How and Why to Become a Bestselling Author, or Not

The past month or so, on my blogspot I've been offering thoughts about what it takes to become a bestselling author, giving some informal case studies, drawing a few conclusions, and overall pondering some different attitudes about why we write and what we aim to accomplish. Sometime soon, I'll collect all this into one piece and give it away to my newsletter subscribers.

Here's a sample:

Michael Connelly and I began in the mystery field about the same time. He lived in L.A., I lived in San Diego. He, Alan Russell, and I did some traveling and book signings together. I consider Mike both a friend and a writer from whom I've learned quite a bit.

His career has developed the way a career is supposed to, with a readership that grows book after book. I've got some thoughts about why.

During college, Mike decided to become a writer of crime fiction. But instead of jumping right in and, like most of us, writing about situations we've only read or watched dramas about, he chose to major or minor (I forget which) in journalism and become a crime reporter. This decision put him way ahead of most novelists for two reasons. First, by the time he began writing novels, he had seen and learned plenty that could make his stories feel authentic. And, as a journalist, he learned how to write clearly, which English majors, charmed by style and rhetoric, may never do.

In Harry Bosch, the Los Angeles policeman Mike built his series upon, he chose a main character loaded with conflicts. Harry is a battle scarred Vietnam vet. His mother, a prostitute, was murdered. He's a lone wolf in a profession whose job description emphasizes teamwork. Often I've heard people comment about Bosch as a character. They love him and want to read more and more about him. My best guess as to why he's so compelling is that his character revolves around a certain definable trait. Bosch is haunted. Which makes him somehow simple and complex at once. Those who would create a character as compelling as Harry might try finding a single adjective to describe him or her and using that word as a unifying principle.

I don't know whether Mike intended to write for the niche "police procedurals," but he has become a household word amongst fans of that sub-genre. The idea of finding a niche may seem limiting to writers, but to marketers and p.r. folks it's golden. If you fail to define your niche, you're not likely to get your book published, let alone become a bestseller.

When the time came for Mike to try to sell his first novel, he set out to find not only an agent, but the right agent, whom he found by learning who represented the authors he most admired and to whose work he believed his novel bore a resemblance. The tactic worked, and the agent he landed with, he has stuck with ever since.

For advice about finding and working with agents, go to my web site and subscribe to my newsletter.

Most of us writers are introverts, which Mike appears to be. But since part of our job is to impress or befriend people who can spread the word about our books, when we're in the presence of fans, booksellers, librarians and such, many of us attempt to pretend we're extroverts. We act like somebody we're not. This has never been Mike's m.o. What he appears to have done, is be himself. And that tactic worked. He's awfully well liked. I've heard plenty of talk about him, and never a bad word.

Also, Mike learned from masters. But that deserves a whole other story, which I'll dish out next time.

Happy New Year.

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