Thursday, April 5, 2018

Ghost Writing - The Spooky Truth




You write a book for someone else, and they pay you to put their own name on it.
Is that even legal? It is. And professional ghost writers defend their right to do it.
There’s money to be made here because there are many people who have a lot to say but do not necessarily have the time nor the skills to write it all down.
However, there are some pitfalls to the ghost writing business.
First piece of advice? Always have a contract in place before you start the actual writing.
It will save you a lot of heartache - and lawsuits - in the future.
It’s worth remembering that not all ghost writing will entail writing books. Some corporate executives want their company statements written by someone else.
Scientists and doctors sometimes procure the services of ghosts to write their dissertations and academic reports.
Celebrities have been known to hire ghosts to maintain an online presence for them.
Webmasters too will often want their sales pages written for them - to which they will attach their own names.
If you’ve ever helped anyone with an article for which you never took any credit, you’re involved in a form of ghostwriting.
Some wannabe authors will even pay you to write their fiction for them - a scenario that, to be honest, rarely ends well.
Many people will want you to write their autobiographies - and may well have lots of money to pay for them.
At least once a month I meet someone who says they’ve led such a fascinating life that ‘everyone’ tells them they should write it down - or at least get someone else to do it.
As a writer, I know my own life story is not particularly riveting to anyone but me. Publishers, too, generally don’t care about normal people’s lives, even when their histories are sometimes astonishing.
But that doesn’t mean YOU shouldn’t get paid for writing them!

Getting Started
It’s surprisingly easy to get lots of potential clients when you set yourself up as a ghostwriter.
It seems there are hundreds of punters out there constantly looking for scribes to write for them - or at least toying with the idea.
The real issue you have to face is which of these people are ever going to pay you a fair going-rate for your services.
When people ask how much you might charge to write an autobiography for them and you mention $5,000 as a minimum starting point, you will often be met with total incredulity.
But you will need to stress that book writing takes time - and is clearly a skill the client doesn’t possess!
A thorough and well-researched book may take anything up to a year to write.
So there’s a year’s salary for most - right there.
A traditional in-house publisher’s ghostwriter may get anything up to $100,000 per manuscript, to give you some perspective.

Moving Forward
The best way to go is to advertise yourself as a ghostwriter - say on Facebook - and deal with each inquiry separately.
I’ve found that sustaining a dialog over time before mentioning price is more effective than simply quoting quickly, which generally goes nowhere.
You need to find out exactly what your potential client wants. How they want everything to work, including how and when payments will happen, what approvals the client is looking for and how the contract will look once it’s finalized.
In amongst these details, you will also want to familiarize yourself with the envisaged project.
Face-to-face meetings often help here because there will be nuances about what the client expects from a ghostwriter that are impossible to discern through email or via the phone.
When you’re satisfied you know what you’re letting yourself in for - and that the client does too - then this is the time to present a quotation that will also act as a contract of employment - once it’s signed by the client.
The quotation should list the time frame, the payments, exact specifications as to what is to be considered "a final manuscript" and usually some leeway for the client to make changes and request deletions.
There should be clauses that deal with the relationship breaking down plus riders that perhaps outline that future payments may be in order if, for instance, the manuscript becomes a runaway bestseller without your name on it.
Conversely, you’ll want a brief clause that will make it clear you are not legally liable in any way should the client get sued over the manuscript’s contents.
Payment Rates
While it might be nice to charge a dollar a word for short ghostwritten articles, you’ll rarely find anyone who wants to pay more than $50 for an 800-word piece.
Many punters want to pay less than $5, clearly slave labor - and not to be encouraged.
Just say no, would be my advice.
For short projects you might want to charge an hourly rate of perhaps $50 an hour, although most clients are nervous of hourly rates, especially if they’re unsure of how fast or slow you work.
What I usually do is to set a fixed rate for the job, payable upfront - or at least a quarter upfront - and then an hourly rate for unplanned amendments or later consultations.
The first couple of consultations I will do most times for free.
Big jobs require sizable upfront payments in my view.
Many ghostwriters I know have gotten suckered into writing for free, only to have their manuscripts rejected half way through the job, losing the client and their pay.
This can happen, so you really must make sure you get paid for what you do before you start. At least then, if things go badly before the completion of the project, your time and energy has not been entirely wasted.
Good luck if you’re ready to take this ghostwriting path.
True, it’s not for every writer. I get way too involved in my own stuff to have the necessary patience for ghostwriting.
I’ve only done it a few times - and realized quickly the work was not for me.
But, you never know, YOU might be really good at it! 
Ghost Writing does pay pretty well, after all.
Keep Writing!

Thursday, March 22, 2018

The Art of Business Writing



It’s surprisingly easy to get writing work from local businesses.
At least that’s been my experience.
Basically, all you need to do is let businesses know you offer business writing services - and they’ll call.
The main caveat I would offer you is that it’s best to contact business offline, in person - as opposed to just using the Net to attract business.
Of course, you can use the Net if you like.
All I’m saying is that you’ll likely be more successful - and more quickly - if you try to establish personal relationships with business people in your local area - rather than focus on large online corporations that will no doubt already have lots of their own in-house writers.
Now, it’s probable you think that the most glamorous of corporate jobs is either writing their ad copy or their promotional material.
Both are considered the most prestigious and influential of all corporate writing gigs - which is why these gigs are usually so well paid.
However, I've found that most companies, especially the larger ones, are very loathe to sub-contract this kind of work to what they perceive as novice writers.
The big ad agencies and their in-house stable of writers will beat you to this gig every time. When it comes to business writing it’s rare you’ll get to do sexy work right up front.
It’s more likely you’ll be given less prominent work first.
But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do a great job.
You should.
Always.
When you first approach the corporate world, businesses are much more likely to try you out on less high-profile material like office procedure manuals, inter-departmental communications, and things like corporate reports.
It’s your job to be receptive.
Listen to a client's needs and zero in on things you can do to help them.
Offer to immortalize their admin procedures or perhaps write a report on improvement ideas that will appeal to middle managers and small business CEOs.
You'll find that, in many office situations, there are various writing jobs that either they've been putting off for years or there are procedures that need to be written down that nobody in the department is quite competent enough to do.
Generally, any kind of corporate work will require you spend some time in the clients' office, either poring over ancient (and usually very badly written) company literature and interviewing staff about what they do.
It's important to do this, and not just for PR reasons.
Clients like to see you're taking an active interest in the inner workings of their company.
But also, you will often need to pick up on the 'lingo' and the acronyms peculiar to the company.
Remember though. when invited into a foreign work environment, take your own laptop and avoid using the company's own computers.
You don’t want your draft files on their servers - and you’ll want them to pay for your final product!
Here’s some advice about pricing.
Of all the things I've learned about offering writing services, this one next fact is probably the most important.
And that is, having a leaflet with your rates on it is a sure-fire way to destroy any chance of getting any work! I've seen literally dozens of aspiring freelancers do this and fail, usually before they even begin.
To me, the reasons are obvious.
First of all, it's impossible to quantify what a client wants before you speak to them.
They often don't know themselves.
Plus, you'll find that, rather than offering specific services, coming up with solutions that involve writing can, in itself, become a substantial part of your service.
Secondly, charging by the hour for writing jobs will seem like an expensive option for most companies.
For instance, my going rate was about $197 an hour for corporate work.
This is actually quite low but if I put this figure on a leaflet I knew for sure that I'd never have gotten any work.
Because, to your average office department manager, changing almost twice what they earn themselves will seem like an outrage.
The average manager will look at the “per hour” figure and, without context, is already reeling at the thought of trying to get the budgeting department to authorize the expense.
So, don’t talk about the pricing of your services AT ALL until they’ve asked you to quote for a particular job.
And then only quote them in writing - never just off the top of your head.
Here’s a tip:
Don't charge a business client for your first meeting.
Much better to talk to a new client for free – for as long as they want.
Let the client decide what needs to be done.
If necessary, help them conceptualize their requirements.
Talk things through with them.
Then say you’ll be in touch...
Then, explain to them - in a letter or email - what you believe they need to do, based on your first meeting.
Let them respond to you.
Then, come back with a quote for a job.
I've found this approach works best when you give two or three options in your quotation.
First, give an option where you'll do the basic work for a set amount.
Second, give an option where you will do the job more thoroughly (giving examples of the extra work you will put in) for a higher price.
Third, suggest a third option where you quote for the full on, ultra-cool service you’re prepared to offer for quite a high price - usually at least double the figure in the first quote.
My experience is that, once it's all in black and white, the client will nine times out of ten go for the most expensive option.
Weird, that.
I guess the reason is, by the time your quotation has been finalized and absorbed and the client has grown to trust you, he or she is satisfied that you will do a good job tailored to their specific requirements, even though they may often end up paying more for your services than all those writers who posted hourly rates in their pre-priced leaflets.
Remember too that your price quotation is not just a letter detailing your proposed service.
It is ideally an exercise in great copywriting that will skillfully lead your client into making the right decision.
When someone confirms they want you to carry out the work, NEVER take a verbal order as sufficient authorization.
Always require a manager’s signature or instruction in writing before you proceed with any work.
This is vitally important for when it comes to getting paid later on. 
You need to be business-like.
Not only in your manner but with the appearance of your documents, and especially in your accounting and admin practices.
Keep neat and clean records of everything in separate files for each client.
You'll be surprised how often clients come back after a few months and ask to see copies of your work or request you resubmit invoices and statements of account.
Also make sure that all invoices relate back to the original authorized quotation.
As an aside, there's no need to rush out and buy a smart suit for meetings with corporate clients.
I've found that business people are often suspicious of you if you are too smart or you wear expensive ties.
I think they prefer that a professional writer is a more casual beast and not the traditional suit-wearing, gray-socked animal they're used to seeing around the office.  
If at all possible, ask for some upfront money.
Say, ten percent of the final fee.
Call it a 'good faith bond' that you will provide an invoice for before you start any work.
You'll find the companies most reluctant to provide money up front are also the ones that have the most difficulty paying the final account.
Asking for an upfront fee can be a good indicator as to how smoothly your relationship with the company will go.
If I don't receive the upfront fee, I invariably don't start the work.
It’s too much of a risk.
When you visit on office, it’s oftentimes difficult to know just how far up the food chain is the person you’re dealing with.
Sometimes you find out you've been liaising with someone who is not actually authorized to spend money, even though they promised they would 'sort something out' for you.
Be careful in this regard.
Remember it's okay to start small.
Contacting local charities, schools, and community organizations and asking if they'd like help writing their newsletters etc., can be a good way of building a portfolio and 'getting your foot in the door'.
Most work comes from referrals in this business, so you can never have too many people saying good things about you!

Keep Writing!

Travel Writing - Could You Do It Well?



Many new pensmiths are drawn to writing about their travels, their holidays, and their observations about the world.
​​​​​​​
Many websites and “schools” these days offer (often expensive) courses on effective travel writing that promise a glamorous and fun-filled life as a writer for magazines or coffee-table books.

As with many fun-sounding opportunities, there’s a lot of competition out there for travel writing jobs.

However, with a little forethought and planning, the Freelance Writer can indulge in some of the perks and rewards of this healthy niche market.

First, we need to explode a couple of myths.

Simply because you did a lot on holiday or went to see a lot of things, this does not immediately qualify you to write about them.

Similarly, you might be an expert on the local history of a place.

However, this too does not automatically place you at the top of the submission pile.

The ideal travel writer combines a love of place, an eye for detail, and an objectivity that is rare and compelling.

Unlike normal reportage, the author can be in the travel writing - to a certain extent.

But, not as a holidaymaker.

More as a wily participant, an erudite observer, or a “less than journalistic” reporter.   

Travel writing editors often complain that many article submissions sound like school essays relating: “What I did on holiday.”

This is not what is required.

Just like all article writing, it’s the angle that’s important.

Against logic, you need to think about what would make the article work without the travel references.

In short, you need to think like a freelancer and create half a dozen ideas - or angles - based on the same location that might appeal to different targeted magazines.

Over the years, I have sold dozens of travel articles to magazines like Time Out, Getaway and Atlantic Eye.

What I usually do is have magazines in mind before I go away.

I familiarize myself with the angles those magazines seem to like and then, while I’m abroad, I try to imagine how I can use the sensations I’m experiencing to craft an article those magazines might appreciate.

What I rarely do is collect tourist information in situ, most of which is available online.

You see, it’s not about the place and/or the things to do there.

It’s about your impression about a destination - and the things it makes you think about - that is interesting about a travel location, rather than any specific - and often generic - information.

And yes, I’m one of those irritating writers who puts a lot of himself in his own articles.

But that seems to work for me - and certain magazine editors.

It’s how I inject humor and humanity without detracting from the subject matter.

It’s a question of getting the right balance I’m sure.

Conclusion

If you’re considering travel writing as a career choice, my advice is not to jump right in.

The best way to go is to build up experience in your own time.

Your first travel article, if it was anything like mine, will be terrible.

I had to unlearn a lot about what I thought was a good way to report on a holiday and begin to strip away all the information down to one basic idea or angle and then work upwards from there.

The next time you’re away, take notes, keep a journal, casually interview people.

Take some snaps too, on a good quality camera.

Then, later, sit down and think about having a strategy for, say, writing half a dozen articles with different angles about a place for half a dozen different markets.

Focus on the ANGLES - not necessarily on location and the things you can do there.

Make up a few dummy articles with your pictures interspersed amongst the text, to get a feel for the genre.

Then, when you’re ready, send in pitches to magazine editors you have studied and see if any of them bite. (You don’t need to write the article first – a pitch is fine.)

To recap.

Best way forward is to go on holiday,

1. Take notes,
2. Think of angles,
3. Try a few short articles,
4. Study your target magazines,
5. Submit to four or five markets to see if any editors are interested in your articles.

You’ll find more useful advice like this in Secrets of a Freelance Writer at the Academy!

Keep Writing.

Rob Parnell
Your Success is My Concern

Sunday, December 31, 2017

How To Be Your Own Mentor


Many people ask me how I manage to get so much done. I often wonder myself.

I was lucky. When I'd done schooling, I decided I didn't want to work for a living. Of course I had to - for a while. I did some pretty horrible jobs, gravitating from factory to office work because I noticed that the office workers seemed to get an easier time of things, worked fewer hours, and got paid more.

Of course I could have done the life journey properly and got a nice cushy career type job in a bank or a corporate company. It's not as if I wasn't bright enough. I was even offered a few positions like that. But, much to the chagrin of my mother, I chose not to do them - mainly because it seemed like a cop out. The too easy option.

I deliberately chose the hard way - because I wanted to reject the 9 to 5 I suppose. I'd watched my Dad living a sad life of quiet desperation for twenty years and I always believed there had to be a better way to exist. I guess that was a kind of adolescent way of thinking - a rebel without a cause mentality. But at the time 'the hard way' seemed, if not fulfilling, then at least purposeful.

Getting a music career off  the ground wasn't hard in retrospect, but it took more time than was absolutely necessary. When I was seventeen I sent a demo to EMI Music - which was rejected of course - and it took another ten years to eventually get signed to EMI as a rock artiste. I got distracted along the way - as tends to happen when you're young and think you have all the time in the world.

But even in those days I knew that finishing projects was what it was all about. A song is a not a song until it's written and recorded and in someone's office.

You can't get gigs without a demo - and because studio time is expensive I begged a home recording set up that stood me well for over a decade. Even EMI thought I had a 24-track studio I worked out of - which was actually a home 4-track in my bedroom. (Sorry to have to tell you now, Clive!)

I still do that now. Except technology is cheaper and smaller nowadays - so I have a 64-track set up in my house with guitars and keyboards and FX that make me sound like a cross between U2 and Beethoven on a good day. God - what wouldn't I have done if I had access to all these toys when I was a kid!

Fact is, when it comes to getting things done, writing is the same as music. No-one can take you seriously unless they see that you've completed a manuscript and are consistently sending it out.

Ideas and hopes and dreams are one thing. They can make you feel good - and they can take you a long way into the right mindset to be creative.

But in order to compete, you need to finish what you start.

I know many writers with great projects that they start and get bored with - or run out of time to progress - and then a year or so later start another project where the same thing happens.

It's natural. Your brain is a marvelous instrument, capable of limitless creativity, but just like a child, it gets bored with the same old thing and will want to move on.

That's why you have to work quickly - or push through the blocks - to get a project finished before you get bored of it.

Many writers assume that it's their perfectionism that makes them work on a project over and over, taking years to feel some sort of satisfaction over the finished product. But this is to misunderstand how the mind works.

Basically, every three to six months, your brain has changed physiology. So in effect you're a different person two to four times a year. If you've ever tried to get a project finished by committee you'll know how hard it is to get more than two people to agree on something. It's the same with YOU.

Take too long over a project and you're merely handing it over to a newer you each time - and each time you'll review the ideas, or their execution, find them wanting, and most likely feel the need to start over again.

This is why you must finish at least the first draft quickly. Get it all down before the excitement inevitably wears off.

This is the real "secret" to success.

It doesn't matter whether a particular project is perfect or not. Finishing it is what counts. Only then can you know whether it works. Only then do you feel you are capable of other, larger and more complex commitments.

When I mentor writers, I like to make sure they're used to finishing small projects. Articles, short stories, even blogs.

Because the ability to finish is the revealer of character. Many writers complain to me that they feel unmotivated around the half way or three quarter mark of their novels. And nine times out of ten we can trace back the problem to their inability to finish even small projects.

It's not the work that's hard - it's the mentality that's wrong. The mindset wasn't pre-programmed for completion.

I think this is the real problem with the 9 to 5 mentality. There's a very real sense that work is never really over - and that there's always going to be more time.

When you're an artist, especially a working artist, this paradigm no longer applies.

If you want to be a paid writer, you need to get used to finishing what you start. Good or bad - you'll never know unless you can hold it up and say: "It's done."

Be your own mentor - and force yourself to get things finished!

Write down your goals, make time to work on them, and whip yourself - and your work - into shape. As fast as you can.

And don't forget to send your stuff out into the world.


That's where it will really begin to take effect.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Art of Focus


More than half the battle when you're trying to write is remaining focused enough to complete a project.

It used to be that most writers complained about lack of time to finish their novels, even their short stories, and articles.

Life has always had a way of distracting us from our goals - and that was before the Internet.

Yes, there was such a time.

It reminds me of that old joke. "How did we ever look busy at work before computers?"

Now it's like, "How did we ever fill our time before the Net?"

A hundred years ago – in the evenings before TV - we sat in candlelight, singing songs around a piano. Or we got pissed on gin in a tavern.

Then came TV and we sat around watching black and white drama and variety shows on the BBC, who (my mum says) told you when to go to bed when they stopped broadcasting.

Now it's all gone crazy.

24/7 entertainment by the yard, distractions by the bucket load, total information overload - how is a writer supposed to think, let alone write!

And none of this includes dealing with our jobs, the shopping, the chores, our families and having real off-line friends to socialize with.

In Japan, they sell clean air - because it's such a rare commodity.

I reckon the person who can package and sell FOCUS will be the next billionaire.

We recently upgraded our broadband - from crap to vaguely acceptable - because these are the only two options Australia offers its customers.

Now, everything electronic in our house is permanently connected, not only to the Net but to each other. Things ding and ping randomly and we have designated charging points for all our mobile clutter. 

It's all great and wonderful - until I need to write!

The afternoon has recently become my "technology free" zone. It's hard - actually really hard - but I switch off my connection so I'm free to write articles, blogs and sometimes, my fiction.

It's absurd that I often have to go offline to answer emails - otherwise, they'd never get done!

And if I find it tough, what about those people who tweet every hour of every day? How do they find the time to do anything else?

Maybe they don't.

I guess that's it - tweeting IS what they do - maybe in between their novels?

I don't know.

It's hard not to be online, isn't it?

Just a quick peek that turns into an hour or two?

I've started editing manuscripts in bed - on my tablet - which of course is only a screen-flip away from the entire web. It's a wonder we get anything done these days...

And yet there are still thousands of authors out there who do get things done!

My hat is off to them.

Personally, I will continue to try and find that elusive balance.

I call myself a writer - because that's what I do (mostly). I would hate to get so distracted I lose sight of that imperative.

Which does happen sometimes - and I loathe myself for being so unproductive...

I hope you too find your balance, with the help of The Writing Academy.

And that we continually remind ourselves to FOCUS when necessary.

The best to you,

Keep Writing!

Thursday, October 12, 2017

7 Ways to Kickstart Your Mind


New writers often ask me what they should write about.

How do you get ideas? they ask. I know I want to write but I can't think of anything interesting enough to fire my imagination.

To be honest, I think that coming up with ideas is a largely a learned skill that gets easier with practice. Writing regularly has a way of triggering the mind into coming up with ideas, almost as a byproduct of the writing process.

But if you're stuck, how do you re-ignite your little gray cells? Here are seven strategies that may help you.

1. Read Outside Your Comfort Zone

Don't read whole books, be a browser. Pick up books and magazines you would never normally touch and read things at random.

Go to Amazon and download lots of free samples on science, anthropology, astronomy, history, eclectic stuff you wouldn't normally expose yourself to. Let your mind read enough to be puzzled, intrigued or fascinated, then stop and move on.

This process will help fire different neurons in your brain - the first step to lateral imagining.

2. Stop Thinking

A great way to fall asleep is to force yourself to stay awake. A fabulous way to gain weight is to go on a diet. Put your brain on a diet.

For ten minutes, try to think about absolutely nothing. Force every single thought out of your mind. Push them away. Try to get to a still point of silence in your brain.

When you stop the inane chatter in your mind and force it to understand that nothing is important, you open up more creative pathways for your left brain to explore.

3. Brainstorm like a Child

We're born with fertile imaginations because every new input is strange and needs understanding. Everything needs analysis when you're a kid.

Recapture that youthful playfulness by asking why? of everything, just like kids do. Don't accept the answer your mind automatically gives you. Think harder. Imagine different explanations.

Good writers do this all the time. They learn not to accept the failsafe answer but to keep questioning. Just asking the questions make your brain more active and healthy.

4. Rip It Up

Go to a yard sale and buy up an old dictionary, a Yellow Pages and another fat book, maybe a bible. Tear out all the pages, tear the pages into pieces and stuff all the scraps into a plastic bag.

Then make it habit to pull out three or four pieces of paper and try to see connections between the words and names and events in your grubby little hands.

Making connections between random words has a name: it's called inspiration!

5. What If - With Scapple

The wonderful people who made Scrivener have produced a mind-mapping software called Scapple. With just a little work, you can create words and bubbles and links to your heart's content.

Type in a word and ask 'what if' questions to yourself. What if my mailman was a frog? What if the sky was green? That kind of thing. Put your answers into Scapple and link them back and forth.

You can get a free copy of Scapple here: http://www.literatureandlatte.com/scapple.php

You can also get a free copy of Scrivener here:
http://literatureandlatte.com/scrivener.php

The two programs are compatible - and if Scrivener doesn't get your imagination firing, you're probably not a writer!


6. Play Dice

Write down six names for imaginary characters. Number them one to six.

Throw a dice and pick the name that matches the number you just threw. Then write down six places, numbering them. Throw the dice, picking the numbered place you threw.

Now you have Patrick from Cincinnati for instance. Then write down six character attributes or plot ideas. Keep throwing the dice to choose between six options.

Let your mind do the rest. It's forcing your mind to make new connections that will jump-start your imagination.


7. Make Lists

You may not believe it yet but your mind is teeming with ideas. We have around 80,000 thoughts a day but less than 2,600 actually impinge on our consciousness. Of those, around 90% were the same thoughts we had yesterday.

The way to come up with new ideas is to force your thoughts down new pathways.

Making lists is a great way of opening up your neural networks.

List ten names of characters. List ten ways to cook an egg. List ten ways to climb a hill. Push yourself. Don't settle for less than ten.

List ten obstacles to getting your perfect mate. List ten ways a criminal might rob a bank. List ten ways a warrior might kill a dragon.

You can immediately see that by a slight shift in your thinking process, you're already coming up with story ideas.

This is the secret to coming up with ideas- and now you know it!
Keep Writing!

Thursday, October 5, 2017

The Bestselling Books of All Time


The biggest selling book of all time is, of course, The Bible

Given its place and significance in our cultural history, that’s probably not surprising. But, strictly speaking, the Bible doesn't count - for our purposes - because it's allegedly not fiction (though some might disagree.)
I want to restrict my study of the bestseller to fiction - because to me, any book about things and people that aren't obviously real would have to pretty powerful to inspire millions of people to buy it.

Okay. 

Would it surprise you then to discover that the bestselling novel, ever, is, in fact, Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities? 

Shocked the hell out of me. Yep, we've consumed over 200 million copies of this saga about the French Revolution and its effect on English mores.

After that, we're on more familiar ground with The Lord of the Rings at around 150 million - and this figure isn't skewed by the book often being sold as three books - they're still only counted as one. 

The redoubtable Agatha Christie comes in third with And Then There Were None, which in pre correct times was called Ten Little Niggers and later Ten Little Indian Boys - a cracking good read with a brilliant twist, written in 1939.

Here we get the glimmerings of one of my first conclusions about writing bestsellers. That, from the first three entries, what is clear is that so-called 'literary' writing is not what counts. It's emphatically the story that is more important. 

This is especially apparent when we look at number five in the list.

By the way, The Hobbit is at number four - but clearly, Tolkien had the advantage of writing the number two bestseller.

The fifth bestselling novel of all time is, in fact, She by Rider Haggard.

What? I hear you gasp.

Again here we see another indication that story is king.

Antoine de Saint-Exupery's The Little Prince weighs in next, for reasons not immediately obvious. I mean, it's a cute story about kingship and aliens but 80 million copies? Must have been a slow news year.

Next, at number seven, we're at least not so flummoxed by the news that The Da Vinci Code has earned its place in the top ten bestsellers of all time.

I can already hear that rumbling out there. You're wondering about young Harry, aren't you? Patience, please.

Number eight reveals our twentieth-century obsession with all things warped with Catcher in the Rye - the book that arguably spawned a jailyard of psychopaths - and to this day is a story I find impenetrable.

Whenever I try to read it, I'm struck by the thought that it really must be about something, though I'm not quite sure what. Maybe that's its vague adolescent appeal. I prefer the more familiar ground trodden in Camus' The Outsider.

Number Nine - and one my favorites: The Alchemist by Portuguese visionary Paulo Coelho. At least here a profound message is disguised as a great piece of deceptively simple writing.

And what about number ten?

Don't hold your breath, you'll be disappointed to learn - perhaps even disgruntled to know - that Heidi's Years of Wandering and Learning by the less than familiar Johanna Spyri takes that coveted spot.

Well, knock me down with a fevver, as they say in London.

So, I can feel that tug on my arm again...

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows comes in at number seventeen, believe it or not - after such evergreen classics as Anne of Green Gables, Black Beauty, The Name of the Rose, Charlotte's Web and the other Potter's The Tale of Peter Rabbit.

I think what's interesting about these bestsellers is that they're probably not the books you were expecting to see. At all.

I mean, where is the like of Twilight, 50 Shades, Catch 22, The Godfather or even Jaws, The Exorcist, 1984, or Jurassic Park?

Top ten movie lists tend to feature the most recent films simply because more people exist to go and see movies nowadays - and gross numbers are what count.

But this is not the case with novels.

Each new generation finds entertainment in well-worn classics - but surely that doesn't explain why so many classics aren't featured in the bestselling novels list.

Of course, most so-called bestseller lists produced by book retailers, the media, and book publishers are often self-serving.

They shamelessly list the books they want you to buy - and will feature books they think people should buy but don't (not in large numbers anyway.)

And as Mark Twain once said, a classic is a book everyone knows they should read, but won’t.

Thanks for reading this.


Rob Parnell

The Easy Way to Write

Welcome to the official blog of the Easy Way to Write from Rob Parnell, updated weekly - sometimes more often!