Here's a question for all the writers out there: Do you want to write, or do you want to be a best-selling author? The two often require very different paths. Keep in mind that if you peruse the New York Times bestseller list, there are going to be a lot of authors, genres, and titles you're unfamiliar with. Few people have what it takes to be Stephen King, but a sprinkling of people have what it takes to craft a bestseller or two. Have you got a bestseller in you?
Is making money, a name for yourself, and seeing your book in every airport bookstore your goal? Then you want it, but have you got the thirst and a hunger for creating a bestseller? "Ya gotta be hungry!" Remember, the biggest problem with writers is that they don't write. But, here are a few ideas of how to get started--as well as a few signs that you're actually more of a "writer" than a bestselling magnate:
If you're a poet, you will probably need to find a niche to be a bestselling author. It will be more difficult. We can't all be Roger Housden, who thought up and wrote all of the Ten Poems to.... books. He used other people's poetry and then made comments on it. (See, Ten Poems to Change Your Life.) Fantastic idea, but if you want your book on popular lists, you will need to appeal to the masses. This might mean writing about things, ideas, tech information, health issues, or a plot that doesn't actually interest you, so you need to be OK with that.
My good friend and NY Times bestseller Joel Comm said "If you're secretly a writer on the inside, this can be a serious challenge. It may require following a much more formulaic plotline than you'd ever do on your own, making different word choices and not getting quite as innovative as you like, and sometimes it requires crafting a book in laymen's terms." There are, of course, exceptions (hello, Toni Morrison.) But it took her much longer to be a success than it did E.L. James.
It is much more common for a major publishing house to churn out a best seller than it is a small, indie press. In order to approach big publishing houses, you need a literary agent--no exceptions. Getting (a good) one on board can be just as difficult as getting an actual book contract. Bestselling authors need to start here.
This goes along with mass appeal, but if you're giving the people what they want sometimes it will be at the expense of what you want. For some people, the cash and fame make it worthwhile. For others, it's just not an option.
There are some authors that really shoot to fame more quickly because they're great public speakers, have charisma, and are basically using their book as a tool to further increase their own fame. Take a look at Suze Orman--everyone knows who she is, but not nearly as many people have read her books, only the wise ones have.
If only it were that easy. However, if you are famous (whether you're the POTUS, or were recently featured on a reality show), "writing" a book is a great way to extend your fame and your reach while also earning a little extra cash. Of course, many of these "writers" actually hire ghost writers, but when having a bestseller is your goal, that doesn't matter.
Even if you follow all these tips (well, except number six), getting a bestseller under your belt is a huge achievement. It's right up there with making it to the Olympics or winning the lottery. It may not be a feasible goal for the vast majority of people, but YOU are not the vast majority. If it's what you want to do, find your niche, get to networking, and working on your book, your dream.
Stay on top of trends to leverage your odds, but most of all, GET WRITING!