Authors?

While I read many comments on Twitter along the lines of, "Why don't they just put authors in a jar and shake it?" Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords, was quoted by Publisher's Weekly as saying, "…It’s a smart feature. It recognizes that the author — not the publisher — is the brand that readers care about. (Amazon Starts Author Ranking Feature)"

Carolyn Kellogg, over at the Los Angeles Times, cautions against taking the ranking too seriously, at least not until Amazon has worked the bugs out:
Wednesday morning, Dr. Seuss appeared to be ranked 56th and 64th simultaneously. Neil Gaiman also held two simultaneous spots, 84th and 88th.

The Author Sales Rank is determined solely by sales of all of an author's books on Amazon. Because this is Amazon, there are some peculiarities. For example, the person holding the first place Amazon Author Rank is not E.L. James (2nd), James Patterson (4th) or J.K. Rowling (11th). It's Sylvia Day.

Sylvia Day is an erotic novelist whose books "Reflected in You" and "Bared to You" have followed E.L. James up the bestseller charts. (Creating more neurotic authors: Amazon's Author Rank)
This isn't a bug, but it surprised me: when I took this screenshot a couple of hours ago, Bill O'Reilly was ranked higher than J.K.Rowling!

Click to enlarge

Author's Rank Could Make Having A Bestseller Less Important

Putting the emphasis on the author rather than the publisher, or the book, means that Author's Rank measures how successful you are as an (Amazon) author overall. In so doing it could make writing a bestseller less important to ones financial success.

For instance, if you get one of your books on the New York Times bestseller list, chances are all your upcoming books are going to be on the list as well. Not invariably, but often. When that happens you can buy a yacht, or take your neighborhood to Disney World. Whichever.

That put the focus on writing a bestseller because, no matter how many midlist books you wrote, you'd never get close to that kind of selling power. And, of course, whether your book was a bestseller had a lot to do with your publishers expectations--how many books they printed and sent to bookstores, how much money they allocated for marketing, and so on.

Perhaps, also, Amazon Author Rank will help mitigate the loss in sales indie authors have experienced since Amazon adjusted their book ranking algorithm in May of this year. Time will tell.

If you've published on Amazon and you're curious what your Author's Rank is, head over to Amazon's Author Central.

What do you think of Amazon Author Rank? Do you think it will help, or hurt, your sales?

Other articles you might like:
- Amazon's KDP Select: The Best Long-Term Strategy?
- How To Design A Great Looking Book Cover
- The Best Way To Build A Writer's Platform Is To Write

Photo credit: Karen Woodward

Friday, May 13

How to help make your book an Amazon bestseller: the Importance of Tags

Amazon uses tags to determine which books to recommend, as well as their placement in bestseller lists. As such, tags can help a book climb to bestseller status or condemn it to languish in obscurity.

Nick Daws, in his article How to Use Tags to Help Sell Books or E-Books on Amazon, gives the following advise on which tags to use:

1. Use your own name. This will make it easier for fans to find all your books.
2. Be specific. If you wrote about birds don't just use the tag "Birds," also use what type of birds, "Bluebird" and "Crow", for example.
3. Use the town/city where the novel took place as a tag.
4. "Use tags that have been applied to popular titles similar to yours." Looking at other books, especially popular ones similar to yours, is a good way to get ideas for tags.

I encourage anyone who wants to learn more about tagging on Amazon and its importance to sales to read Nick Daws's article.