Which is a bigger worry for an author, do you think? Being a success? Or being a failure. Actually, both are tied into one package for a published author.
I’ve had several friends who have had a successful first book. A couple have had very successful first books. I’ve seen the pressure in bringing out the second book. The stress to meet the deadlines of the contract. The worries of, “what if people hate the second one? What if I can’t write a second or third one to match my first?” Authors face insecurities even with a moderately successful book. Sometimes, just getting a first book published will do that to an author. Yet many authors rise to the occasion and you can see their growth in the stories they pen. They get better and more refined with each book. The anxiety is real, though. The pressure to keep creating books that keep your reader’s interest enough to buy them, has to be tough.
But what if you were an author who wrote a blockbuster? Like Dan Brown?
Whether you love him or hate him, Dan Brown writes some stories that grab people’s attention. His detractors feel he can’t write worth beans (implausible, inaccurate, mechanical love plots) and can’t understand why he’s made the money or garnered the attention he has with his books. I imagine he’s laughing all the way to the bank despite the critics; although the criticism has to sting. I’d say the greater mystery to solve, was how did Dan Brown become such a phenomenon? Is there anyone who hasn’t heard of Dan Brown? It must be people’s love of conspiracies. It reminds me of looking at one of those hidden picture puzzles. You look at it one way and see only the surface picture. Look at it another way, and you see hidden pictures within the surface. In my opinion, many conspiracy theories are like that. Some are just plain fabricated by plucking straws out of headlines, assasinations, or whatnot.
What I found interesting was that Dan Brown had three other novels out by the time that The DaVinci Code became a phenomenon (over 80 million copies sold worldwide and stayed on the Times Bestseller’s list 136 weeks) in 2003. Of course the hoopla over it caused people to take an interest in those three novels, one of which was Digital Fortress, Deception Point, (neither of which were hot sellers) and of course, Angels and Demons, the prequel to the Code, also became a best seller although nowhere near The Da Vinci Code figures. Both were made into movies and on opening weekends in 2006 DVC made $77 million and Angels and Demons grossed about $48 million. Now we have The Lost Symbol about to be released with a first run of 5 million in North America and another 1.5 million for overseas markets. The contents, other than the clues deliberately released, has been a closely guarded secret other than in general terms—it’s about masons, there is a corresponding thread to a church in Scotland, is set mostly in Washington DC, set with his Langdon character, and a movie is already in the works.
I mention this only because, as a writer, I have to wonder how the pressure of this success has affected Dan Brown. I know from reading various articles, that the pressure to succeed did affect him. This is his first book since the DaVinci Code. He was already writing The Lost Symbol when The DaVinci Code went ballistic. He was quoted as saying, “The thing that happened to me and must happen to any writer who's had success is that I temporarily became very self-aware. Instead of writing and saying, "This is what the character does," you say, "Wait, millions of people are going to read this." ... You're temporarily crippled....[later] The furor died down, and I realized that none of it had any relevance to what I was doing. I'm just a guy who tells a story."
I’m wondering how long that realization took to develop? I can’t imagine writing under such pressure. The strain of having to prove you aren’t a one hit wonder has to be horrendous. Perhaps that’s why he dropped out of sight for a while. The Lost Symbol was originally slated for release in 2005. I’m sure fighting plagiarism lawsuits was part of his absence, but how much of it was to escape the pressure? Dan Brown said that there was a time, during which he “self-aware” he couldn’t write. Imagine that? Here you have contracts for the new book and you can’t write. I’m thinking by saying ‘temporarily crippled’ is another way of saying writers block. It's been six years since he published The Da Vinci Code. Gone long enough for people to start wondering where he was last year. Lots of speculation. Lots of cryptic tidbits released to the press about this upcoming book released yesterday. If you’ve noticed, there has been a deliberate but subtle build up of Dan Brown since April of this year when it was announced that The Lost Symbol would be released September 15th. Less subtle the past three months with the leaking of ‘clues’ via twitter and other social networks.
I curious about Doubleday’s worries, recouping the money invested I’m sure, and how much of those worries has filtered down to Dan Brown. Epecially with the delays in this book's release and the recent layoffs within the publisher's staff. Which would add another layer of pressure to any author.
I have to wonder if Dan Brown worries about such mundane things as, what if the Symbol isn’t as good as DVC? What if it falls flat? I know it would be a worry of mine.
How do you think you would handle such pressure as a writer? As a published author, how do you handle the doubts and pressure?
Granted, we all would love to have a blockbuster book out, but have you ever thought of how it would change your life? Your writing? Could you divorce yourself from the publicity? Would it be hard to write the next book knowing it would be read by millions of people? And by vocal critics ready to rip you apart?