Electrik Inc is always on the lookout for good advice that helps us hone our writing skills. I loved this Ted Talk video with literary agent, Jonny Geller, about what makes a bestseller, and what agents/publishers look for in new writers. Think about his comments when you’re editing your own work because everyone wants to sell their books and the more we get right, the better it is for our readers as well as our bank balances.
There are lots of how-to-write-a-bestseller tips, from Dean Koontz to Matthew Sparkes writing in The Telegraph on how scientists developed an app in 2014 that analysed best sellers. The findings were very interesting but guaranteed success remains elusive. And so the advice is just that: advice. Remember, what works for one author may not work for you.
I especially like how Mr Geller looks for the “space between the sentences” in any piece he reads. There is often a temptation for writers to give too much description, too much information… I’m always advising my clients to trust their readers to fill in some of the blanks themselves.
Mr Geller’s five-word sentence example is excellent too – a fun way of learning the importance of varying sentence length.
Personally, I would add story to the list. Not the plot or pacing (though they’re important too), but the story: is it strong enough to hold the reader. I always think of that in my own writing. Will the reader care enough to keep reading to find out how this story unfolds – and ends. For me, story is vital. Of course great characters, tight prose and sharp dialogue help, but if I don’t connect to the story, I lose interest. Whether I’m assessing manuscripts, reading for a publishing house or writing my own novels, I keep that in mind.
Jonny Geller also mentions how it all comes down to us, the reader. That reading “makes us better people”, that original writing is so often harder to place because publishers find original material “very hard to market”. Yes, some of us have figured that out already. 🙂
The five things Mr Geller looks for are:
The bridge: does it take us from the familiar to the new?
Voice: the unique sound of the writer, which is nothing without the next part:
Craft: writing is difficult. Amateurs and professionals alike do draft after draft to get it right. Does it have resonance? Will it reach as many people as possible, as quickly as possible?
The gap: the space between the sentences. The gap the writer leaves for the reader to inhabit.
There’s lots more. Jonny Geller has a natural style that’s easy to listen to without feeling you’re being lectured. Check it out.
KAY LEITCH co-founder of Electrik Inc
Author of Treasure This