Don’t Forget The Details — Writing A Best Seller

To be honest, I’m not sure anyone knows how to write a best seller. There’s no formula. Great writers sell next to nothing. Hack writers hit the New York Times. Or number one on Amazon.

A best seller is a combination of writing, concept, cover, title, marketing, promotion, word of mouth. If an author manages to hit on 80% of them, she might have a best seller.

But one way to advance sales and readership is to make sure you’re writing the best possible book.

Recently I hacked my way through a first draft. I get frustrated with the first round of writing.

Everything sounds corny, the same-ole-same-ole, and I either under write or over write. The scenes usually skim the surface of what’s really going on. I write things like, “she walked through a crowd of her friends, greeting them, air kissing their cheeks.”

It’s because I don’t really know what’s going on yet. I don’t know how much detail I need in the scene.

Sometimes it’s perfectly valid to skim past a detail — like a secondary character’s name. Sometimes we don’t need the color of every dress, the table cloths and velvet curtains. But yea, sometimes we do.

Most of the time we do. Friend and author Susie Warren was reading to me from the Pioneer Woman’s book about how Ree met the Marlboro Man. Here’s a line from Ree Drummond’s book: “…but he was a vision, this Marlboro Man-esque, rugged character across the room. After a few minutes of staring, I inhaled deeply, then stood up. I needed to see his hands.”

What a brilliant transition. “I needed to see his hands.” This is the detail that makes a character, a story, a line stand out.

What do we know about this woman who loves the sight of a Marlboro man? That she wants to see a detail not “on the surface.” Wanting to see his hands speaks to something about her heart, about what she’s looking for. Kind, strong hands. It means something to her.

Another woman might want to hear him speak. One might want to know how he talks about his mother or sisters.

When your protagonist walks into a room of people, give the reader of glimpse of who’s there. Who is he or she looking at? Mom, Dad, his brother Dan and sister Beka. His best friend, Rick, who wouldn’t be here unless Dad had invited him. Ah, now we see there’s an issue. The best friend isn’t such a good best friend. Spend more time on people details than room details unless the room is a character.

Some times when a scene feels slow or stuck to me, it’s usually because I’m missing detail or emotion. On the rewrite, I burrow down and figure out those rich details that make the scene pop.

Details are good. Be as detailed as possible without slowing down the scene, without boring the reader.


Rachel Hauck is on deadline. That is all…

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USA Today Best-selling, award-winning author Rachel Hauck loves a great story. She serves on the Executive Board for American Christian Fiction Writers and was named ACFW 2013 Mentor of the Year. She is also on staff at My Book Therapy as their book therapist. Rachel lives in Florida, where she is also a worship leader, with her husband and mini schnauzer. Her novel, The Wedding Dress, was named Romantic Times Inspirational Novel of the Year and was an Amazon #1 Best Seller. Her novel, Once Upon A Prince, nominated for a Christy Award, earned starred reviews from Booklist and Publisher’s Weekly, and hit #1 on Amazon in Christian romance. Her latest releases are A Brush With Love and How To Catch A Prince. Buying options on web site:

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  1. Sharon says

    I so agree. It seems popular novels are getting shorter and shorter, not a trend I like. I savor those details that make the characters and the settings come alive. True, information dumps

  2. sharon says

    oops… I didn’t finish that sentence. True, information dumps can be boring and slow down the pace. But now that novelists have some many clever ways to get the details into the story, I say, ‘Let’s have the details.’ and let the story be as long as it wants to be.

  3. Rachel Hauck says

    Sharon, great thoughts. I know my contracts went up from 85k words to 90k. I thought, “What? I can’t write that much!” But I can and I have. The Wedding Dress was 97k.

    But it’s those specifics that really hook us into the characters.

    😉 Hugs!

  4. Beth Webb Hart says

    Excellent example, Rachel, re: Marlboro Man’s hands. Suddenly, we feel so close to her and we want to see those rugged hands too. Great insights, friend. Cheering you on as you complete your new work!


  5. Lisa Wingate says

    Great, great advice, Rachel! And I can so completely relate to your writing process. I pull my hair out during the first draft. Once it’s on paper, I can relax and really get into the details! It’s nice to know I’m not too weird ;o)

  6. Ashley Clark says

    Beautifully said, Rachel! I was thinking about this concept just the other day… What makes a book sell well? Not that numbers are everything, but I think it’s certainly good to strive for success. Funny enough, The Wedding Dress came to my mind. I know, I know… I can’t stop talking about that book! But seriously, it is SO well written that the story itself commands an audience. At the end of the day, beyond the social media platforms and the book signings and the speaking engagements, I think that’s what truly makes a novel stand out… A well crafted story that touches hearts and characters who come alive from the pages.

  7. Rach says

    Lisa, you are definitely not weird! :) Sometimes even the rewriting makes me crazy. Like now.

    Ashley, numbers are actually everything at the end of the day but yes, a good book, told well, will endure! Thanks for coming by!


  8. says

    Ahhh…love this conversation.

    If you listen to the workshop you’ll hear me say some things about writing bestsellers…mainly that there is no right way or wrong way (no formula, as Rachel says). And the only way to write a good book is to NOT think about numbers at all, or marketing, or rules, or platform…yada, yada, yada.

    You can edit later to get the structure right (which is important, of course), and the publisher can work their magic to create the wind to carry the vessel (thankfully David C Cook has a brilliant marketing team), but ultimately…you have to write b/c you love to write…and b/c you DON’T care one bit about writing a bestseller. That really is the only way. You have to shred all those protective layers and expose your soul. It really does all boil down to how people connect with the characters and how deeply we can enter their world.

    When I was asked to do that workshop, I said…um, there really is nothing I can teach about that…I just got lucky! And she said, share what you have learned…and so I did, and I hope it helps a few newbies out there like me who are struggling to learn as we go. The rest of you have had this figured out for years…thanks for putting up with us as we learn through trial and error.

    Happy writing! j

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