I spent 8 hours yesterday in a workshop on writing and marketing given by Liz Pelletier (Engtangled Publishing) called “Growth Hacking a Bestseller.” She said is giving this online workshop to RWA chapters every single Saturday this year. (Side note: She’s such a great person, she does them for free so the local chapters can raise money!) If you can find your way into this presentation, I highly recommend it. I took 800 pages of notes!
Today I’ll share three things she said I can’t stop thinking about.
#1 All bestsellers have “perfect structure.”
This is why it is imperative that you become a diligent student of story structure. Study your Gwen Hayes or your Blake Snyder or your Michael Haugue and Larry Brooks (or better yet, ALL of them).
If you’re on a tight budget and you can’t afford craft books right now, check out Jami Gold’s resources for writers. She has created beat sheets based on story structure for authors.
Perfect structure means this: Your midpoint (“false high”) is at 50%. Your setup takes roughly 20-25%. Your low point or Dark Night hits around 75-80%. (Watch your favorite movies and pay attention. They follow this structure too.)
While not everyone agrees on how many acts there are (3? 4? 8?) or beats (5? 12? 16?), Liz believes–and Gwen Hayes agrees–you can safely think about four acts, each roughly 25%. Gwen names her beats within each act specifically, which you might find helpful for self-editing (make sure they’re all there!), but you don’t need them all to get started. That’s good news for pantsers like me.
Act One is your setup, and includes that Meet Cute (ends around 20-25%).
Act Two is your Falling in Love (takes you to the 50% midpoint beat).
Act Three is Being in Love but doubts/bad things are creeping (leads to Breakup/Dark Night around 75-80%.
Act Four is the characters realizing they messed up, they’re better together, and one of them performs an adorable, MEMORABLE Grand Gesture. It ends with that HEA.
You do NOT need to know what happens in all four acts to get going (if you’re that writer who does know, I hate you a little bit).
What you DO need to know is the starting point (where are the H and h at the beginning?), what the Midpoint looks like (this is the 50% mark, the “false high,” the moment where the H/h think everything is going to be okay), and the end (what does their HEA look like?).
#2 Simple sells.
Liz advises, before you even start writing, ask yourself, “What fantasy am I selling?” To me, that is a question related to trope. Are you selling the fantasy that “I could get a billionaire to love me” (Billionaire Romance)? Or “The cute guy next door could be my soul mate” (Neighbors to Lovers)? Or “My terrible boss could actually have a heart of gold beneath that hard-as-ice exterior” (Enemies to Lovers, Office Romance)?
BE VERY CLEAR on what fantasy you’re selling, and keep it simple. Then be sure you bake ingredients of that fantasy into the book every chance you get. This will make marketing so much easier, because you know exactly what you’re selling and why readers will love it. If you’re that person who says “I can’t describe what my book is about because it’s so complicated” or “I don’t know the tropes” or “It’s a little bit of everything,” I will tell you right now you’ve got a tough road ahead. How are you going to sell something you can’t even describe?
Readers have too many options. They’ll move on to the thing they KNOW they will like. Don’t make them think too hard about whether or not they’ll like your book. Remove the friction. Make it easy.
Liz recommends envisioning what your cover and ads will look like and creating the blurb BEFORE you even write. Not all of us can do this (even I cannot always write the blurb first, but I try), but it’s a great goal.
As Brian McDonald of the You Are a Storyteller podcast says, “If you know what you’re trying to say, you’re halfway home.” Liz is saying the same thing, although she’s substituting the word “sell” for “say.” (By the way, the first two episodes of that podcast are amazing. Highly recommend.)
#3 Writers are not in competition with each other.
The reader who devours my book in four hours is looking for her next read. What we want is for her to pick up another book, not get on TikTok or start a new Netflix series or scroll Pinterest. THAT’s the competition–all the other things that could draw eyeballs away from books.
We can learn from each other. We can promote each other. We can make this community a great place to be, where everyone has a chance for success. We can not only write about love, but share it.
Now go crush some stories!