aprilhenry (aprilhenry) wrote,

How Harlan Coben reached the pinnacle

The Atlantic has a really long look at the career of mystery and thriller writer Harlan Coben. I met him at my very first Bouchercon. He had just signed a huge deal for Tell No One and was pretty much the talk of the conference.

Some excerpts:
“Neither of his first two books reached a large audience—the print run of each was fewer than 4,000 copies—but his advances and sales on the Bolitar books, which followed, gradually grew. He got a two-book advance of $10,000 for Deal Breaker (print run: 15,000) and a second Bolitar novel. He worked with, then left, two agents while writing the first four Bolitar books, which had been published as bargain-priced paperback originals; but he shopped around the idea for the fifth, One False Move, and landed with his current agent, Vance.”

““A little fan base was already building by then,” Vance says. “When you’re published in original mass market”—those airport-shop-sized paperbacks—“your chances of getting reviewed are slim. But he was always very good at putting himself out there. In the publishing community, editors knew who he was. He’d go to award things and writers’ events. Sometimes I think that personal connection really makes a difference.”The roots of Coben’s work ethic seem to lie not in perfectionism, or in a relationship with an inner muse, but in his determination to rise to the top of the heap. “When I was just starting out, I hated signing in local malls, because no one was there,” he says. “It made me write so hard. I didn’t want to be there anymore. The same thing at Bouchercon”—a convention for crime novelists, their publishers, and their fans. “All the writers there were so bitter. I didn’t like being in that boat. I would just go home and write”—he curled his fists and appeared to press down, almost as though he had an imaginary jackhammer in front of him—“so much harder and harder.””

““It’s not like I’m an artist,” he said. “If this book doesn’t do well, and I say to my publisher, ‘I want the freedom to do what I want,’ well, they might say, ‘We want the freedom to take back some of this money.’” (Though Coben makes clear that his publisher has never given him anything but complete freedom.) At another bookstore talk, Coben made fun of “the kind of writer who says”—here, he adopted a mopey zombie’s voice—“‘I only write for myself; I don’t care who reads it.’ That’s like saying, ‘I only talk to myself; I don’t care who’s listening.’”

Read the whole thing here.

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