What You Can Learn From Nine Best-Selling Fiction Authors - Carlo Dolci [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

You’re a great writer: a wordsmith, a narrative weaver, a best-selling character alchemist – truly, you are gifted.

But even the best of us can take tips from others (the moment that you stop learning is the second at which your creativity turns from an ocean to a desert).

Below I have picked out the finest qualities from nine of the best-selling fiction authors of all time. Read on and learn from the masters….


Ernest Hemingway – Brevity

The greatest American novelist of them all? Perhaps. But the author with greatest gift for lyrical economy? Absolutely, without question.

Hemingway began his writing career in sports journalism and it was clearly instructive; his style allowed no room for ostentatious verbiage or phrasing, and his focus was always on providing the reader with all the information needed to absorb the story.

From this best-selling author you can learn that you should never dress an idea up in flowery language.

Your gift for a sentence is in the emotion it conveys, not the length of the words you use.


Fyodor Dostoyevsky – make your readers think

Alongside his contemporary Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoyevsky is the towering achievement of Russian artistic expression.

He didn’t achieve his lofty status by writing children’s stories. Dostoyevsky’s novels are dense, thick, and pose questions of their readers that they will take away and ponder for the rest of their days.

While it may be a stretch to tackle all of the topics the great man so gracefully and brutally expressed, that doesn’t mean you can’t make your readers think. Demand their attention by doing so and your fiction will stay with them long after they’ve put your book down.  


John Kennedy Toole – humor

John Kennedy Toole is the most tragic writer to feature on this list: his gift to the world was his second novel, A Confederacy of Dunces, which was released 11 years after his suicide. He was 31 years old when he died.

As grim and sad as the tale of Toole’s life is, that should not detract from the message you must draw from his work: humor inspires and empowers all.

Toole touches upon some heavyweight subjects in his fiction (such as, theology, geology, philosophy) but it is all wrapped inside lines that will have you falling from your chair and through the floor. Make your readers laugh and their good nature will be yours.


J. K. Rowling – resilience

She may now have sold more than 400 million books worldwide, but it wasn’t always so for the magnificent and best-selling author J. K. Rowling. Once upon a time she was a struggling author and a single parent, who wrote the manuscript for her first Harry Potter novel on an old manual typewriter.

Having worked through adversity to complete her gift to humanity, Rowling then had to display further resilience when seeking a publisher for her fiction – twelve publishing houses rejected Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone before Bloomsbury finally picked it up.

The real magic of Harry Potter is not in the wizardry found in its pages, but the strength of character displayed by its author in continuing to believe in her ability until everyone else recognized it.

One of the marketing strategies was to embrace ebook ecommerce and the world of fan fiction, helping give people a sense of ownership over the novels.


Agatha Christie – keep them guessing

Thrillers choose keeping readers on the edge of their page as their weapon. Christie is known as a crime and murder mystery writer, but at their heart her fiction is all about suspense – they’re thrillers.

From the most successful fiction author of all time (up to 4 billion books sold – that’s one copy for 52.6% of the globe’s population and many of which were shifted before you could even sell books online) learn to keep your readers guessing. Why? Because if you give them all the answers on page one why would they continue reading?


Emily Brontë – romance steals your readers hearts

She was the second youngest of the heralded Brontë sisters and the first to die. Yet the tortured love story that punctuates her only novel, Wuthering Heights, makes it the most enduring fiction to have been crafted by the Brontë family.

It has achieved this because the fractured and tortured love between Heathcliff and Cathy ranks alongside Romeo and Juliet as the most intoxicating love story ever written.

As far as tired cliches go, love conquers all is one of the more sprightly examples. Emily Brontë conquered her readers hearts by taking romance as her literary centerpiece. You too can steal your readers hearts by adopting this approach.


Edgar Allan Poe –  short can be sweet

Sweetness is not a trait that you would instantly connect with the master of gothic terror – The Fall of the House of Usher will turn the blood your veins cobalt blue, rather than morph them into candyfloss.

However, for his legacy, the shortness of Poe’s writing has made his fiction a treat that horror fans gobble up as quickly as a packet of M&M’s.

While Hemingway teaches you brevity of language, Poe offers the same lesson for your text; don’t write more than you need, just the right amount for the story you are telling.


R. L. Stine – volume

Just because you are writing succinctly, you should not then apply that approach to your literary output. The fiction of R. L. Stine, the “Stephen King of children’s literature.”

Stine has written hundreds of works of fiction, many of which adopt an unfussy style that prizes storytelling over throwing a dictionary at their reader.

His fiction has been turned into TV shows and films, and has shifted over 400 million copies of text worldwide. Suffice to say, being a prolific writer can really work in your favor.  

Self-care is still important. If you are feeling stressed because of your writing schedule, adopt some healthy coping strategies.


Roald Dahl – don’t treat your readers like children

Like our man R. L. Stine, Roald Dahl is a best-selling children’s author and like his American friend he affords his readers the same respect: he doesn’t treat them like children.

Dahl’s fiction is fable and campfire esque. It also has a direct style. But those  qualities are not how the British titan treats his readers like adults; Dahl is unafraid of including darkness in his writing – if you’ve read The Witches then you’ll know this all too well.

Whatever the age of your readers, treat them as the adults their intelligence deserves and they’ll reward you by treating your writing with the respect it merits.


9 great fiction authors, 9 top tips to take away, and 1 great writer reading and absorbing all of this advice.

You may not quite reach the heights of Agatha Christie, but if you apply the guidance mapped out in this article then you’ll have an even greater chance of becoming a best-selling author.

That, though, isn’t everything. The resources for aiding your development as a writer are never closed off and the more you seek to learn the better you’ll become. Whether a first-time fiction author, or a long-in-the-tooth master craftsperson make sure you are continually seeking out new ways of developing.


Victoria GreeneVictoria Greene is a branding consultant & freelance writer. On her blog, VictoriaEcommerce, she shares tips on ecommerce and how writers can hone their craft. She is passionate about using her experience to help writers develop their skills.  


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