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The Secret to Writing Like Dan Brown

Updated on May 26, 2014
Courageous crime scene investigator Heather must become a vampire to save the city from a zombie invasion.
Courageous crime scene investigator Heather must become a vampire to save the city from a zombie invasion.

It's All About the Market

Dan Brown is about to come out with a new sequel to "The Davinci Code". The critics are going to point out that he's not a very good writer. Millions will ignore them, buy his books and make him millions of dollars richer and Tom Hanks may get another movie out of the deal.

As a writer who works very hard at his craft, I look at Brown's books and go, "Man I write better than that guy. So why isn't someone beating down my door to publish MY books?"

There's a very simple reason. It's the law of supply and demand in big time publishing. They want to publish what millions of people want to read. The real secret to being a best-selling author has little to do with how tight and elegant your writing is nor how well-crafte your plot, nor how well you understand your subject. Editors want writers who are able to create an interesting plot about things an incredible number of people are interested in and will buy a book about - things like twisted religion, conspiracy theories, sex, murder, crime scene investigators and Simon Cowell. I'm not interested in any of those things, so the audience for what I write is relatively small.

You have to be willing to get down and wallow in what millions of readers are anxious to get down and wallow in if you want the big bucks. If that's what you like too you're in luck. Apparently you don't have to be a particularly great writer to sell a lot of books. Brown's plots are well done, but his prose is a bit overblown. Still, his readers don't seem to mind, critics notwithstanding.

You're pretty much NOT going to be famous in your lifetime or have movies made out of your books, if your writing doesn't mine pop culture or some huge scary dark segment of that culture like conspiracy theorists and religious fanatics and children who like magic and monsters. Authors like JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis were initially dismissed as "too Christian" for general consumption, but later came back with the kids crowd despite the naysayers. Even J.K. Rowling's wildly successful work was dismissed by some publishing houses when she initially tried to sell Harry Potter. They are still kicking themselves and trying to find another JK Rowlings as JK, herself, wanders off and tries her hand at writing about anything but Harry Potter and not doing famously well at it.

If you don't want to write about stuff the mob is interested in, there's still hope for your writing career. Your best bet is to find a niche. Learn to write reasonably well about something that thoroughly fascinates you and sell it to people who are interested in the same things. The trick is finding them. The traditional publishing houses have started pressing authors to do their own marketing and taking shortcuts by having famous people write books figuring the name recognition alone will make them a profit. New authors, as a result, are being squeezed out; finding it harder and harder to find a publisher willing to take a chance on them.

Fortunately, for readers, as authors got more into marketing end of it all, they began to wonder what they were giving 80% of the income from the book to the publisher when they were doing the lion's share of the marketing. With the rise of the Internet, new authors and authors with extensive and languishing backlists began to wonder why they couldn't just publish their books themselves. Author-driven indie publishers like Cool Gus Publishing have led the way for authors who have the skill and drive and who believe in their work enough to take a risk.

The mathematics are simple. If you self-publish, you keep more of the profit. If you are selling to a small niche market, your percentage can make the difference between a successful book and one that was more work than it was worth. With the rise of Kindle and Nook eBooks, you can even design the thing yourself or get it done very cheaply. With publish-on-demand printers out there, you can even offer a print version at a comparable price as the big boy publishers because you don't have them taking out a huge chunk of the profits. If you stick to eBooks, you can even under-price the big boys and saturate your market more effectively.

That's why self-publishing is growing by leaps and bounds. The self-publishing route allows authors to ignore naysayer critics and editors and sell directly to the 25 or 30 thousand people who like what they like. Big publishing houses hate that because it cuts into sales of their big volume novels when their readers discover that there's something more to their liking available out there than just those massive $26.95 novels about twisted religion, conspiracy theories, sex, murder, crime scene investigators and Simon Cowell.

Check it out. It may be an option to the traditional "4,000 rejection slips on your way to overnight success when you finally sell out and do that novel about the young and beautiful crime scene investigator that falls in love with a vampire and must battle zombies to save the city" route to a writing career.

Just sayin'

Tom King
(c) 2013


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    • twayneking profile image

      twayneking 4 years ago from Puyallup, WA

      You are hobbled though if there are certain things you cannot or will not write - steamy sex, vampires, zombies, "heaving bosoms" soap opera and the like. Fortunately, self-publishing offers a workable road to finding an audience. You can make a good living if you can sell 20 or 30,000 books and make a full profit on them instead of giving the lion's share to agents and publishers. A good story will sell if you can build a loyal audience.

    • rfmoran profile image

      Russ Moran - The Write Stuff 4 years ago from Long Island, New York

      Good hub my friend. Yes, writers have to appeal to the taste du jour, but I think what the market always wants is a GOOD STORY, whether it's about vampires, zombies or two people who fall in love. The story is the key to engaging the reader.