"Yes, Sam, but how do I write a bestseller?" That's a question I am going to pretend I am often asked so I can tell you about my five-point plan that is guaranteed to put you on the New York Times
bestseller list (assuming newspapers still exist when you are ready to publish).
It's really very easy to write a bestseller. Think about it — if Jonathan Livingston Seagull, which tells the story of a great white shark preying on the dim-witted citizens of a tourist resort and the voyage of three men to kill a great white whale, can sell millions, then certainly your more thoughtful, erudite book can sell enough to "hit the list."
However, some people don't realize that there is more to becoming a bestselling author than good writing. Here, without further exciting buildup, are the five steps for taking your book to "the next level."
1. Get a cool name like "Elmore Leonard." Of course, that particular name is already taken by the author of Road Dogs, but that isn't necessarily a problem. The most influential blues harp player of the later 1930s was a Chicago musician who went by the stage name Sonny Boy Williamson, which bore some resemblance to his real name, John Lee Curtis Williamson. Sonny Boy's fame meant that he had numerous imitators. But that's normal in music — it's how musicians learn their trade. More unusual was the fact that Alex "Rice" Miller, based in Arkansas, started playing under the name Sonny Boy Williamson, knowing full well that:
a) The name was already in use by another blues harmonica player, and
b) nothing about the names "Alex," "Rice," or "Miller" suggest the name "Sonny Boy Williamson."
Music fans resolved the matter of the two names by calling John Lee Curtis Williamson "Sonny Boy Williamson I" and Alex "Rice" Miller "Richard Nixon." I tell more about this story in my book How to Play the Harmonica: And Other Life Lessons, which I personally consider to be one of greatest books ever written.
As this story shows, there are no ethical problems with using a bestselling author's name as your own. In fact, I am going to write a book under the nom de plume "Stephen King," but I have integrity — I will not call my first book The Stand. Rather, I will simply call it Stand. I think that's cleaner.
2. Come up with an idea that "catches the wave" of current publishing trends. For instance, you might write a book about sexy-yet-loveable vampire dogs.
3. Write the book, get an agent, get a deal with a publisher, blah blah blah. You know the drill.
4. Buy some late night television air time in as many major markets as you can afford. Mortgage your house, if you have one — sell everything, including your children, your computers, even your cell phone — and devote yourself full-time to reading to people from your book in long, tedious infomercials. Every once in a while, when you feel like people might be getting bored — for instance, if the cameraperson falls asleep — stop reading, cut to a shot of your book, and say, "But there's more! If you buy my book now, you'll get Chapter Seven!"
5. This final step is really important, so don't try and take any shortcuts and skip it. Move to Chicago and become best friends with Oprah, and when the time seems right — maybe when you are taking a nice walk together on Lake Michigan — ask her if she wouldn't mind choosing your book for her book club.
That's it! Five easy steps to bestsellerdom. Good luck and happy writing!