How to Manufacture a Best Seller
Do you want to write a best-selling novel?

Try to get your hands on Michael Maxen's article, "How to Manufacture a Best Seller" that was published in the New York Times Magazine on March 1, 1998. Here are a few key rules.

  1. The hero is an expert.
  2. The villain is an expert.
  3. You must watch all of the villainy over the shoulder of the villain.
  4. The hero has a team of experts in various fields behind him.
  5. Two or more on the team must fall in love.
  6. Two or more on the team must die.
  7. The villain must turn his attentions from his initial goal to the team.
  8. The villain and the hero must live to do battle again in the sequel.
  9. All deaths must proceed from the individual to the group: i.e., never say that the bomb exploded and 15,000 people were killed. Start with "Jamie and Suzy were walking in the park with their grandmother when the earth opened up."
  10. If you get bogged down, just kill somebody.
Most novels are written to a formula, especially big best sellers. For example, John Baldwin, co-author of The Eleventh Plague: A Novel of Medical Terror, developed this simple formula (above) that he used to structure his novel.

John Baldwin had the formula but no story, so he read of research by John Marr who was studying the epidemiological causes of the 10 plagues, hoping to explain their causes scientifically. The two men formed a partnership, and using Baldwin's 10–step formula, together wrote a 640 page manuscript called The Eleventh Plague. Harper Collins bought it for almost $2 million.

John Baldwin was a 53-year-old carpenter and a would-be writer, who had struggled for years to make a living from writing. He determined to become famous and rich overnight by writing a best-selling medical thriller. He studied five or six best thrillers. After seven years' research, he found 10 steps to producing a best-selling medical novel. He honed it with some Hollywood writers and agents, and the 10 steps above are the secret of his success.

Return to Cliff Pickover's "How to Create an Instant Bestselling Novel".