The author of 'The Da Vinci Code' nearly crumbled under the weight of 250 million readers' expectations - until he reminded himself of the strategy he'd used all along

dan brown masterclassMasterClassBestselling author Dan Brown.MasterClass

  • Dan Brown is one of the world's top best-selling authors, with 250 million books sold.
  • In 2003, the success of his book "The Da Vinci Code" broke a string of flops for him.
  • He was only able to navigate the noise that came with a sudden increase of attention by learning to trust his instincts and not try to please everyone.
  • "Wait a minute," he finally told himself. "Just write the book you want to read. That's all you've ever been doing."

Ahead of the release of his fourth novel, "The Da Vinci Code," in 2003, Dan Brown took a galley copy of the book to the park and read the whole thing. If it was another flop, he was going to try something else with his career.

Not only was the book a success - it was an international phenomenon, and Brown quickly became one of the world's top bestselling authors. Since then, he's written three more thrillers, and in total he's sold 250 million books.

But the success of "The Da Vinci Code," while welcome, was initially strange for Brown. He had become accustomed to struggling to find an audience for his work, and now he had to learn how to navigate his next moves with all eyes on him.

He was only able to move forward when he learned he could trust himself, he said in an episode of Business Insider's podcast "This Is Success.

"You have to trust yourself," he said, noting that, "you have a lot of people whispering in your ear, telling you which way to go, telling you you're good, telling you you're bad. You've got reviewers saying, 'This is the best book ever'; you've got reviewers saying, 'This is the worst book ever.'"

He remembered sitting down to start his next book, which would become 2009's "The Lost Symbol," and struggling for a couple of weeks. "I would write a paragraph and say, 'Well, now millions of people are going to read this. Is it good enough?' I would delete it." He said it felt like a baseball player in a slump, striking out because he was thinking of the mechanics of his swing rather than going through intuition.

Of course, Brown did learn lessons that made his writing work - it's why he even has a MasterClass series breaking down his favorite techniques - but if he had taken in every criticism he received, he never could have moved forward. He said that he finds it similar to an executive considering input from others but ultimately being responsible for the final decision, instead of being reactionary.

He said that at some point in his post-success slump he told himself: "Wait a minute. Just write the book you want to read. That's all you've ever been doing."

Subscribe to "This Is Success" on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever you listen. You can find the full Dan Brown episode below.
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