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Two or more on the team must die.
The villain must turn his attentions from his initial goal to the team.
The villain and the hero must live to do battle again in the sequel.
All deaths must proceed from the individual to the group: i.e., never say that the bomb exploded and 15,000 people were killed. Instead, give the detailed experience of specific people.
If you get bogged down, just kill somebody.

What we’re talking about are some basic guidelines for creating a sympathetic hero, giving him a worthy opponent, creating interesting stakes for the reader, and raising those stakes. Think through the plot if you start removing one or more of these elements…how well does it work? Some authors have done without the team—but you’ll often find sidekicks or helpers brought in and killed off to heighten the reader’s worry for the main character. Many series books feature different villains, but similar motivations or spheres of operation.

And the guidelines still give plenty of leeway for who these people are, what battle they are fighting, and in what milieu. It’s a formula in the same way that a recipe is a formula for a cake—it still takes a good chef to make it memorable.

Let's get out there and whip up some bestsellers!

Want to learn more about analyzing the best seller lists? If you're in the planning phases for a new work, I strongly suggest tracking the lists for a few weeks comparing titles in your genre. Also, here are some of the books I consulted:

The #1 New York Times Best Seller, by John Bear
The Making of a Bestseller, by Brian Hill and Dee Power
Making the List, by Michael Korda (about the Publishers Weekly list)
Hit Lit, by James W. Hall (2012, analyzing 12 of the century’s bestsellers)

Fantasy author Elaine Isaak hopes that her newfound knowledge will catapult her next book onto the lists! Or at least make her very popular at parties.

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