Continuing from Part I – Everyone knows that writing best-sellers is hard – the case study of Dan Brown reminds us of the opportunity to learn what we can from others’ success. Does that mean we like Dan Brown? Of course not. Jerry Seinfeld found George Costanza to be foolish, Jerry still appreciated George’s talents from time to time:
Again: this post isn’t for Brown readers. It’s for the people who say ‘we dislike Dan Brown books but we like Dan Brown’s success.’ Writing’s a tough business, writing best sellers is hard – let’s now review the case study of Dan Brown to crack the code of our own writing success. First step is discussing the lessons learned:
1. The right book, at the right time, for the right audience
The moral of the story? Research is necessary – know your market! ‘In order to write for your market,’ Author Marketing Experts say, ‘you need to first be a fan, which means reading voraciously and following authors who write in your genre.’ Do you need a checklist on how to research your market? Reedsy has one, right here.
2. Outliers Must Have Supporters
Malcolm Gladwell identified a key marker of success for any ‘up and coming writer’ starting out. Until you’re mainstream, you’re an outlier. If you’re an outlier, you need supporters. “No one—not rock stars, not professional athletes, not software billionaires, and not even geniuses — ever makes it alone,” Gladwell wrote in ‘Outliers.’ Dan Brown had the benefit of the right agent (Heidi Lange), the right editor (Jason Kaufman), and the right publisher (Doubleday) to go along with his talent and work ethic. Finding supporters is harder than it looks. Try Googling ‘how outliers find supporters’ – not only does nobody seem to know, nobody’s even asking the question. I promise to share what I learn once I do find them. 🙂
3. Conversation Sells Books
The controversy surrounding Dan Brown books didn’t destroy them – if anything it drove sales. Brown purposefully wrote a ‘shocking’ premise. The original Reddit post notes similarities in controversy between Dan Brown and The Exorcist’s fake Catholic Church condemnation. The lesson for us isn’t ‘controversy’ but rather ‘conversation.’ What’s the ‘shocking’ premise of your story? We live in a social media-enabled world now, but nothing recommends a book or movie faster than your friend going “hey, did you hear about …?” I need to make conversation surrounding my books. Chances are, you do, too.
4. Success is not linear
In fact, more needs to be said about this. Brown’s success path from college to music to writing took decades to complete. In most cases, I’m sure he encountered roadblocks that represented perfectly logical reasons to give up and start a day job. Brown kept going, and we can, too. We may not study in Seville or have someone who can support our full-time writing career, but we have the same levels of curiosity and grit. My mission is to find Brown levels of success without the Brown levels of sap. Maybe yours is, too.
But wait, there’s more! Authors on Mastodon are also actively trying to solve this problem and they’ve got something to say about how to achieve success. Let’s talk more about why we must keep throwing stuff at the wall:
Keep Throwing Stuff at the Wall
“Oh, so I should start writing a book and selling it out of the back of my car at swap meets to be successful!” some might say. No, my sweet summer child. Just because Dan Brown sold his books at swap meets and Stephen King writes 2000 words every day doesn’t mean that this is what YOU must do to be successful. Look at the bigger picture:
Brown tried a number of different ideas and strategies to achieve success but he didn’t KNOW which one would work. Creativity, it seems, is a function of continuing to try and fail and try again, learning from others and about yourself along the way. Believe me, I wish there was a ‘successful Jackson starter kit’ out there at Wal-Mart – but there isn’t.
This doesn’t have to be a bad thing! “I saw John Hodgman a few years ago, who was reflecting on celebrity,” Steven Brewer reports. “People kept asking him how he’d done it. And he wondered himself: What made THIS thing take off and go viral versus the other HUNDRED things he’d done before and after? In the end, he decided it wasn’t replicable. The only thing he was certain of was that if you didn’t keep making stuff then it couldn’t happen. So just keep creating, was his only suggestion. Keep throwing stuff on the wall to see what sticks.”
This quote helps us look at reality with the correct lens – if there’s no ‘successful Jackson’ kit out there for me, there’s no ‘successful’ kit for you, and there’s no ‘successful’ kit for anyone else! Everyone has an equal shot at trying everything until it works. Creativity is one of the last free ways our society allows for socioeconomic mobility – make use of it.
True, some things will be easier for US to try, our circumstances and background taken into account, but that doesn’t mean YOU won’t be able to try. Success is the result of what sociologists like to call ‘accumulative advantage,’ according to Gladwell in Outliers. Sometimes our days will be spent accumulating advantage.
Continue to Ponder
These are the lessons I’ve learned from the Dan Brown case study – writing best-sellers is hard, but it’s what I signed up to do. Reflecting and considering these points is a good way for us to start our 2023 writing year. I’m going to continue to ponder what there is to be learned from Dan Brown while maintaining minimum safe distance from his books. Feel free to do the same.