So, should I concentrate on passive structure, ignore POV pad my work with uninteresting facts and narrate the whole story, while disregarding my characters, or should I try sky-diving without the parachute?
Thomas, first, I'm not one who thinks a good book will always get a good sale. (I can't think that, or I have to face some terrible facts about my own unsold novel.
While we'd be happy if everyone who read this blog wrote to us happy news ("I did what you suggested and took out that inaccurate use of the word 'ironically', and that was the trick! The next time I submitted, I got a million dollar offer! And I'm so grateful, I'm going to send you guys 10%, and also I'm going to dedicate the book to you!!!! And tell you what! I'm also flying all those helpful commenters to Fiji for a writer's retreat!"), I hope that's not actually why anyone reads this blog (to learn selling tricks). We just write about what interests us, which might or might not help someone while writing a book that eventually sells. I do think that we try to help writers write better and get more conscious about how to create good sentences. And if you get out of our blog posts even one little suggestion that you apply and it makes your book better (if not more sellable), I'm happy, and you should be too. :)
But yes, I know all too well that gnawing frustration at reading a bestseller and knowing that it fails that "good book" test, and yet it's a bestseller! I know. I know. Sigh. What can I say. Life isn't fair. Publishing particularly isn't fair.
Truth is, though, anyone who tells you that he/she can insure a bestseller is:
A) already a bestseller with a great contract,
B) scamming you,
C) has great blackmail material on someone at Random House.
So what can we do? Get drunk. That might help. :)
Okay, okay. Practically speaking. Well, first, I'd say, instead of focusing on what bestselling authors do not-so-good, focus on what they do well. They're doing something well enough to attract an agent who can make a big sale, right? They're doing something right enough that some editor has put his/her reputation on the line at the publisher to push it,right?
So what is that? What is so good about this book that it overcomes the passive voice, the headhopping, the whatever?
You tell me. Don't tell me "nothing," because I don't believe it.
Now consider whatever "that" is, and it's probably either "a great premise," or "a fast pace," or "great storytelling," and think about how that's accomplished.
Then try to achieve "that" in your own book, ALONG with active voice, deep characterization, effective POV, and the rest.
Does this insure you a bestseller? Nah. I forgot. There's another ingredient, called "luck," and that, alas, you can't control. But if you concentrate on writing the best book you can, then if/when the luck lightning strikes, you'll be positioned to take advantage of it.
You have control of this much:
Your expression of it
Your willingness to do the work of finishing the book (this is my downfall!)
Your learning when and where to submit the book
Your pleasant interactions with people who can make decisions in the industry
You don't have a whole lot of control over your innate talent, though you can of course maximize that.
And you have virtually no control over:
The publisher's immediate situation
And you have no control at all over:
Do your best at what you can control. You will, of course, do better at some things that others, so really highlight those, especially in your submission package (that is, if you have a great premise, work very hard on your pitch/query, and go after agents who have sold other "great-premise" books). Work on improving what you're not so good at. You never know what will most impress a particular agent or editor, so why take a chance on having that less than great?
Many bestsellers are bestsellers partly because of the author's persistence, btw, and often the "huh?" ones are the ones who have been publishing steadily for years, gathering new readers with each, and eventually get enough sales for the publisher to start pushing them, and sometimes that's not with the best book they've produced, just the one that they turn in (on deadline!) when the publisher finally takes note of them and decides to give them a lead slot and a publicity budget.
Can you improve your luck? Well, I don't think so, and in my experience, there's all this karmic activity going on that ensures if you TRY to be lucky, it'll ricochet and your great agent will be fired in some terribly scandalous and very public way just after taking you on, and anyone associated with said agent will immediately become tainted forever. (Sorry. I just think it's dangerous to fool with luck! And I once did have a minor stroke of good luck, getting taken on by a young agent at a very hot agency, and I thought my future was assured, and then she got fired in what sounded like a fairly ugly situation, and I think every single one of her authors was cast out of the agency as into the desert. I am not saying that my having good luck once caused that much misery, but you have to wonder. :)
Can you improve the market? Well, JK Rowling did. She saved print publishing, or at least postponed its demise for a decade, but I don't think that's likely to happen again.
So, what the heck. You can do one thing: Improve your book, make it great.
And send it out, and write another great book, and send that out, and work on meeting agents and editors, and work on the query letters, and cross your fingers and toes.
Beyond that, I don't have any advice about selling a book. Our thoughts are mostly on writing a book. :)
Luck. Really. If you got that, you got it all. Then again, it might be easier just to buy a lottery ticket!