This is a valid desire. It is, after all, why most of us write—to share our stories and messages with as many people as possible. Most writers dream of writing a bestseller although only a handful of authors achieve this status. The irony and the big secret of achieving “bestseller” stature and becoming wildly popular is not what you think.
You thought I was going to send you to the bookstore to research the market, weren’t you? Or go to Amazon and find out what’s selling? Or see who and what is currently on the Bestseller list?
While these are all valid quests, writing to the market will not ensure that your work becomes a bestseller. In fact, it will likely do the opposite. When a writer is writing to the market, she is following the market, not leading it. Here lies the rub; a book becomes a bestseller because it provides something new and refreshing to a wide readership, eager for a story that resonates with originality. This isn’t necessarily something eclectic and strange; but it is most certainly a new voice and/or new way of looking at something familiar. When a unique voice intersects with a popular thought, a bestseller emerges. That is precisely what happened with Harry Potter. J.K. Rowling didn’t invent wizards or fantasy or even a school for wizards; but she did provide a fresh look at the potentially popular subject of an outsider who finds that he is special. And let’s not forget that before her book became a bestseller, it was rejected many times by less visionary publishers unwilling to take a risk.
So, what am I advising? Find your own voice, the one that belongs only to you. Cultivate your unique voice and write with passion. Write about something that means a lot to you or excites you or intrigues you. Be genuine. Be specific. Put yourself out there. Take risks. And be patient. Chances are, your writing will resonate with many.
Arthur Miller, author of Death of a Salesman, recommended that you “develop interest in life as you see it; in people, things, literature, music—the world is so rich, simply throbbing with treasures, beautiful souls and interesting people. Forget yourself.”
Stop chasing success; instead create it.
Auschwitz survivor and psychologist Victor Frankl wisely said: “the more you aim at success and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it … Success , like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as a by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself.”
Bottom line: don’t chase it and don’t sweat it; enjoy the journey.