How To Write A Bestseller

One way to make money from home these days is to write one of those substanceless novels that Oprah plugs on her show, shooting it into bestseller lists and the living rooms of bored housewives the world over. Start by coming up with a meaningless but artsy-sounding title. ‘Sighs of Autumn’, ‘As The Clouds Drift By’, something like that. Make sure it’ll look good against a semi-abstract cover, of either a silhouette against an ambiguous scenic-yet-ominous backdrop, or a still life of rustic/exotic objects.

Once you’ve got your title, put on a jumper and take a photo of yourself sitting on a verandah with your cat. Use someone else’s cat/verandah if necessary. This’ll be used for the inside cover, where there’ll be a brief description of where you grew up and how you now live on a lavendar farm 80km outside of Melbourne.

First chapter, start with a simple scene where you can show off all the pointless adjectives you know. Make some poignant allegory about how spring is like a symphony of colour and movement, with birds and bees and flowers all performing in harmony. Hone in on a woman called Kathy or Elle (mid-30s, plain but naturally attractive), sipping a cup of tea she’s just made in her kitchen. Describe the tea. Compare it to the sweet nectar the bees are supping from the flowers. Look up words like ‘comforting’ and ‘nourishing’ in the thesaurus. Pop them in along with some biscuits.

The flavour of the tea and biscuits takes Kath/Elle back to Paris in a spell of deja vu. Make this bit more impressionistic and hurried – we want an air of mystery and destiny-in-rapid-motion here, as well as the vague, fragmentary nature of flashback. A secluded Parisian cafe along the River Seine. A man named Pierre. He’s charming, good-looking, 5-10 years older than Kath/Elle – a grown woman’s wet dream, modelled on Pierce Brosnan or George Clooney but with a French accent to boot. Pierre’s an artist specializing in nudes. Kath/Elle – a young, vain American girl with a growing crush on this suave French gentleman – becomes his new model. Cut to park benches. Stylish scarves and cigarettes. Red wine and moonlit balconies. Steamy nights in a downtown apartment during a bitter European winter.

At this point, turn the book into an Idiot’s Guide to Realist Painting. Throw in some factoids about the history of nude portraits. Google Francois Boucher’s ‘Mademoiselle O’Murphy’. Maybe get Pierre to tell K/E with a wry but irresistable smile how nude models used to be considered little better than prostitutes. Stuff like this makes the reader feel urbane and sophisticated. As Pierre and K/E meet up and fling, always take the opportunity to throw in French words and locations. Get them to buy some pains au chocolat at the patisserie, before strolling down the Champ d’Elysees for a picnic at the Parc du Champs del Mars.

All this will help your petit-bourgeois readers pretend this soap opera novelization is actually high brow stuff. But then – gasp! – it turns out Pierre’s actually a dodgy art dealer. The nudes he paints, he passes them off as artworks of 19th-century Dutch masters. Her face clearly identifiable in the paintings, Kath/Elle becomes embroiled in the scandal. Policemen rapping on doors. The cold winter becomes oppressive. Paris’ winding side-streets become a labyrinth K/E feels trapped in. Steamy encounters turn to fiery arguments. More police boots stomping up stairwells. K/E flees Paris for her native Chicago.

Now, back in her kitchen drinking tea, eating shortbread and making poetic comparisons between spring and symphonies, Kath/Elle feels a pang in her heart for that devious rogue she left behind. She wonders what happened to him. What happened to those paintings. She remembers their brief but movie-like love affair; the sex they’d after she’d pose for him in his apartment. Spend a few pages describing the sex, but don’t make it sleazy or graphic. DO NOT CALL IT ‘SEX’. It is ‘making love’ at all times. Use words like ‘passionate’, ‘sensual’ and ‘intensely’. Describe the alluring bedroom eyes and hot, quivering skin. Do not describe swollen organs or unconventional positions. (Erect nipples, though, are OK.)

Suddenly, a knock on the door. Kath/Elle’s jarred out of her daydream. She wasn’t expecting anyone. Who could it be? And if you’ve got any brains, STOP AT THIS POINT. Your housewife reader hooked, you can now make shitloads more money from a sequel in which she potentially meets your George Clooney clone again and reignites their relationship. Don’t worry about how that happens – you can steal the end from a Woman’s Day article or something later. For now, mail the first part to a publisher and see your book headline the ‘Ideas for Mother’s Day’ page in Kmart’s catalogue next year.

Dan Brown, eat your fucking heart out.

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