Of all the arts in which the wise excel, Nature's chief
masterpiece is writing well." -John Sheffield
Many writers wrote well and their books became commercial
successes. But at the opposite end of the divide are countless
Consider the Oxford dropout and lexicographer Samuel Johnson.
Not that he was a failed writer, but he is not read partly
because of the incomprehensibility of his writings. Says his
biographer, James Boswell: "He writes like a teacher
[dictating] to his students from an academic chair." Oliver
Goldsmith, the poet, playwright, and novelist and one of
Johnson's good fellows, puts it humorously: "His little fishes
talked like whales."
But we are not going to talk about the failures. Rather, we
will be discussing writers who dazzled the literary world in a
blaze of glory. So I have presented a selection of writers of
both sexes, from diverse lands and of various time periods ho
wrote in different genres. This is not meant to be a detailed
study of the authors. The purpose is for you to see what made
them stand out from the rest-why they wrote bestsellers-so that
you too can learn from them and write your masterpiece.
When you read, give attention to their style of writing because
that is the important thing-the reason readers enjoyed their
works. Your style therefore does the magic, for as Logan
Pearsall Smith the American writer said, "Style is a magic
wand, and turns everything to gold that it touches." If that is
true, you will write blockbusters like these writers:
Jeffrey Howard Archer was born on April 15, 1940 in Western
Super Mare, England. He became a politician after his education
at Oxford, and decided to write himself out of debt when his
business collapsed. This gave birth to the instant successful
novel, Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less. Other masterpieces
followed among which are First Among Equals, Shall We Tell the
President?, Kane and Abel, and A Matter of Honor. He became so
rich and held his readers spell- bound for over two decades.
He used familiar topics-politics, crime, and sex. His
characters also seem real-ambitious and fighting people.
He also used known people in international politics as
characters, which gave his story more visibility. They included
Margaret Thatcher, Ted Kennedy, Saddam Hussein, and Rupert
Archer is also very descriptive and likes to put his readers in
The beloved writer who is married with children got a four-year
jail term for perjury. Ever since, it seems he is no longer
first among equals.
Born on July 30th 1818 at Thornton, Bradford, in bleak
Yorkshire moors, and fifth child of six children, Emily Bronte
and her family members had a poor, harsh beginning-being reared
under the tyranny of their pastor-father. In order to escape
their unhappy lives, the children took to writing, with Emily
and Anne writing poetry and stories for their imaginary world
Of all the three sisters who wrote books-Emily, Charlotte, and
Anne-Emily stands out as the best, though her work did not gain
equal recognition as Charlotte's autobiographical Jane Eyre in
her life time. The works of the Bronte sisters cannot be
compared to any other work in English literature because they
arose out of personal emotion.
But by far, the greatest of them all is Emily's Wuthering
Heights, her only novel. This novel, the violent tale of love
and revenge, has been dubbed the most imaginative novel in
English literature. What was it that made it so?
Emily Bronte had rich imagination and this is a great asset for
any aspiring writer. Furthermore, she wrote on romance, and
stories of love and revenge make bestsellers any day.
She died on December 19, 1848 at 30 and was buried on December
22 in the family vault in Haworth Church.
Dan Brown was born June 22, 1964 in
Exeter, New Hampshire, the oldest of three
children. His mother Constance (Connie) was a
professional musician, Brown's father Richard
G. Brown was a high school math teacher at
Phillips Exeter Academy.
Brown attended Amherst College, where
he was a member of Psi Upsilon Fraternity. He
later went to the University of Seville in
Spain to study art history and the works of
Leonardo da Vinci.
Brown went into music and teaching, and
almost gave up as a writer before moving up to
write bestsellers. Some of his works include
Deception Point, Digital Fortress, Angels and
Demons, and The Da Vinci Code--a runaway
bestseller that has sold more than 25 million
copies in 2005 alone, and his latest novel, The
Lost Symbol. What is the magic that has made
the writer's annual income at $76.5 million
USD, put his works on the New York Times
bestseller lists and his novels translated into
more than 40 languages?
Brown is a plot master and is adept in
the use of suspense.
Moreover, he researches his stories and
marries facts with fiction.
Further to the above, the author knows
what his audience wants. He has successfully
tapped into the fears of readers who are
searching for a secret key, a hidden code, a
mystic mojo, or missing mark that explains
You can find this in the use of words
like Code (The Da Vinci Code) and Lost (The
lost Symbol) in his titles.
He is married to Blythe, 12 years his
senior, who he had met in his music years at
Hollywood California and who has greatly
assisted him in his writing.
John Bunyan was born in 1628 at Elstow near Bedford into a
wealthy family turned poor family. The little-schooled writer,
less regarded in his time, was fond of The King James Bible
while his contemporaries like John Milton and John Dryden
immersed themselves in the classics. A soldier and an itinerant
tinker (like his father), he was married, and his house was "as
poor as poor might be."
He wrote about sixty controversial religious tracts and three
fictional works. However, the "the village Rochester" also
nicknamed "Bishop Bunyan"-Puritan and church pastor at
Bedford-rode to fame after he wrote The Pilgrim's Progress, a
religious allegory of his autobiographical work, Grace
Abounding to the Chief Sinners. Incidentally, this masterful
work, the most widely read book after the Bible, was written
during his twelve years and six months' imprisonment at Bedford
jail. It equally spawned Thackeray's novel, Vanity Fair-after
Vanity-Fair-a scene in the book. Why was it an echo-Bible?
Bunyan's language is simple and his readers could relate to the
story. (His books were written in the general language of the
day.) Also, the book is full of humor and the reader could not
help laughing in most part of it. The characters have
weaknesses like us and are either good or bad-people that live
The book has greatly influenced the English language with the
author's skillful naming of places and characters. A short
list: Christian, Faithful, Hopeful, Worldly-Wiseman, Apollyon,
Lord Hategood, Mr. Malice, Mr. Liar, Talkative, Great Heart
(characters); Shadow of Death, Giant Despair, Vanity-Fair,
Delectable Mountains, Doubting-Castle, Valley of Humiliation,
the Slough of Despond, The Hill of Difficulty (places). It is
no wonder that S.T. Coleridge said of the author: "His piety
was baffled by his genius; and Bunyan the dreamer overcame the
Bunyan of the conventicle."
The dreamer and genius died in 1688.
Agatha Christie "the Queen of crime" was born of American and
British parents on September 15, 1890 in Torquay in the country
of Devon, England; and educated by her mother after her
father's death. She was married twice.
She wrote 78 crime novels, 6 romance novels, and 19 plays under
the pen name Mary Westmacott. Her works are now available in
103 languages making her the highest selling fiction writer
today-dwarfed only by the Bible and Shakespeare-with 2 billion
copies and a gross yearly royalty of $3.7 million. Her works
include the masterpiece, The Murder of Rodger Ackrovd, and her
best play, The Mousetrap. Do you know why she wrote
She wrote on topics that touch hearts and souls-who isn't
concerned about crime and love?
Her choice of words is hypnotic, making her books
"unputdownable" as one scientist said.
She became the Dame of the British Empire in 1971 and died in
Clancy, Thomas Leo Jr.
The American writer, Tom Clancy, was born April 12, 1947 at
Franklin Square Hospital, Baltimore. He studied English and has
written many bestsellers, won million-dollar writing contracts,
and had writers brand their works as titles written by him.
Some of his successful works, which have been turned into
movies, are The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games, and Clear
and Present Danger. Others are The Bear and the Dragon, and The
Sum of All Fears.
Why is Clancy a great success story?
He is very descriptive, pays attention to details, and has good
plots. Also he writes on espionage, a best-selling topic any
The author is twice married, and lives in the United States.
The literary czar, Charles Dickens, was born into a humble
family in 1812. He was a victim of child labor and suffered the
shame of having his father locked up for a year at the debtor's
prison at Marhalsea. Dickens had little education, read books
on his own and taught himself shorthand, which later prepared
him as a reporter.
He however got instant recognition from all and sundry when he
began publishing his writings in installments in The Pickwick
Papers. Why was he considered the first Victorian novelist?
Dickens knew what his readers wanted. He could make them weep
or laugh. His novels are humorous and satirical-readers enjoy
reading such works. While his earlier writings were in
episodes, the later ones are well plotted.
The excitement in his novels arises from his picturesque
descriptions and exaggerated characters, which we have come to
treasure like Sheridan's Mrs. Malaprop and Shakespeare's
Benedict. Some of his unforgettable characters are Barkis
(willing), Pegotty (undecided), Ebenezer Scrooge (miserly),
Uriah Heep (umble), Mrs .Sarah Gamp (ever with her large cotton
umbrella), and Mr. Michael Micawber (waiting for something to
Among his celebrated works are The Old Curiosity Shop (readers
wept for dead Little Nell), Oliver Twist (he asked for more), A
Tale of Two Cities (influenced by Thomas Carlyle's French
Revolution), and the autobiographical David Copperfield
He died in 1870.
Frederick Forsyth, the British reporter turned novelist, was
born August 25, 1938 in Ashford, Kent.
His best-known works are The Day of the Jackal, The Dogs of
War, and The Fist of God. Others are The Odessa File, Icon, and
The Devil's Alternative.
Why are his works blockbusters?
His stories are well researched, full of details, and very
informative. He writes thrillers-stories of crime and
spying-which is another advantage.
The author is a Eurosceptic.
Gogol, Nicholai Vasilevich
Nicholai Gogol, whose real surname was Ianovskii, was born in
March 1809 at Sorotchinetz, in Little Russia-growing up in his
parents' country estate. In that same year, literary greats
such as Charles Darwin, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Abraham Lincoln,
Edgar Poe, Gladstone, Holmes, Chopin, and Mendelssohn were also
Aleksandra Pushkin and Walter Scott influenced the educated
Gogol in his writing. Considered the founder of the so-called
critical realism in Russian literature, his best work is Dead
Souls-the surrealistic adventures of Pavel Ivanovich Chichikov,
a merchant of dead souls. Some of his works include The
Robbers, The Inspector General, The Collected Tales of Nicholai
Gogol, The Overcoat and Other Short Stories, Diary of a Madman
and Other Stories.
But why was Gogol successful as a writer? He was highly
imaginative and had exceptional linguistic power. In his works,
he exposed the defects of human character.
Later, under the influence of a fanatical priest, Father
Konstantinovskii, Gogol burnt sequels for Dead Souls, became
mad and died at Moscow on February 21, 1852. (Some say he was
buried alive.) On his tomb was placed the old saying, "And I
shall laugh with a bitter laugh." These were his last words.
This "best-selling novelist of the 1990's"
according to Publishers Weekly is married with
Oliver Goldsmith was born on November
10, 1730, in Ballymahon , Ireland . After his
college education, he lived poor and wandered
Goldsmith conquered the three genres of
literature with his masterpieces. These are The
Deserted Village, a nostalgic poem on his
desolate village; She Stoops to Conquer, a
dramatic comedy based on his mistaken
experience; and The Vicar of Wakefield, a great
novel which he sold to pay his rent.
Goldsmith once boasted that anything his
pen touches turns to gold. Why was he a
His sentences sing like a song bird
letting the reader "see" and "feel" the actions
in his story. He was able to achieve this
because of his command of English. His use of
suspense is beyond compare.
Oliver Goldsmith was a genius that
puzzled his peers in The Club including Dr.
Samuel Johnson, the wordsmith, who helped him
sell the novel, and Horace Walpole who on
account of the author's eccentricities gave him
the mocking moniker, "inspired idiot."
Goldsmith was a lover of liquor and
The inspired idiot with the gold-turning
pen was conquered by death on April 4, 1774.
David Garrick wrote these immortal lines
in his remembrance:
Here lies Nolly Goldsmith, for shortness called
Who wrote like an angel, but talked like poor
John Grisham was born in 155 at Jonesboro, Arkansas, US. He
studied law and accounting and was a politician.
First reluctant to go into writing, he came to write
blockbusters which have been made into movies. They include A
Time to Kill, The Client, The Firm, The Chamber, The Rainmaker,
The Street Lawyer, among others.
Why were his books the publisher's and reader's delight?
In his simplified arresting style of writing, he shows the
working of the legal system, giving hope to the common man.
He also tries to make his characters human and his narratives
In addition, Grisham is a plot master-sometimes complicated-and
tries to make his stories interesting.
Joanne Kathleen Rowling was born July 31, 1965 in Chipping
Sodbury, South Gloucestershire, England. She has a daughter
from a failed marriage, lost her job, and was on the dole. But
this single mother took the world by storm with her Harry
Potter series-the story of a boy and his wizard kids in
Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
The author, who started writing at six, has Jane Austen as her
favorite writer. She is the first dollar-billionaire writer and
is richer than the Queen of England. Rowling has won
international acclaim from her works, which have now been made
into hit movies. Why did the books become runaway bestsellers?
First, she has a friendly subject-occult / paranormal-a topic
that has captivated readers since The Lord of the Rings (J.R.R.
Tolkien), The Wizard of Oz (L. Frank Baum), Alice in Wonderland
(Lewis Carroll), and The Narnia Chronicles (C.S. Lewis).
Second, the books have wonderful plots and effective
characters-loved and hated.
Third, her "humanization" of the witches and wizards who depart
to school in a secret place at London's King's Cross Station (a
real place), added plausibility to her story-something that
other mystery writers haven't tried.
Last, the use of surprise (what happens in the next series?)
also helped to turn the books to mega hits.
Because of the love for Harry Potter, the following phrases are
becoming common place: Muggle (a non magical person), Quidditch
(a wizard ball game played on brooms), Seeker (the best
Quidditch player), Nimbus Two Thousand / Firebolt (names of
activity brooms), The Sorting Hat (a school house cap),
Parselmouth (a wizard who talks with snakes), Every Flavor
Beans (a potpourri candy).
She lives with her daughter and second husband in Edinburgh,
Salman Rushdie was born in Bombay (Mumbi) on June 19, 1942 and
educated in England. His first work was Grimus and his most
controversial work, which earned him the fatwa, Satanic Verses,
won him the Whitebread Award. His other works include
Midnight's Children, Shame, The Moor's Last Sigh, The Jaguar
Smile, The Ground Beneath Her Feet and his recent work,
Shalimar The Clown. Why did he write bestsellers?
He employs familiar backgrounds in his stories-myths, religion
and folk tales. His narrative style of magical realism, which
puts him in the likes of Angela Carter and Peter Carey among
other writers, is a curious topic for readers.
His writing is full of charm, almost hypnotic. Books written in
this way are arresting.
The author has won the Booker and was recently knighted. He has
married four times.
Leo Tolstoy was born in the family estate of Yasnaya Polyana,
in Tula Province, Russia September 9, 1828. He was a
university dropout, lost his parents at childhood, became a
drunk and gambler, and joined the army.
Tolstoy wrote several books but War and Peace, which has been
dubbed the best novel of our time, was his greatest. Why did he
His stories have good plots, effective characters, and simple
style, and he was very descriptive.
His other masterpiece, The Kreutzer Sonata, which fictionalizes
the love life of the author and his secretary-wife led to his
He died November 20, 1910 and according to his will, was buried
by a "green stick" that never was.
Tom Wolfe was born March 2, 1931, in Richmond, Virginia, U.S.A.
He holds a Ph.D degree, and was a reporter before venturing
into novel writing.
The man with the fluffy stuff has written many bestsellers.
These include The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline
Baby, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, The Pump House Gang, The
Painted Word, The Right Stuff, The Bonfire of the Vanities, A
Man in Full, I Am Charlotte Simmons, among others. The Bonfire
of the Vanities earned $5 million for film rights-the highest
by any author. What is the secret behind his success?
Wolfe is a hard working writer, an experimentalist with forms.
He believes that his form of writing is the best for all
America-an assertion that has provoked a debate from other
writers. Besides, he is creative, has good plots for his novels
and possesses a good command of the English language.
He is married with two children.
What then did you notice as the common trend in the above list?
First, they are novels / short stories. You should therefore
know that fiction is the fastest selling kind of literature.
According to a 2002 survey published by the U.S. National
Endowment for the Arts, novels and short stories are the most
popular types of literature in that country. It gives the
readership of the three categories of literature as follows:
novels / short stories, 45 percent; poetry, 12 percent; and
plays, 4 percent.
The fact is that people prefer watching TV's and movies to
reading plays. And nobody will read your poetry collection
unless you are Jacqueline Kennedy Onasis.
The second thing is that the authors of these bestsellers wrote
on subjects that they understood, knew their language, had good
plots, and portrayed their characters well. So, write on a
subject you know, use good plots and characters, and you will
be on the way to glory.
But one thing must be mentioned: language. If you want people
to read your work, do not punish your readers like Dr. Samuel
Johnson. The most popular American poet in the nineteenth
century, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, said: "In character, in
manner, in style, in all things, the supreme excellence is
simplicity." (Emphasis added.) I hope you got the message.
A final point: People are saddened with problems in this world.
It is not surprising therefore that the comedians are winning.
So, add laughter to your work-like Charles Dickens and John
Bunyan. Let your readers enjoy a good laugh as they read
through your book. That is why you are enjoying this book.
Because I can see the laughter in your face. And that is one
reason why it is becoming an Amazon bestseller.
Excerpted from HOW TO WRITE A BESTSELLER by Arthur Zulu, the
fastest-selling writing handbook available on amazon.com and
amazon.co.uk. Click below for free sample and instant