Equipping Writers for Success
HELPFUL LINKS   |   EDITOR'S CORNER (Ramblings on the Writing Life)

Getting Around...

Career Essentials
Getting Started
Queries & Manuscripts
Market Research

Classes & Conferences

Crafting Your Work
Grammar Guides

Writing Contests

The Writing Business
Income & Expenses
Selling Reprints

Negotiating Contracts Setting Fees/Getting Paid
Rights & Copyright
Tech Tools

The Writing Life
The Writing Life
Rejection/Writer's Block
Health & Safety

Time Management
Column: Ramblings on the Writing Life

Fiction Writing - General
General Techniques
Characters & Viewpoint
Setting & Description
Column: Crafting Fabulous Fiction

Fiction Writing - Genres
Children's Writing
Mystery Writing
Romance Writing
SF, Fantasy & Horror
Flash Fiction & More

Nonfiction Writing
General Freelancing
Columns & Syndication

Topical Markets
Travel Writing

Creative Nonfiction

International Freelancing
Business/Tech Writing

Other Topics
Poetry & Greeting Cards Screenwriting

Book Publishing
Traditional Publishing
Electronic Publishing
POD & Subsidy Publishing

Promotion/Social Media
General Promotion Tips
Book Reviews
Press Releases

Blogging/Social Media
Author Websites

Media/Public Speaking

Articles in Translation

Search Writing-World.com:

Yahoo: MSN:

This free script provided by
JavaScript Kit

Editor's Corner:
Bestsellerdom vs. Longsellerdom: Fireworks or a Working Fire?

by Moira Allen

Return to Editor's Corner · Print/Mobile-Friendly Version

The other day I was browsing my favorite bookstore (which happens to be Goodwill) and came across a copy of Half Magic by Edward Eager. "Oh, I remember that!" I thought (or possibly muttered aloud, but it was Goodwill and I doubt anyone noticed). My mind flashed back to the dingy junior high school library where I first discovered the books of Edward Eager, some (mumble mumble) years ago -- and my hand flashed out to grab the book. (I have absolutely no shame about browsing the YA section at Goodwill, or anywhere else!)

I bore my treasure home, and read it with, I suspect, every bit as much pleasure as (mumble, mumble) years ago. (In fact, I then went on to order the rest of this author's works from Amazon, just to complete my stroll down memory lane.)

It occurred to me, however, that if I remembered reading this book in junior high, it must be pretty old... In fact, it was published in 1957! Yet, it is still in print. And that got me thinking about my goals as a writer.

We all want to be bestselling authors, don't we? (And in all fairness, apparently Half Magic was a bestseller when it came out.) Whenever anyone wants to talk about "successful" writers, names like Stephen King and J.K. Rowling invariably surface. (And in all fairness again, I'm sure people will still be reading Stephen King and J.K. Rowling 50 years from now!) But as I trawl* the shelves of Goodwill, I see dozens of bestselling novels -- novels that sell by the hundreds for a penny each on Amazon, novels that remain, abandoned and unwanted, on the Goodwill shelves week after week after week.

Some books are like fireworks. They blaze quickly, splendidly, and everyone cries "oooh!" and "aaaah!" But then they vanish, forgotten -- at least until the next flurry of fireworks from the next bestseller.

Other books are like a warm fire. They aren't dramatic; they don't make one jump and shout. But they are the sort of books one can come back to again and again, and enjoy 10, 20, 30, or 50 years after you first read them. They are the sort of books that a reader can enjoy for the first time, decades after they were first written. (Which perhaps explains why my mystery bookshelf looks very much like my grandmother's mystery bookshelf -- and why my main "book-swap" partner is my 88-year-old mother-in-law!)

I'm not quite sure, yet, what makes the difference. Why does one book flash brilliantly on the horizon and then vanish, the author's name barely remembered -- and another endure for decades, long after the author is dead and gone? Surely one factor is the ability to create a book that a reader can identify with, regardless of whether that reader is a contemporary of the author or was born decades later.

Some things, certainly, connect and resonate across time. Harry Potter is beloved, I suspect, not because of the odd spells he must learn but because he struggles to fit in, make friends, rise above his unhappy home life, and figure out his place in the world. And Harry Potter is beloved not just by children who are going through the same struggles today (minus the spells) but also by adults who remember going through those struggles.

Perhaps some books endure not because they are "dramatic" and "different" and "break new ground" but because they do none of those things. Perhaps what endures is the connections books make with those aspects of humanity that remain constant across time, rather than what is new and different and (temporarily) shocking and exciting.

I suspect the authors of such books would not know the answer themselves. I doubt that many enduring authors set out to write a book that would endure. Edward Eager, for example, fell in love with the books of E. Nesbit, and wanted to recreate that magic in his own writing. (Thinking back, it occurs to me that I started reading Nesbit because I'd read about those books in Eager, which takes the whole issue of "enduring books" back to the turn of the previous century!) Books that endure are, I suspect, most often books of the heart. They are the books that the author wanted to write -- without caring whether they became bestsellers or not.

Sure, I'd love to be a bestselling author some day. It may happen. But what I would love even more is to have someone stumble across one of my books on a shelf, maybe 50 years after it was written, and have that person exclaim, "Oh, I remember that! I loved that book!" -- and pick it up and take it home and enjoy it yet again.

*In writing this I wrestled with the question of whether I meant "trawl" or "troll." It turns out that "trolling" means fishing with a hook and line (presumably catching one fish at a time), while "trawling" means fishing with a net (thereby, presumably, dragging in a large haul at once). My husband would agree that my visits to Goodwill definitely fall into the category of "trawling." [My husband just concurred that mine was definitely the drift-net approach to book-shopping.]

Find Out More...

Reading: A Mother's Gift - Moira Allen

So Many Books, So Little Time - Moira Allen

So Many Words, So Little Time - Moira Allen

Why We Do What We Do - Moira Allen

Column Index

Copyright © 2011 Moira Allen

This article may be reprinted provided that the author's byline, bio, and copyright notice are retained in their entirety. For complete details on reprinting articles by Moira Allen, please click HERE.

Moira Allen is the editor of Writing-World.com, and has written nearly 400 articles, serving as a columnist and regular contributor for such publications as The Writer, Entrepreneur, Writer's Digest, and Byline. An award-winning writer, Allen is the author of eight books, including Starting Your Career as a Freelance Writer, The Writer's Guide to Queries, Pitches and Proposals, and Writing to Win: The Colossal Guide to Writing Contests. In addition to Writing-World.com, Allen hosts VictorianVoices.net, a growing archive of articles from Victorian periodicals, and The Pet Loss Support Page, a resource for grieving pet owners. She lives in Maryland with her husband and the obligatory writer's cat. She can be contacted at editors "at" writing-world.com.


Copyright © 2018 by Moira Allen. All rights reserved.
All materials on this site are the property of their authors and may not be reprinted
without the author's written permission, unless otherwise indicated.
For more information please contact Moira Allen, Editor

Organize your writing
and save time. Click here for a free download