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 failed authors.
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. Why?
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 Murdock.
Archer is also very descriptive and likes to put his readers in suspense.
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 Gondal.
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 life.
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
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
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 around us.
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
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 bestsellers?
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 1976.
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
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 day.
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 turn up).
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 (Dickens’ favorite).
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 (Ianovskii)
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 born.
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 children.
Oliver Goldsmith was born on November 10, 1730, in Ballymahon , Ireland . After his college education, he lived poor and wandered the
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 literary loadstar?
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 academic camaraderie.
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 Noll,
Who wrote like an angel, but talked like poor Poll.
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 real.
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, Scotland.
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
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 write well?
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 excommunication.
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