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Friday, September 12, 2014

What Can We Learn From These Two Successful Authors?

We have all heard it said, “Don’t write what is popular; write what you love to read.” 

Let’s take a look at two authors from the past twenty years who have shot to the top of the charts even though they dance to the beat of their own drums.

Outlander Series by Diana Gabaldon

Few modern authors construct their entire careers around one series. Diana Gabaldon, whose Outlander series (8 books and counting) consists of massive tomes of 800+ pages, has done so quite successfully. She wrote a secondary line of novellas that spun off from Outlander, but essentially her greatest achievement so far is the Outlander series. This is time travel romance with a splash of mystery and a lot of history set in the Scottish Highlands in the mid-1700s.

Publishing houses at the time did not care for books written in first person instead of third person, but that didn't keep Diana from writing hers in first person. She was a University professor with scientific computing and database expertise. She wrote her first novel while still employed, and only quit her day job after she’d finished writing the second book in 1992 at around the age of 40.

According to Wikipedia, Diana started to write Outlander as a ‘practice’ novel in 1988 (it was called Cross Stitch). Since she was a research professor she decided a historical would be easy to research, but she had no time period in mind. By chance she saw a rerun of a Dr. Who episode – The War Games. A seventeen year old Scotsman named Jamie was Dr. Who’s companion, and the year was 1745. This inspired Diana's time frame, place, and the main male character in her novel – James (Jamie) Fraser. She is quoted as having said she initially wanted an Englishwoman to interact with the kilted men, but the female took over the story, told it herself and made witty modern comments about things. Diana solved the problem of explaining how the woman was so modern in her self-expression by using time travel. 

Author inspiration comes from many places, and it is fascinating to see how the initial framework of Diana's first book evolved from a chance encounter with a TV show rerun.

Her books have been published in 27 countries and in 24 languages. They have received countless awards and achieved bestseller status on numerous lists. The first book is now showing as 16 episodes on the Starz channel, with more episodes likely to follow in 2015 and beyond.

While Outlander takes place in Scotland…

The Harry Potter Series – J.K. ‘Joanne’ ROWLING 

Harry Potter was written in Scotland. J.K. Rowling wrote seven tomes in the series that total nearly 4,200 pages, and her brand is now valued at approximately $15 billion. She, too, built an entire career around one series. Over 400 million of her books are in print and have been translated into 65 languages so far. Much of her wealth comes from movies and merchandise from the licensing of the Harry Potter brand. She has donated hundreds of millions of dollars to charities. 

Although she later wrote other books using pseudonyms, Harry Potter is her greatest claim to fame and fortune.

The inspiration for Harry Potter came to her ‘fully formed’ in 1990 while sitting on a train that was delayed four hours. The next seven years were rough, with job loss, divorce, and poverty challenges. She wrote three chapters of Harry Potter before moving to Edinburgh to be near her sister in late 1993. As a young single mother surviving on welfare, she wrote the rest of the first book in coffee shops. She got an agent, but Harry Potter was rejected by the first twelve publishers who saw it.

One of the greatest accomplishments of the Harry Potter books is that they have inspired children worldwide to love reading, and to think nothing of sitting down to read a 500+ page book.Although the series is written for children, adults have also enjoyed reading it worldwide. Some religious critics accused her of writing about witchcraft, and considered her influence over young people to be questionable for that reason. Most people, however, see the books as magical fantasy adventures.

Here are a few words of wisdom based on the careers of these two amazing authors...

If you want to write in first person, do so… if you want to concentrate on one series that spans your entire career, do so… if you believe in your storyline and characters, but others don’t, keep writing… if you are depressed by life and feel things can’t get much worse, persevere… if you have plot problems – like mouthy modern people showing up in ancient places – improvise… if you write massive tomes, people will read them… if you get a spark of inspiration while sitting on a stalled train or watching an old rerun on TV one night, take notes immediately.

Indie publishing and small presses make it so much easier for authors to write whatever we please, and readers will find us on internet e-publishing platforms. Be true to yourself and your voice, have fun, and remember – authors have the best job in the world.

GEMMA JULIANA is a multi-published author who lives in an enchanted cottage in north Texas with her handsome hero, teen son and a comical dog. She loves making new friends and hearing from readers. Exotic coffee and chocolate fuel her creativity. You can buy Gemma’s books on Amazon. 
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Rose Anderson said...

I love this post. These two authors are my favorites. I go on binges when I read fiction, I also came late to both series. That meant when I was in binge mode I had several of their books to fill me up for a while. Diana's 1st person perspective was so all-encompassing for me as a reader, I was able to read the story through her character's eyes and do so with an array of emotion only 1st person can give. I do my best writing in that mode as well. :) It's fun to dress in your hero/heroine's skin.

Cara Marsi said...

Gemma, thanks for such an inspirational post. I love both these series. We writers all need to be reminded every now and then that we should go with our instincts, write what we love.

Stephanie Burkhart said...

A very insightful and inspirational post. Thanks so much for sharing. I loved reading Harry Potter very much and while I haven't read Diana's books, I am watching the series on Starzz and enjoying it very much.

I agree - the closer we as writers stick to writing what we love, the more we'll succeed.


Judy Baker said...

Interesting post. I loved Harry Potter and plan on reading Diana's books. Great advise on writing what inspires you. Thanks for sharing.

Gemma Juliana said...

I was late to both series as well, Rose. I'm writing in 1st person for the first time ever - it's so powerful, I don't know why publishers preferred third.

Gemma Juliana said...

Glad you enjoyed the post, Cara. Too often we try to toe the line instead of marking the line. I think this way of thinking is dying out with the birth of indie publishing.

Gemma Juliana said...

Stephanie, I'm hooked on the Starz episodes. They feel so real, it's as if I'm there... I'm Claire. That intensity is something every author wishes to capture and create. :)

Gemma Juliana said...

Hi Judy, thanks for commenting... the great thing about Diana's books is that if you love them, now there are 8, with a promise of at least a 9th yet to come. Happy reading!

Ray said...

I've not read either author, but Rowling fascinates me in the way she got started. My 71 y/o wife reads Harry Potter. I had to wait in line at midnight to buy one of the books. I must have gotten out of the store at around 2:00 AM. During the 2008 Presidential election a girl of about ten was in line with her mother ahead of me reading one of the novels. I could not believe such a young person could read something that big. I asked her about the book. She spoke like a person much older.

Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series sounds like something I want to read. I love time travel.

I read a time travel by a local author who purposely added anachronisms and explained the fact she, being in the Civil War South, that she was from California, a wrist watch, drivers license and trying to light a room by feeling the wall for a light switch.

Gemma Juliana said...

Thanks for commenting, Ray. I think the Harry Potter books have done more for youth literacy than probably any other books.

You have a treat in store with the Outlander series...

Paris said...


I loved the post and the advice. I had no idea Diana G. solved the problem of her modern speaking heroine with time travel. Priceless:) Thanks!

Gemma Juliana said...

Hi Paris, I was amazed as well to learn that time travel was used to "fix" the modern heroine issue.

Melissa Keir said...

Thank you Gemma for sharing with us that successful writers are ones who don't give up. They are ones who kept plugging away.


Gemma Juliana said...

That's right, Melissa. Persevere no matter what. Sometimes we need to take a break, but we should get back to writing once we feel fresh again.

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