Tuesday, March 12, 2013

David Farland's Four Elements of Every (almost every) Bestseller

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Not too long ago I went to LTUE where I met the fabulous Sheena and Susan, and yes they are even more awesome in real life.

 We attended a talk on “Tricks on How to Make a Living as an Author,” by David Farland.  He gave great advice like write stories that win awards and become bestsellers.  Okay maybe he had a few other suggestions too, but those were two of them.  If only it was that easy.  :)

But Farland did give his personal insights on what makes a bestselling novel that I thought I’d share.  He said he looked at a list of the bestselling novels of all time and identified four commonalities.

1.   Immersive, interesting setting.  Most of the bestselling novels make the reader feel transported to another place and/or time.  For me this could be overdone and come off as a little self-indulgent like in the series The Wheel of Time (someday I’ll blog about this).

2.  Wide audience appeal .  A lot of bestsellers have a story line that appeals to a lot of people with a diverse cast, strong male and female leads with old and young characters.  A little ethnic diversity doesn’t hurt either if done respectfully. 

However, Farland also recognized that sometimes it is wise to target a specific audience especially if you are an avid reader of that genre or subgenre.

3.  Highly emotional.  Most of the bestselling novels evoked a strong emotional response from readers.  Personally, I believe that stories tap into that emotional side of us, and emotional payoff is essential to a great story.

4.  Lengthy.  A lot of bestsellers are very long, longer than publishers and agents recommend.  Most likely because it takes a lot of pages to create a strong story with a detailed, realistic setting.

So that is what makes a bestseller according to David Farland (I'd add romance or a romantic subplot to his list).  I have to say that a lot of blockbuster novels and movies that I love fit these points:  Harry Potter, Les Miserables (threw that in for you Melanie), Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, etc, so there may be something to it.   Although a lot of stories even those that aren’t best sellers also fit these four criteria.

I wish I knew the list of books he based this analysis on, but I did a little googling and I found some lists for the bestselling books of all time here and here.  And because I’m an avid fantasy reader, here’s the list for the bestselling sci-fi and fantasy writers.  Check them out, and see if David Farland is onto something.

So what do you think?  Is David Farland right?  What do you think are the keys to producing a bestselling novel?



  1. I think a wide cast of characters (young,old, male,female) is important, with at least one personality (voice) that lingers long after the book is read. So I guess that would be #2 and 4. Harry Potter is the perfect example!

    1. I like "a voice that lingers long after the book is read." I agree Harry Potter is a perfect example of wide appeal. That series was filled with great characters of all ages.

  2. This is a great list, MaryAnn! I was hoping you would share more of your LTUE gems with us. Setting is something I really need to work on. I knew it even before I read your list, and I'm positive of it now. All my favorite books have a powerful setting, even if the description is minimal (I'm thinking Howl's Moving Castle.)

    I agree you need to add a light romance. There are very few books that interest me that don't at least hint at romance.

    1. I struggle with setting and world-building too. I tend to care more about plot and characters, but I do think a rich, well-thought out world is extremely important. I guess I have a lot to work on. :)

  3. I once again enjoyed your post. Sometimes at the end of books that I read there are interviews with the writer. One thing I have noticed is that often times the writer has researched so much more then ever reaches the book. I recently read the Diary of Sarah Anges, which is fiction and the author based the charactor on her grandmother and even the death of one of her charactors was a real death from a real fire but the death in the records was unknown but she added it into her story. David Edding really developed his world. In fact I read that his first series more started on him developing maps of a make believe world

    1. It does take a lot of research to create an immersive, well-thought out world. I didn't know David Eddings started by developing maps. Very interesting.

  4. Oh--Is that all? O.K. Off I go...

    Interesting post. Especially like the "lengthy" bit. Sure rings true from my end. All my favorite books have been really long, heavy tomes. I guess we feel invested after a time too, huh?
    ~Just Jill

    1. Yep, that's it. Get working. :)

      I was surprised that lengthy was on the list, but now that I think about it,a lot of those books that are huge hits are longer than recommended. Definitely something to think about.


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