Build Your Own Bestseller: Three Idiot-Proof Formulas

by Noreen Malone | October 22, 2013

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In the mid-1800s, the English-speaking world was mad for tales of bigamy—the original spouse either hiding in the attic or just back from the colonies. The culprit was Jane Eyre, which set off a micro-genre of copycat books. Below, a few more recent examples of breakout authors and their sincerest flatterers.

1. A teenage feminist heroine with …

Expert archery skills
Clairvoyant powers

Who lives in …

Post-apocalyptic North America (“Panem”)
Totalitarian Britain c. 2059
Grim, futuristic Chicago

Survives not just multiple books but also …

A minors-only death match
Kidnapping by evil creatures
Hypnotized conscription into battle

The Hunger Games
By Suzanne Collins

The Bone Season
By Samantha Shannon

By Veronica Roth


2. Book begins with a dead, presumed dead, or soon-to-be dead …


Plot also includes a failing marriage brought on by …

Dark secrets
Dark secrets
Dark secrets

Twists are revealed via …

His and hers chapters plus a duplicitous diary
A shocking letter
His and hers chapters, sans epistolary element

Gone Girl
By Gillian Flynn

The Husband’s Secret
By Liane Moriarty

The Silent Wife
By A.S.A. Harrison


3. The memoir-ish musings of the female auteur and star of …

A metaNBC sitcom
A rom-com-ish FOX sitcom
A dark HBO sitcom

Revelations of self-deprecating intimate details like …

Late virginity loss
The difficulty of fitting into stylist-provided wardrobes as a size 8
The keeping of extensive food diaries

Sprinklings of wry girl-power counsel, including …

“If you’re so mad you could just cry, then cry. It terrifies everyone.”

“Another old saying is that revenge is a dish best served cold. But it feels best served piping hot, straight out of the oven of outrage.”

“How to dress for a business meeting and other hard-earned fashion lessons from a size 10 who went to the Met Ball.”


By Tina Fey

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?
By Mindy Kaling

Not That Kind of Girl (forthcoming)
By Lena Dunham


the hunger games: scholastic; the bone season: bloomsbury; divergent: harpercollins children’s books; gone girl and is everyone hanging out without me?: crown publishing group; the husband’s secret: amy einhorn books; the silent wife: penguin books; bossypants: little, brown and company; mindy kaling: filmmagic; lena dunham and tina fey: getty images

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