Great Writers Write

Charles Dickens Treasury of World Masterpieces

The greats of writing are seldom one-hit-wonders

They’re rich. They’re famous.  And they’re authors.  Yesterday, I read the Forbes article on the top earning authors of 2013.  And the money that’s listed next to their names is mind-boggling.  Take a look:

  1. E.L. James – $95 million.  She wrote the 50 Shades trilogy and is going strong.  I’ve tried on a few occasions to read the first book and keep putting it down.  In my reading snobbery, I’m judging the quality of the writing and not having fun with a heroine half my age and a trite business executive as the hero.  This book must capture the old saying that power in this world belongs to old men and young women.  Shame on me for not reading more.  I’ll have to try again.
  2. James Patterson – $91 million.  I’ve read and enjoyed a few of his books, but Forbes pointed out 1 of every 17 hardcovers sold in the U.S. is his. Wow!
  3. Susan Collins – $55 million. You remember The Hunger Games?  Yes, the books that make a game out of killing each other. The middle-schoolers ate up these books according to my librarian neighbor.  And with the movies out, I’m sure the numbers will grow.  In my writing snobbery, I know I would never reach into such moral bankruptcy as to make people kill each other gladiator style for the entertainment of others. Hmm…
  4. Bill O’Reilly (yes THAT Bill O’Reilly) $28 million.  I have to admit, I love books about Lincoln and Kennedy, but because of my own political leanings never even took a look at O’Reilly’s books.  I think I need to think that through again.

Before this becomes an exercise in self-flagellation and narrow-mindedness on my part, I’ll stop and look for the lessons.  Be sure to check the Forbes’ link to read the whole article. Great stuff.

Here’s what I’m learning from this star-gazing exercise:

  • Write!  It’s great fun to talk about writing, think about writing and telling my friends I’m “an author,” but real people of letters write.  Danielle Steele writes 3 books a year. And she’s done this for forty years.  At Ms. Steele’s $26 million, there is great value in production.
  • Go out of your comfort zone. Many of the top books are books I’d have a problem with in terms of “what kind of morals are these books producing?”  But I write mysteries.  How moral is it to kill each other?  And even though I kill characters and not people, I too am killing for entertainment.  This is one to think about big time.
  • Be yourself.  These successful authors may write within a genre, but I don’t have the impression that they write for a genre.  They write great stories that happen to fall into a convenient category, and some smart publisher snaps them up.  On the other hand, the 50 Shades trilogy falls far outside of “romance,” and may not have made it with traditional publishing.  Ms. James wrote her novels as a fan-fiction tribute to the Twilight series.  She just ratcheted up to an adult format by adding in the sex. Then she sold via e-books, only later going the paper route. Interesting.
  • You can’t dissect success, you can only produce it.  Forbes’ article was well written and had some interesting points, one of which is that publishers often miss the boat by rejecting that next great best seller.  The reason they reject it is because the book doesn’t make business sense.  It doesn’t comfortably fit into the genres they sell, and the story’s originality makes it hard to see the success coming.  Publishers play on what sold well in the past to purchase for the future.  But the public and the readers are the ones who make a book jump from published to “great success.”  Think I’ll go see if I can produce some more story today.

Thing is, whether you’re prolific in your genre (as in Steele and Patterson), or you’re a break out best seller (like James), there is every chance of success based on the principles of every successful person, no matter the field:

  • Love what you do
  • Do what you do to the best of your capabilities
  • Believe in yourself
  • And, as my younger daughter used to say to me daily, “Never give up! Never give up!”

Wishing you a day of your own personal success.

3 thoughts on “Great Writers Write

  1. My own opinion is that (as great as it would be to make tons of money writing), if you don’t write for the love of it, then no one else will love your writing, either. And if you’re writing for passion, then book sales only matter in that they might help you have more time for writing.

    • Hello HD — Thanks for visiting my blog! I couldn’t agree with you more about needing to love your own writing. Huge! Unfortunately, authorship (not writing) does seem to become a popularity contest, measured in dollars. I just keep thinking that even the “unpopular” or “average” graduate sometime and find their own successes. I hope yours come sooner than later for you. P.S. Loved your blog post about watching “The Princess Bride” with your daughter. You have a terrific writing style of your own.

  2. Kind of depressing–the authors who make the big bucks. Also, the comment about old men and young women. Very depressing.

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