A Lesson from Bestsellers: Write Whatever You Want


Photo credit: K. Denman on Flickr
Not too long ago I wrote a post on What Makes a Book a Bestseller, and with The Hunger Games breaking all sorts of records in the box office, many people are left wondering what will be the next big thing.

Although fans would most certainly disagree, many have called The Hunger Games the next Twilight, and others have speculated what the next Hunger Games would be, but I think if bestsellers have taught us anything, it's that very rarely is there a next x (where x is a previous franchise, anyway).


Allow me to explain. If, for example, the fan base behind a non-Twilight vampire series exploded, meriting a debut on the screen and ridiculous merchandise sales, then yes, it might be appropriate to call the new phenomena the next Twilight. But as it is, The Hunger Games is about as similar to Twilight as Edward Cullen is to Mad-Eye Moody—both are fictional characters with recognizable names, but there ends the similarities.


Now I'm aware that when people refer to a phenomenon as the next x, they aren't referring to the similarities between the two, but the popularity of the franchise. That's fair, but comparing the two, at least to me, indicates some sort of lumping together (i.e.: Twilight and Hunger Games), which isn't fair to either book.


Harry Potter and Twilight and The Hunger Games are all their own separate entities. They were bestsellers for various reasons, none of which include their authors trying to write the next x. Time and time again when successful authors have talked about their experience writing their book, by and large they have talked about writing the story—their story, the story that only they could write. The point wasn't to be hugely successful or write the next big thing, the point was, and always will be, to write the book that demanded to be written.


And that is a lesson that all of us should remember.


The next hugely popular book won't be the next Harry Potter or Hunger Games or Twilight— it'll be the next it. It'll be its own thing with its own synthesis of ideas and characters and the right combination of word-of-mouth and captivating story. It'll be the book that the author had to write, the book that they pounded into the page over the course of years, the book that the author never equated with the other bestsellers because it is its own it.


The bestsellers are telling us something, and it's not just that vampires and magic and dystopians are popular— they're telling us to write the story that you want to write and worry about the rest later.


Or don't worry about it at all. Who knows? One day your book may be the next it.


What do you think? Have you learned any lessons from the bestsellers? 

16 comments:

Yesenia said...

Say it sister! lol Although I can't wait to see what the next big thing is...who knows. 

Ava Jae said...

It should be interesting to see what's next. Until then, I'm happy to look forward to the Catching Fire movie. :)

Chihuahua Zero said...

The general thing about the Big Three is that they all rejuvenated old trends (boarding school, vampires, dystopians), and appealed on both an old and new level and started their own trends. 

So the next Hunger Games will probably be a whole other genre than any of them. Perhaps the Next Big Thing will be realistic fiction? Perhaps a slice-of-life work with an universal ensemble? Well, Harry Potter did that, but...Hmm...when there was a psychic and ghosts trend?

Kathy Lynn Hall said...

Well-said Ava Jae - I think chasing the success of others rarely works. These examples have all been unique in their time. Originality sells.

Juliet Greenwood said...

Very true. By the time something has become a success it's too late to imitate it - and who wants to imitate anyhow? Be yourself and write your passion is the best advice I ever had. Even if it took me years to have the faith ...

Ava Jae said...

I'm not sure when there was a psychic/ghost trend...hmm. Nevertheless, I find that trends are interesting because there really isn't anything new, per say, just a new/interesting take on an old subject. 

Ava Jae said...

Thank you, Kathy! I think when the right synthesis of used topics comes together, it can often make an interesting (and popular) story. 

Vicki Orians said...

This is a great post! Gives us all something to think about when we write. Thanks! :)

Ava Jae said...

"Be yourself and write your passion" is excellent advice. Thank you, Juliet! 

Ava Jae said...

You're welcome, Vicki! Glad you enjoyed the post! 

Matthew Rowe said...

I don't think comedy books can be the next it. Not enough people even have a decent sense of humour nowadays. and my humour isn't decent half the time.But I am a firm believer of write what you want to write. It also means I have problems trying to label my books in a genre, especially as I usually set out to break genres. People jst like to be able to refer to things easily. Generalization is good, but only for general conversation.

Ava Jae said...

There are a lot of novels nowadays that are a mixture of genres--for example, Across the Universe by Beth Revis is YA/Sci-Fi/Mystery and Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi could be described as YA/Dystopian/Paranormal and so on. It's not so uncommon to see books cross genres nowadays. 

JFeijten said...

I haven't read them yet, but I think you could say that the Stephanie Plum novels by Janet Evanovich are quite successful as comedy/thriller books.

JFeijten said...

What do I think? Well, that you're quite right.
I get very frustrated if a new novel is called the new Harry Potter/Twilight/Narnia/Dan Brown/...
There is no such thing as a reinvention of whatever success you're referring to. In fact, I believe it's a bad thing comparing books to well-known bestsellers. For example, I've read 'The Magicians' by Lev Grossman, mainly because it was introduced as a mix of Harry Potter and Narnia. George R.R. Martin even said it was like good whisky against weak tea, if you compared it to Harry Potter.  Well, maybe it's just me, but I hated the book. The Harry Potterpart was terrible and the Narniapart was surely not as good as the original.

If there's one thing I would demand if I could get a novel published, it would be that I don't want my story to be introduced as the next whatever.

Ava Jae said...

I don't know that it's necessarily a bad thing to compare one book to another, but calling a book the next Harry Potter/Hunger Games/etc. in my mind isn't fair to either book. Harry Potter was Harry Potter and The Hunger Games is The Hunger Games. What made them so popular was that they were their own thing. 

Samaria Calixtro said...

once upon a time there was a little girl!she loved this boy named carlos,but she also liked this boy named alberto.she did not know who to ask out,but that girl was so shy to ask them out face to face.so she created a facebook to connect with both of the boys.so one night both boys were online and so,the girl still didnt know who to ask out!she just asked out both of them! but both of those boys both said !NO!,and so the girl was so sad and so asked them why did they say no and they said beacuse,your !UGLY!the little girl was so sad.she just forgot about them!THE END!

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