Editor's Note: This article was originally published on the author's blog Story Medic. It is republished here with the author's permission.
The beauty of being a ghost writer is that I've had a ton of books to practice on. In the beginning, none of them made much money, regardless of the marketing involved. As I tried to make sense of my recent success and shuffle through old manuscripts, patterns started to appear. What follows won't be generic advice like Make sure your cover stands out but my own observations. Surprisingly, marketing didn't seem to have much to do with it.
We all know that it's possible to sell a ton of books on weight loss and juice fasts. This isn't new information. I recently wrote a book about home remedies to cure acne, and it surprised even me by how well it did. The point is people are all looking for solutions to their problems. Not just any solution, but the one solution that's missing from the other books. However, this isn't to say you need to break new ground. There's only so many ways you can recommend switching to a different soap and sleeping with a clean towel under your head.
No, you just have to repackage it. So if you're writing vampire novels, you'd have to make them sparkle, because that's new or was new. As much as Twilight was average writing at times, it was excellent story telling. It was excellent story telling because it provided the solution to every teenage girl's problem: I want a guy, but all the guys I know suck. OMG what if they sucked 4 real? (Stephenie Meyer's exact thought process prior to writing Twilight.) In all seriousness, the reason people want to read romance is because they want to experience it.
But they can experience it from any romance book, so your book really needs to be the perfect solution. Bringing me to my second point.
It's almost a shame to give this one away, because it's my strong belief that this is the driving force behind most of my sales. In short, people want to read what's relevant to them. Your book therefore has to be just as progressive as your audience. I tend to write Young Adult, so guess what, all of my teenage characters break the mold. This means that some of my characters are gender fluid, pansexual or just plain unique. It wasn't so long ago that words like those were utterly unheard of or extremely hyphenated.
Now we're hearing some relatively foreign ones and people are identifying like crazy. Imagine finally finding a word that fits. It's our job as writers to damn well make use of these words, because writing is no longer black or white. Like I said, this isn't a lecture on marketing. In marketing, they'll tell you to appeal to the majority, but the majority is watching Family Guy.
However - and you need to be very careful now - it's extremely obvious when a writer exploits this. You'll have unnatural teenage dialogue and characters constantly ending sentences with hash tag party on the weekend. Although teenagers do say stupid sh-t like that, they certainly don't resonate well with having this pointed out. Likewise, you can go the opposite route and call yourself John Green. His characters are so f--king witty he's giving them too much credit, and again, it feels unrealistic.
Using what you've learned so far, say you want to write a fantasy. You've identified that the problem fantasy readers are trying to solve is largely that real life is f--king boring. You've also identified that wizards predominantly living in London has been done, so maybe you set it on the planet Slarg instead. However, if you write your book about gay, transmorphic lizard people, it's going to suck. It will suck because it's impossible to identify with - which is why Planet of The Apes had to have people on it.
Even when they're not people, they have human tendencies. Your fantasy has to be believable, and in real life, people have problems. I'm sick of reading these sword and sorcery books where the protagonist's one problem is that they have to defeat some evil being to save their realm and get the love at the end. More so, apparently sorcerers can learn spells near instantly and reach an unlimited amount of power. Give your characters limitations and define the rules that govern their powers in detail. Unfold their powers slowly, or you will leave no room for a sequel because your protagonist is basically invincible by the end of book one!
In a short space of time, I've mentioned: capitalism, Twilight, weight loss, juice fasts, acne, young adult, teenagers, gender fluid, pansexual, hyphens, Family Guy, dialogue, hash tags, marketing, John Green, fantasy novels, Harry Potter and Planet of The Apes.
Chances are pretty f--king high that you're going to identify with or have heard of at least one of those things. References are like inside jokes you and the reader have. If you're a writer, you probably know a fair bit about grammar. You'll therefore know that when I mentioned the hyphen, we had a little inside joke. And it made you feel clever. These allusions to things aren't often explained, which is what makes the reader feel clever when they get it. In case you didn't get that reference, hyphens are added to new terms and dropped as the word comes into frequent use. E-mail was once hyphenated.
Use references to repackage your book and make it the only solution, appeal to the modern audience and feel more realistic.
This is another expansion of writing books the next generation is still going to be buying. By including controversial social issues in your book, your audience, whether for or against, will be compelled to read. 9 out of 11 of my highest selling books has contained more than one abortion reference. Yes, this is completely intentional. In fact, my first post on WordPress was a post about abortion. You get bonus points for calling it abortion and not termination, too, as f--ked up as that sounds.
Do not water down the controversy with luke-warm euphemisms and make liberal use of swearing. Remember, you're competing with Jackass and Keeping Up with the Kardashians. In other words, people can and do get famous for being dumb asses. I'm not talking about you being a dumb ass, but your characters. Make them do crazy sh-t. Jodi Picoult made her underage female protagonist play a game of Rainbow.
At parties, you'll see games like Stoneface and Rainbow - which involve a boy with multiple sex partners, or a girl servicing several guys. ~ Jodi Picoult being a bad b--ch on her website
Image thanks to: James D. Roberts, Story Medic.