J.D. Salinger: best selling author who shot John Lennon because he loved Jodie Foster
How To Write a Best Selling Novel:
STEP 1- Get an agent who will get you published. This is easily done. All you have to do is get on the telly a lot, like Amanda Brunker and Claudia Carroll did. Then sit back and let the agents come to you. I mean, it’s only a matter of time before Blathnaid Ni Chofaig’s name is on the cover of some neo-Binchy/chic lit type of thing, so take a leaf out of Blaitnaid’s book and get your face on the goggle box. Example: try becoming a chef on an afternoon programme and you’ll probably get a gig writing books about a sleuth who is also a chef and can tell if people have been poisoned etc. If getting on the telly doesn’t work out check and see if your Dad is the leader of the country. Cecilia is as good as any of them Brontes and to say otherwise is just plain begrudgery. (Don’t worry if you can’t write - there are these things called ‘editors’ that will do that part for you - so just think ‘Telly’.)
STEP 2- Have an historical event that reverberates in popular consciousness as the backdrop to your story. Like McEwan’s Saturday (where the main character goes to a café to read Proust instead of attending the anti-war march of February 15th 2003) or McCann’s Let the Great World Spin (where a bloke rents a DVD about a tightrope walk stunt and gets an idea). This’ll give your novel gravitas even if the setting has f**k all to do with whatever you really want to babble on about. Do this and you are looking at Arts Show coverage for sure.
STEP 3- RESEARCH! RESEARCH! RESEARCH! Keep mentioning all the research you did. Stuff like looking at old photos on the net, checking out maps, wandering around the local library or eating Cheetos in front of the TV.
STEP 4- Give one of your characters Aspergers syndrome. Better still; get your agent to tell everyone you have Aspergers. Aspergers is great. It’s the new HIV.
STEP 5- Have your novel narrated by a dead child or a cloud or a dog or maybe even a dead child’s dog that lives on a cloud. This is called Magic Realism. Again, the Arts show crowd will go for it.
STEP 6- Try and make it a bit like The Wire. Everyone loves The Wire. Being compared to The Wire is the highest accolade. Actually, this step applies to all endeavours, not just novel writing. You find the Wire comparison compliment applied to any quality experience these days. Example – describing our recent game of crazy golf, my niece said: ‘It was great. It was a bit like The Wire’.
STEP 7- The Holocaust. The Famine. 9-11. All these babies are still doing big business and are good to go re: Step 2. Pick a dreadful event that lingers. Don’t do something like the Haiti earthquake. No one will know what the hell you’re on about by the time the novel hits the shelves. Pick something tried and trusted, think longevity.
STEP 7 (B)- Hardship. ‘It was a cold winter, that winter’ (see above).
STEP 8- FRANCHISE! FRANCHISE! FRANCHISE! Think of your novel’s life beyond the page. Try and imagine it as a movie. Imagine the poster. Imagine the action figures and pencil cases. Think of an IMAGE. Perfect Example: a boy behind barbed wire wearing striped pyjamas.
STEP 9- Have a large ensemble of characters who are all very different but whose lives are linked in some way, like in those quirky independent movies that go down well at Sundance. This is also the way to go for Screenplays (but we’ll discuss screenplays another day).
STEP 10- NO SCI-FI! (If you must ignore this advice then at least spread your story out over nineteen instalments - minimum.)
STEP 11- Don’t get drunk at the launch. The days of Behan and Flann O’Brien are long gone. Act like you’re at a parents-teacher meeting. By all means throw in a few long silences but not so long as to be off-putting. Deep but approachable – that’s what your after. Watch a few interviews with Sting after the Police split up. Yeah, that’s it, act like Sting. Dress like him too. Having said that, this advice does not apply to those seeking to be a Martin Amis style enfant terrible who drinks martinis with Christopher Hitchens in the Groucho club. If this is the case you should try and seem remote and callous, expressing disdain for liberals and/or women. Equally, if you are writing chic-lit, feel free to act bawdy (don’t worry if this seems forced and unconvincing) and even mildly aggressive. Accuse people of being intellectual snobs if they don’t like your book. This accusation will pre-emptively prevent bad reviews and it’ll be said that your work chronicles the age we live in.
STEP 12- ‘Diaspora’: nuff said!
STEP 13- Issues! Address issues but MAKE SURE that the issues you are addressing are the issues everyone else is addressing and are therefore proven to be marketable/fundamentally non-confrontational.
Finally: You don’t have to follow all these steps to the letter but if you haven’t got at least two or three as the basis of your novel you can forget about it. I repeat, FORGET ABOUT IT!
Here is a brief synopsis of the novel I am working on (notice how I have only made use of some of the above steps but enough to be a big seller and maybe even earn a Booky Prize, Little Man Award or Tubridy Book Club Gold Star).
TITLE: The Majesty of Circumstance.
Bitsy, the ghost of a plantation slave, observes Dinah, her modern day descendant, go about her daily life. Made redundant by Enron, single mother Dinah encounters sight impaired racist Gus as they queue to apply for food-stamps on the day of Obama’s election. Dinah doesn’t know that Gus is racist and, being sight impaired, Gus has no idea that Dinah is of colour. They find they have much in common and become lovers. Gus forms a bond with Dinah’s son Woodrow. Woodrow can see Bitsy but no one pays any attention to him because he has aspergers. Thanks to Obama’s universal healthcare plan, Gus is cured of his sight impairment and discovers that Dinah, Woodrow and indeed the President are all people of colour. He realises the error of his ways. Bitsy goes to Heaven. END.
I think Oprah will love my novel. I’m also thinking of putting in a bit where the reformed Gus has 24 hours to prevent one of his inbred Klan pals from assassinating Obama. This addition to the plot should facilitate a future screen adaptation.
Oh yeah, and I’m also going to change my name to Tiberious McGuirke, a moniker with gravitas aplenty I think.
So there you have it, how to write a best seller in a nutshell. All that remains is for you to GO DO IT!