Anatomy of a Bestseller
by Diane MacKinnon
At the start of New England Crime Bake 2013: 12th Annual Mystery Conference for Writers and Readers, I was excited to attend Hallie Ephron’s Master Class: Anatomy of a Bestseller. As a writer who is practicing my craft, hoping to get published some day, I love the idea that we can dissect a bestseller and figure out what makes it so successful. For Hallie to offer to guide us through the process made this class one I didn’t want to miss.
We talked about two novels that not only made it to the bestseller lists, they stayed on the bestseller lists: Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn, was on the Washington Post bestseller list for 52 weeks, and Defending Jacob, by William Landay, was on multiple bestseller lists for a total of 56 weeks.
Hallie, as the facilitator, was well able to articulate the nuances of the craft that made Gone Girl and Defending Jacob stand out, even on the bestseller lists. She also seemed to enjoy the books as a reader, which made the discussion even more fun.
Initially, Hallie pointed out that each of these bestsellers was the third published novel for the author. While the first two books for each had been successful, they had not been runaway bestsellers.
Hallie also noted each of these authors take took more than a year to write each book. Gillian Flynn’s novels have all been published approximately 3 years apart, and William Landay’s novels are 4 or 5 years apart.
Each of these novels avoids lying to the reader by using (very) different techniques. While we discussed each of the techniques used, Hallie stressed the fact that both authors were able to walk that line of maintaining integrity with the reader—one of the many reasons we all kept reading. In Hallie’s handout, she called it “playing with the reader while playing ‘fair.’ “
I don’t want to include any spoilers, so you’ll have to read the books to find out more!
While not everyone in the class loved each of the books we discussed, we all agreed they were worth talking about. Spending time dissecting what made the books so effective was a very useful and entertaining way to start out my Crime Bake weekend.
Hallie gave us all a lot to think about and I, for one, feel that I am a better writer for attending Anatomy of a Bestseller.
Thank you, Hallie!
Diane MacKinnon, MD: is a writer, blogger, life coach, mother, and family physician. I’ve attended Crime Bake for the past three years and each year I get more out of it than the previous year. If I could, I’d already have signed up for Crime Bake 2014! You can read my life coaching blog at www.dianemackinnon.com/blog or find me among the other amazing writers at the New Hampshire Writers Network (NHWN) blog.