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- The career of Dan Brown took off in 2003 when his novel, "The Da Vinci Code", became an international phenomenon.
- He wrote seven books and sold 250 million in total, making it one of the best-selling authors in the world.
- He attributes his success to trusting himself, through ups and downs. He decided that his best job was not received well, he would find another professional path.
Dan Brown is one of the most successful fiction writers in the world, with 250 million books sold. Its race left in 2003 when its novel "The Code Da Vinci" became an international phenomenon, and each one of its later books also were hits.
Before reaching that level, however, he suffered so much time as a musician and years of failure. He has a new series of MasterClass videos that explains his favorite writing ideas, but in addition to technical classes, Brown told Business Insider an episode of our "This Is Success" podcast that was guided by overcoming the doubt.
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Transcription edited for clarity.
Dan Brown: When I was in college, I studied a lot of music and a lot of creative writing. When I formed … I know I want to be creative in my life. Do I want to write music or do I want to write books? At that point, at the age of 22, I thought that, well, music would be much fun. He moved to Los Angeles, and it is generous to say that he was a composer. I was a hungry composer. I was there for a couple of years, signed a record deal and had a record that sold a dozen copies, most of them to my mother.
I wrote simultaneously an article for an antiquity magazine about what was a kind of young geeky prelate from the Phillips Exeter Academy that lived in Hollywood among punk-rock musicians. A literary agent saw the article and called and said: "I love how you write. I think it's a writer." I said: "No, no, I'm actually a musician." A couple of years later I had lunch with him. He said: "When you're ready to write, let me know."
About a year later, I woke up and decided that I was ready to write. He wrote a novel called "Digital Fortress". Sent it Now, he has failed infinitely in the music industry. This novel was picked up by the first New York publisher who read it, Tom Dunne on St. Martin's Press. I thought: "Wow, writing books is easy." Of course, the book came out and did nothing. It was an instant failure.
My first three books were, in fact, business failures, I suppose I would call them. I did not really sell many copies. It was not until he came out "The Da Vinci Code" that he had no success at all. Of course, the three novels that did not sell, went on sale, went to number 1 on the list of bestsellers. I did not change a word. This is an important message for the whole world: that some of these products and ideas that you have in your career that can flop can really be active later in your life. They may end up having a hearing.
If "The Da Vinci Code" # 39; He did not land, he was going to change races
Graham Flanagan: You said you fought at first, and the first things you wrote did not work well. Ever had a point when you were writing on the principle that you thought: "Maybe you try it, maybe I should swing the other thing?"
Brown: Yes, in fact there was. I wrote "The Da Vinci Code". Deadlines Not yet published. Leaked galley, advanced reading copy. He took him to a park and sat with him and read it on a whole day. Read the whole topic from the cover to the cover. And I thought, if this book does not work, then I should not be a writer. Because to my liking, this is an excellent book. This is a book I would like to read. When you are a creative person, all you have to guide is your own taste. I do not care if you are a painter, a musician or a writer. You have to create the piece of art, the piece of music, the literature that you like. So expect other people to share your taste. So when I read "The Da Vinci Code" and I thought: "I think that's what I would propose," if it fails, I would have to assume that no one shares my taste, so it's impossible for me to be a writer. I'll do something else.
Flanagan: So what happened? When did you realize that "The Da Vinci Code" was a success?
Brown: It was about six months before he left. The preorders were so tall of Barnes and Noble. This returned in the days of Borders and Barnes & Noble and of all independent booksellers. It was a very different market. There was a huge buzz between booksellers saying: "We, like bookstores, love this novel. We know we can sell it to everyone walking through the door."
Then Random House continued to call, saying: "Wow, they simply doubled your order, they tripled your order, they quadrupled your order." And they really got me on a book tour four months before the book came out. They said: "We want you to enter all the booksellers." I said: "I do not understand." They said: "They love your book, they only want to know that they are not an idiot. You just have to dine with them." I met all CEOs and all independent booksellers. It was great fun. This was in the days when we sold manual books to readers.
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Flanagan: So how did you process the success of the first week of that book for sale? It was like an instant phenomenon. Only you as a person, who had begun as a musician, struggling as a writer before this piece, then this happens. How do you even process that?
Brown: It was difficult. I was very, very grateful, of course. You think that every day you will wake up and discover that everything was a dream. You are saying: "Okay, this is happening. Yes, this is what is happening. That's how many books we sell today. I think I'll be in the following TV shows." The book was sold around the world. "
At some level, you simply laugh and say, "Wow, how lucky I am!" It is usually pressure, of course, because it has a large audience. You want to make sure that what you believe is worthy of your time and makes us happy and nobody feels like "You know what was successful and now you are not trying." In fact I ended up trying harder now that I had some success.
Flanagan: Why did the Da Vinci Code do it so well? What was it that connected with so many people?
Brown: Some of them were lucky. It was time It was unplanned waiting time. When I started the book, I wanted to write a book about religion. I grew up in a very religious home. I always laughed at the battle between science and religion. I had some experiences that took me from the church. And I wanted to write an alternative history of Jesus. What would it mean for Christianity if Jesus was not literally the Son of God? If you were a deadly prophet? I felt like: "Well, that's a right question to ask." Of course, the book does not come: not everyone believed it was a big question. It became very controversial. But he came out, hopefully, at a time when many people were questioning the church. There was a lot of scandal. People were looking for a different voice. They were saying: "Wait a minute. If the church does not tell us the truth about it, maybe we do not tell the truth about the history of Jesus."
Now, I did not want to turn anyone into my way of thinking. This is a story that said it made me felt. But it's a thriller. It turns out to believe it, but that is something irrelevant for my readers. If you want to believe, great; If you do not do it, it's a fun story. So it was time, and I had an absolutely amazing editorial. I changed the editors. I came to Random House. And they read the first 100 pages of this novel and, before it was over, they said: "We love this. We will do everything we can to make it a popular book". Only luck took off. It was a real thrill.
Flanagan: When you have generated controversy, how did you react?
Brown: Do you know what This will seem naive, but he did not anticipate any controversy. I grew up in a family that … encouraged the questioning and, you know, I will never forget. I grew up believing in Adam and Eve, and then I went to the Boston Science Museum and saw this exhibition about evolution and went to my priest and said: "Whoa, whoa, whoa. In the same way, what story is true? "This priest said:" The crazy guys do not ask that question, "and immediately classify it into the world of science.
Brown: That was a moment for me.
Flanagan: I lit a fire under you.
Brown: Yes, he did, because I thought, expected, I told them that the boys asked questions. Smart guys ask questions. You ask all the questions you have, and so when I wrote "The Da Vinci Code", you literally asked for a fairly simple question, not all of it aggressively. I just said: "Hey, what if that happened?" And people were so angry. I was stunned It took me … I would like to say that it took me a long time to get used to it. I did not have much time. I have been in talks with people who are not boycotted, you know, burning me in effigy. It was, like, "Whoa – it's fine!" So, I had to basically address the concerns of how he tried to do everything, with some integrity and with some honesty, and essentially said: "Look, I did not want to offend anyone. Install me a story that makes sense to me and not I have no interest in believing in the narrative of "The Da Vinci Code" or not, more than you believed in the narration of "20,000 leagues under the sea."
I mean, it's a story. For me, it makes more sense than I learned at Sunday school. I think the reason why there was so much controversy made sense for many people and because it was so popular. If that book had sold a thousand copies, nobody would boycott it. The problem was that you knew that everybody in each church was reading and entering his church saying: "Hello, wait a minute. I did not know that the Nicene Council did this. Is it true?" It was really disruptive to the church.
Learn to ignore the noise
Flanagan: What was the first professional decision he made after the success of "The Da Vinci Code", where you decided: "This will be my next step"?
Brown: In a word, trust. You have to trust in yourself, which means you have many people raising your ear, telling you the way to go, telling you what is good, telling you what is wrong. You have reviewers saying: "This is the best book of all time"; You have opinions saying: "This is the worst ever book." I just had a big noise. This idea of sitting down to write your next book, I went on for a couple of weeks. He would write a paragraph and say: "Well, now millions of people are going to read this. Is it good enough?" I would eliminate it. You become self-conscious. You become the standing mass in the battery box that is thinking of the mechanics of your balance. You have become the singer who can not make the right noise because you are imagining how to move your vocal chords. Self-awareness for any creative person, or imagining a CEO who is working with enthusiasm, self-awareness is not helpful. So, for me, I was trusting in my gut, saying: "Wait a minute: just write the book you want to read. That's all you've done. These four first books sat down and read The paragraph and liked it, said: "OK, I'm ready." Then go back to that mentality where you say: "Just write for yourself." Because others share your liking. " That was the first thing I did.
Flanagan: Then he discovered a way to relieve the pressure.
Brown: You compartmentalize and realize that what you are doing is doing for yourself. You are writing the book you want to read and expect others to share your taste. In my case, I knew that at that point people shared my liking. The worst thing I could do for my brand was to pursue what I thought they wanted. I know what they want. That's what I want. Then do what you, as a leader, or artist, or whatever you want to do.
Flanagan: Self-awareness of artists and writers in particular can generate a lot of anxiety. You've seen many authors who had these blockbusters, such as Harper Lee and J.D. Salinger. Have you ever thought: "OK, why should I try to overcome this? Why not just sit down and let the success of this book give me the life I want to have? I did not try to deflect myself in those waters."
Brown: Well, the life I want to have is a creative life, instead of saying: "I think I'm ready. Now I can only classify sip gymnasts and look at the ocean." I thought: "Wow, now I have the means to travel the world and I write about different places. I can find fascinating people."
Yes, there was a lot of pressure, and there was some awareness along the way that has become a confusing process. I navigate and feel very, very fortunate that I can continue to be creative. For most creative people, the process has to be sufficient. Look at someone like John Grisham, one of the most successful authors in history. He writes a book per year. You do not need the money; You do not need the praise. He simply loves telling a story. These are people who are successful, people who love what they do.
Flanagan: When you feel to decide what your next project will be, what is the decision to continue with [“Da Vinci Code” hero Robert] The saga of Langdon versus doing something completely different?
Brown: It really has to be seen if Langdon, Langdon's character, can bring a new look to a world or topic. With the new origin, I really felt that Langdon should be thrown into the world of modern art. You know nothing about it. This will be fun to see him enter the Guggenheim and see a car full of Jell-O under a spotlight and say, "I do not receive it." As an academic. From that point of view, I felt that Langdon is the character. As I progress, I am looking at new projects. It is quite possible that my next book will be an autonomous thriller in a totally different genre.
Going through your best career lessons
Flanagan: What is the biggest challenge you had to overcome in your career?
Brown: Wow – there are so many. But I think only a level of tranquility about what he does, just relying on his process, saying: "you've come so far." Put one foot in front of each other every morning. Focusing and doing what you do. And you have to put the blinds and just keep doing that. Because the success that people have is often – these seeds are built 20 years before their success. And when I see creative people who leave the rails a bit and try to say: "Oh, now I have success, I need to do something else." The answer is "No, it does not. What you have done to get here is what you should keep doing." And that, for me, was a kind of challenge to say: "All these people are saying this and that. And there are all these distractions." The reality is that if you want to continue being successful, you must understand that it is hard work. It's not about putting your brand and doing it necessarily and doing it. It's about actually creating the product that people read and immediately call a friend and say, "Did you read? You're going to love this." That is the challenge, to say in that mentality.
Flanagan: So, you have a lot of wisdom and experience that people are obviously paying through this MasterClass product. Why did you decide to do this class?
Brown: You know, my father is a teacher, my teacher is a teacher. I believe that teaching is the noblest of all professions. Fun teacher I love teaching. And I wanted to create a class full of details. Now, many writing students hear ethereal advice: "Write what you know," "Passionate," "Show, do not say so." Everything is true, but not all is useful. And I really wanted to go down to the nuts and screws of what a story is telling. And this is a class that will help people to write in their own voice. It will help you write the story you want to write. Or write a story of its own. It's not about writing like me. Some people love the way I write; Some people hate the way I write. It is about tell stories And the amazing thing about history, when you return to it, realizes that every great story, whether it is an ancient myth or a literary fiction or a modern thriller or a television series that is addicted to Netflix. Whatever it is, these stories have all the same exact elements. It's like a car. There are all these different types of cars, but when you open the hood, you see the same things. United in a different way, modeled somewhat differently, but you do not have a car without a gas tank, at least until Tesla arrived. But I just said that everyone has the same elements. And that is what this MasterClass is about. What are the story narrative elements? If you are writing scripts for television, writing thrillers, writing literary fiction, everything is there. It's all the same. And if I had this MasterClass, I would be a better writer today because I would like to start a long period of time, to learn all these things that I learned by trial and error, through the process of creating just.
Flanagan: Was there always everything for you? Have you always heard this, the foundation and the foundations of storytelling in your bones that allowed you to create?
Brown: No I had an appreciation of the narration of my bones, but certainly not the knowledge of how to put them together. A lot is proof and error. And a lot of this is reading, critical reading. Much was at the beginning … All the writings of Joseph Campbell, this idea of the myth hero, and the hero of thousand faces. This idea that, really there is only one story. And we count it again and again. And it's not about what happens; it's about how it happens And it's always a joke: look how Ian Fleming wrote James Bond, this amazingly successful series. And at the beginning of each James Bond, you say: "Well, there's a tactical watch, a bomb goes out, and it'll take the girl." Well, of course, it will save the world, it will take the girl. The question is: how? So that's what this class refers to. How does it give the reader what they want in a way they do not see?
Flanagan: What advice would you give to the young Brown who did not really have to discover, to discover the right way to be, what would probably get you where you were faster?
Brown: I think it's about trust. I think the creative process is full of doubts. It is full of doubts for all artistic people. And it's one thing when you're successful saying: "Well, that person says I do not know what I am doing." But those 37 million people say: "Yes, you do." Okay, you have to fall back. You say, "Well, I'm very successful." At the beginning of your career, no matter what your business is, you do not have it. You can not, if you have a business idea that many people say: "I do not receive it." "But you really get it," I think he had already told Dan Brown: "get it. Just trust your bowel. It will take some time to build this business, build an audience, build a craft. Do not worry too much. return to work. "
Flanagan: This is something people can know in detail if they take the MasterClass, but I just want to know about their process. Can you give an overview of birds from the order of operations from conception to investigation?
Brown: Of course.
Flanagan: And your writing process?
Brown: Yes When I agree, after leaving a book, usually a year ago when I do not write, when I am reading a lot, promoting. They are not just a type of writing in the writing process, but I'm always looking for ideas. I'm traveling through the world while promoting it and saying, "Well, that's something very interesting," you know, this underground, everything in Iceland. It's kind of a double-edged sword, because I like to keep my subjects in secret. So, when I was investigating, it used to be that I could go to a museum and talk to a commissioner and nobody would care. Now, if I went to the Uffizi and want to talk to the commissioner about a specific painting, I need to know that there may be an article in the morning: "Brown was here looking at the following Botticelli." So it becomes a little cat and mouse game. It's so much fun.
Then, a point will come when I will decide: "OK, Dan, it is time to write another book". At that point, I often have enough choices of what I call "worlds", where it will be defined and not necessarily mean Paris. It could mean, you know, brain surgery or finances, you know, whatever it is and I will say: "Well, I want to write a thriller set in the world of finances." Okay, I do not know much about finances and I will have to learn a lot, so I am going to contact and find someone who can download me to New York and show me how everything works, and it makes sense for some of the gray gray areas. So immediately I will be looking for the character – you have to find someone who is an expert in finance. Maybe you make a page from John Grisham's book and it's like "The Firm." It is a new runner who enters with the wrong people. Whatever it is.
You need to immediately find the antagonist. The villain is even more important than the hero, because the villain defines the action. If it were not for the villain there would be no conflict. When you start to populate this world with characters, you begin to create a plot. Normally, I think first an ending, which is almost invariably the hero who conquers the wicked, the wicked evil, the morale for immorality, that kind of thing. I will write a huge structure, usually about one hundred pages for this novel. Once all this is done, you know, then it only comes … I hate thinking about it as a grinder, but it is. It's two or three years of getting up at 4 in the morning, walking to the other end of the house where there is no internet, no phone, or anything, sitting at my desk and starting to put words on the page. One in 10 words works and stays and, you know, for each page you read in the novel, I played 10. I'm wrong, do not mistake, do not make a mistake, and finally get it right.
Flanagan: Once your books have adapted to movies that were very successful, how does this affect your writing process and your plot design and everything? You're thinking: "Oh, this could be cinematic"?
Brown: You know, they are not really. I wrote books a long time before Tom Hanks was Robert Langdon. It was very, very fortunate to have Tom Hanks play Robert Langdon. Do a surprising job
Flanagan: Is that what you saw?
Flanagan: Was there an actor you think?
Brown: There was no actor. It is a type of conglomerate of many people, many and different. I believe that in "Da Vinci Code" it is known as Harrison Ford in Harris Tweed, a kind that knows he's a teacher, but handsome, and is a kind of boy who wants he could be if he is in the academic world. You have to put some of yourself in all the heroes. He is a vicar living a much better version of yourself, someone who is more daring, someone smarter. I had fun moments. I had a woman once he said: "You're Robert Langdon," and I gave my usual response: "No, it's the guy I'd like it to be. It's smarter. It's all that." She said: "Well, how can you be smarter, because everything you say you had to think about?" I had to point out that when Robert Langdon walks through a painting and only looks and gives a 30-minute soliloquy perfect, it took me three days to write and investigate, then trust me, it is much smarter than me.
Flanagan: How is success measured by yourself?
Brown: In the simplest terms, I like what I do when I get up every morning? Am I awake, excited to get to my table or what I do the day? If the answer is yes, I feel successful.
Flanagan: How about once you have delivered a book, a product – at this point it even matters if it is successful?
Brown: Oh, yes, you do. You pretend that you do not, but it matters a lot, of course. I'm very fortunate. I have many followers that really allowed me to do what I love to live. I can pay to write. So, there is a sense of obligation to make sure that what I write, they enjoy. If they do, they make me happy and, if they do not, I'm worried about it. I'm lucky so far that the books were well received.
Flanagan: Finally, what is a board that would give someone who wants to have a career like yours?
Brown: Be patient Continue working There is no substitute for hard work, and what people forget is when they are insecure and when they get frustrated, they stop working and have to work for those moments. You just said: "Well, this novel did not work. Try the following one. Try the following one." Whatever business you are in, to be patient and not let your impatience interfere with your process.
Flanagan: Well, we patiently await the next project. Thank you very much for your time.
Brown: The pleasure is mine.
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