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Reflections of a working writer and reader



The Da Vinci Code – not the movie

In response to yesterdays post, Debi Alper brought to my attention the fact that Dan Brown has sold a lot more books than the rest of us put together:

I’m not sure if this should make us despair or not, but I do think we have to be aware of what people out there want . . . even if they’re not the same people who are ever likely to read our books . . . (snip) . . . While I was appalled at the language, plotting, characterisation etc etc I was also sucked into the page turning mode. I reckon we ignore this at our peril.

I’m not sure, Debi. I never thought of comparing myself to Dan Brown. To make sense of the world you have to compare like with like. I’m an individual writer, so are you by the sound of it, something like all the other hacks out there. I write because I write because I write. That’s what I do, what I’ve always done. I write because it makes sense to me, it’s how I experience the me who is doing it.

Dan Brown, on the other hand, is a corporation. He’s a money-making machine. I didn’t read his book but people close to me with opinions I trust, tell me that it is, as you say, badly written.

I don’t now and never have made the kind of money that Dan Brown makes. I’m sure that he does something different to me.

But I’m equally sure that the difference doesn’t lie in his ability to make people turn pages, and your and my inability to do so. People tell me all kinds of things about my books, but very rarely, if ever, do they tell me that they didn’t finish one of my books because it lacked suspense.

The difference between Dan Brown and the majority of writers is the same as the difference between a cabbage out of my own garden, or my neighbours garden, and a cabbage from one of the major supermarket chains.

One of those cabbages makes money. The other offers some kind of nourishment and a spark of hope for the future.

15 Responses to “The Da Vinci Code – not the movie”

  1. Emchi says:

    I was going to post a long comment… but I realised it had the makings of a post on my own blog – I apologise now (I didn’t want to write an essay in the form of a comment).

  2. Michael says:

    Nicely said.

  3. Minx says:

    Well said John, but I do feel that there is room in this world for all sorts of cabbages. Come to that, all sorts of cabbage connoisseurs and all sorts of cabbge eaters too!

  4. John Baker says:

    A cabbage connoisseur. Now that would be something to be.

  5. Minx says:

    And if I learnt to spell cabbage properly I would also tell you that I have ‘picked’ some very good cabbages in my time!!!

  6. Debi Alper says:

    That’s our Minx for you. I was going to ramble on for ages (though it would really have been a long-winded way of saying you are so right). And then she goes and throws classy vegetables into the mix.

  7. John Newnham says:

    This is true John. We, those of us who love words, and the buildings/books constructed with them, write a different kind of book than Brown. I can tell you, I have read some of your pages over again just for the pleasure of the voice and the power of the scene. I highly doubt Brown would evoke the same 🙂


  8. Julie says:

    Well said!

    When I read Da Vinci Code (yes, I did, but I didn’t buy it) I was particularly annoyed at the degree to which he resorted to cheap techniques for creating suspense, such as having the characters be privy to information that was withheld from the reader. There’s a great story in there; too bad he told it so badly.

  9. Debi Alper says:

    I’ve thought of another foody analogy – we’re the wholefood organic collectively-owned community caff. And DB is McDonalds!

  10. Steve Clackson says:

    Eating cabbage gives you “a spark of hope” well I’ve heard it called a lot of things….:)

  11. john baker says:

    You don’t even have to eat it, Steve. Just knowing it’s there is enough.

  12. Maxine says:

    I would love there to be a way for more people to write and publish books that spring from the creative process rather than (too much of) the commercial process. I believe (as a reader) that an author needs to provide something that the reader wants. But that doesn’t mean the author has to be thinking what is commercial while writing. I would much prefer to read the wholefood organic than the mcds (not sure about the cabbages, I am a bit lost there!).
    On the other hand, people have to survive, including authors.
    I know I keep on about this, but the internet must be going to change everything, taking the power from the publishers (famously random at selecting “good” authors or indeed at knowing what will sell, eg see postings by Grumpy OB). Some combination of self-publishing and reader-popularity rankings (Google/MS books semantic matching/ranking depending on number of accesses/downloads in combination with an Amazon- reader-reviewer like system) will happen, and the regular book publishers will become a rare breed, I predict. Not that anyone can really predict, as GOB is saying again today.

  13. john baker says:

    I suspect that you’re right, maxine. Traditional publishers have been making a hash of the business for some time now and seem to be run almost exclusively by men-in-suits (although there are a lot of women in there) these days.
    An agent was quoted recently, saying that there used to be best-sellers, mid-list authors, and new writers who were being nurtured by their publisher. But that now there is only room for writers at the top, in other words, all the lower rungs have disappeared.
    I don’t want to get into the prediction business, but there is certainly a feeling around that change is in the air. I hope it happens, whatever it is. The industry has been stagnating for too long.

  14. Jim says:

    I’m not by any means a literary snob; I freely admit to enjoying thrillers and such. So I picked up The DaVinci Code but put it back down again after just forty or fifty pages. It was just so bad that I could not continue. I know that we live in a world where twenty billion (or however many) people have lunch at McDonald’s every day, but I am puzzled that this book has sold so many copies.

  15. john baker says:

    Twenty billion, Jim. That’s truly horrifying. (Where can I go to forget that?)