What I Look For in a Potential Bestseller: Advice from Bonnier Zaffre Publishing Director Eleanor Dryden

What I Look For in a Potential Bestseller: Advice from Bonnier Zaffre Publishing Director Eleanor Dryden

I want to be hooked straight away, from that very first paragraph.

I want to feel immersed in the world, the place and the moment of the novel, as your characters leap to life around me.

I’m interested in a narrative voice that makes me sit up and listen, or want to spend time with the character in question.

I like to be surprised – not always in terms of a big plot twist, or hugely dramatic moment. It could be the way a character speaks to me, or the way you describe a setting or a feeling.

I want to feel the widest range of emotions as I can, when I read – I want to laugh, to cry, to gasp out loud, to be too scared to go to bed alone, to feel shock at an unexpected twist … If I can miss my train stop or forget to go out, or have no choice but to keep reading into the early hours then all the better.

I want to feel refreshed and like I am reading something different and original (which is perfectly possible, even within well-recognised genres)

I personally work in women’s fiction, and I’m loving seeing more and more strong, complex and unapologetic, multi-layered female characters, narratives and authors in every genre and we welcome that. I hope we see entries from writers from every background and of every ethnicity. Diversity in voices is something we’re really interested in.

Overall, I want to finish a book and feel the need to share it – with my colleagues, my best friend, my mum or my dad, pals on Twitter, and then I want to talk to them about it.

And while we’re here, a few top tips as you put the finishing touches to your entry:

  1. Think about that opening line or paragraph. The best novels pull you in from those very first words
  2. A bestseller is going to have a hooky and memorable title that creates an immediate emotional response in the reader – be that intrigue, or excitement, or challenge, or warmth, or the promise of a good cry, or a character I want to get to know or a place I want to immediately go.
  3. Can you say what your book is, and what’s special or exciting about it in one sentence? That’s what we’ll be trying to do in house as we get all our colleagues excited about it, and what our fantastic sales team will be doing in the intensely competitive space where they’re securing that all important position on a bookseller’s shelf (be that in hardback, paperback, in ebook or in audiobook).
  4. Don’t be afraid of simplicity. ‘Less is more’ is almost always spot on. Can you trim, and cut and refine? If you think there’s space to do it, there probably is and so make every word, line and paragraph work as hard as it possibly can.
  5. What do you think your reader is reading your book for, and are you delivering that? Do they want to escape, do they want to learn something, do they want to find people they relate to, or feel something they’ve never felt before? Do they want to be disturbed or frightened, or comforted, or to be transported to a place they’d never otherwise be able to visit?
  6. Have a look at your dialogue – is it realistic, and true to your characters, and is it worthy of making the final draft of the book. Is it doing what you want it to do?
  7. If you make me a promise, about a character or a scenario, I want you to deliver on it. Mess with my head, by all means, but think it through and make sure you’ve explored every factor of your scenario. Also, do make sure you tie up your loose ends.
  8. I think you can tell when a writer knows the genre they’re writing into, and what the readers of those genres want from their reading experiences. So have a think about who you’d describe as your competitors! But don’t get too caught up in all that …
  9. Be brave, and share your work with people you trust – and try to welcome constructive criticism. Try to think about what you want your reader to think and feel at any point in the narrative, and be strict and honest with yourself about what you really need in that scene or episode.
  10. Be true to yourself. Don’t worry too much about what other people are doing, what’s topping the chart this week, about crafting sublime sentences that will win you literary prizes. Concentrate on doing the best you can do, and giving your reader the richest experience you can give them!

And if you want to be in with a chance to win a £50,000 publishing deal with Bonnier Zaffre and representation by Furniss Lawton Literary agency, and to be the author we’re committed to making into a bestseller, be sure to enter our competition by 31 May 2016! We’re looking forward to reading your work…


You can find out more about the Richard and Judy Search for a Bestseller 2016 competition here.