Overcoming Great Odds

Fiction authors who are selling millions of books, had to overcome great odds to reach that point of success. No one can shortcut the publishing process. No one can just write a great book and hope for the best.

I am facinated by the authors that did it before me. (And you.) Here are some of my favorite stories of authors breaking through. 

* After his first novel was rejected by many publishers, he was finally signed by Wynwood Press, who only ran 5,000 copies of his book. He sold the book from the trunk of his car with little success, wondering if he could make it as an author. John Grisham’s, A Time to Kill, became a bestseller and a major motion picture. Grisham has since sold over 250 million books. 

* After his death in 1972, his son Christopher published a series of manuscripts that had been written by his father. This included The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. Even death could not stop J.R.R. Tolkien from selling over 200 million books. 

* After battling an illness, he died on the same day as author Aldous Huxley (Brave New World) and the same day as President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. He had been good friends with J.R.R. Tolkien. Like Tolkien, death could not stop C.J. Lewis from selling over 100 million books. 

* He was imprisoned for “spending over his means.” To pay for his board and help his family, he worked ten-hour days pasting labels on shoe polish. These cruel work conditions had an impression on Charles Dickens, which inspired his classic novels. 

* He was criticized by Stephen King, “dopey thrillers, terrible writer.” Another critic said he had, “Absurd plotting, facile trickery, and prose that is simply dreadful.” James Patterson has sold over 100 million books. 

* After her daughter died of leukemia, she became an atheist. Then many years later, she returned to the Catholic Church, announcing that she will use her life and talent of writing to glorify her belief in God. Anne Rice has sold over 75 million books.  

* She was a secretary and copy editor, then a stewardess for Pan-American Airlines, before leaving her job to start a family. She supplemented the family’s income by writing short stories. After her husband died, she took a job writing four-minute clips for radio stations. Her agent convinced her to start writing novels. Mary Higgins Clark has sold over 100 million books. 

* After he was discharged from the military, he worked in the advertising industry, first as a copywriter and later as a creative director. At night, when he put the kids to bed, he felt alone and wanted to talk to someone. So he started writing. Clive Cussler has sold over 40 million books. 

* He was quoted, “I have always smoked and drunk too much. In fact, I have lived not to long, but too much. One day the Iron Crab will get me. Then I shall have died of living too much.” While being in the Navel Intelligence Unit, he came up with an idea to create a character named, James Bond. Ian Fleming has sold over 100 million books. 

* His wife did much of his book promotion, writing press releases, and scheduling him on talk shows, along with press interviews. His first three published books sold under 10,000 copies each. However, his fourth title, The Da Vinci Code, became a bestseller and a major motion picture. Dan Brown has sold more than 120 million books. 

I am anxious to tell your story. But first, you have to live it…

Ron Knight

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  1. David Alan Dickens

    Dear Mr. Knight:

    That was a great article on humble, and often sad, beginnings.

    I agree with King that Patterson’s writing is simple-minded but, as you mentioned, he broke 100 mil in sales. He tapped into a simple-minded market, thus a gold star! I DID NOT KNOW THAT about Anne Rice!!! Dude, that is soo awesoem! Now I like her! I used to respect her, but now there’s some kind of weird admiration. Like with Anthony Hopkins, a similar conversion to Catholicism after some dreadful starts.

    Thanks again for the great link!


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  2. Laura McComas

    You left out JK Rowling, her story is an inspiration that many people, writer’s and readers alike could benefit from. A writer’s life is never easy, but those you mentioned, certainly make it appear so…lol

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