Monday, July 11, 2016

Formula, Schmormula

Like John, I too saw the article about the formula to create a best-seller.  Like him, I've no intention of trying to follow the prescription.

Partly it's because 'formula writing' has a bad name..  Partly it's realistic - I couldn't do it now however hard I tried..  But the main thing is, no matter how carefully they all researched this, no matter how many best-sellers they analysed, I just don't believe them. It wouldn't work.

Some time ago there was a series of concerted attempts by publishers to engineer best-sellers.  With all their experience of marketing they were, they thought, the people who knew what it was that readers really wanted and all they needed was obliging authors to do as they were told.  Life would be much easier for them if they didn't have to gamble on which horse to back.

 James Patterson and even, I believe, Wilbur Smith now have ghost writers patterning their style. But that's a niche market that has already been created -  Mills and Boon, of course, have done it for years. But an original best-seller written to a formula?
As a young, unpublished and very broke wannabe author, I was caught up in one of these schemes myself.  My then agent and an editor from one of the major English publishing houses devised a scheme whereby they got together to develop a series of outlines for a brand that would be called, I think, Dark Secrets - known in the trade as 'creepy-weepies' - and recruit a stable of authors.  The paperbacks would be temptingly displayed at the supermarket check-out to be popped into your bag along with the weekly shop. 

Fortune was promised, if not fame, and I was very excited about it at the time and spent months working on my allocated outline.  The first ones were, indeed, published  - but no  more.  Despite all the expertise of editor and agent being applied, they bombed.  Questions were asked about the closeness of the agent-publisher relationship which had exploited the authors and I left her and moved on, greatly to my advantage.

It's very irritating for publishers, of course, that readers don't conform.  How often does a friend tell you that you must read a book - 'It's wonderful, I couldn't put it down' - and you struggle through it, wondering why on earth it was recommended?  No one formula is ever going to have universal appeal.  Thank goodness.


Eileen Goudge said...

I heartily agree, Aline. Bestsellers are born (in the imagination of the writer) not made. Even with genre fiction the individual stamp of the author is there. If a book I wrote has a disappointing sales, let it not be because I followed a preexisting blueprint.

Aline Templeton said...

I'm sure it won't be, Eileen. think you can always tell when you're reading a book if someone is paying too much attention to the theories - 'Ooh, I ought to be doing something about the narrative curve now...'