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A lesson from the bestsellers: What are you waiting for?

June 19, 2011 | 10:00 am

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You have four unpublished novels in boxes under your bed, and you're pretty sure that one of them is a bestseller. Thankfully, your ego is pretty healthy, so all of those rejection letters from publishers are just grist for your determination. You scan the Los Angeles Times’ fiction bestseller list and find something interesting. You wonder what, if anything, do the following five bestselling authors have in common? What can their stories tell you about getting your masterpiece published? They are:

-- Michael Connelly, born in Ontario, Canada, in 1956. He was introduced to crime writing by his homemaker mother and, inspired by Raymond Chandler, wrote about crime for the Fort Lauderdale News and, later, for the Los Angeles Times. He’s won a Pulitzer, an Edgar and several other awards. His first novel, "The Black Echo," was published in 1992 when he was 36.

-- Charlaine Harris, born in Mississippi in 1951. She wrote poems and plays before mysteries. Her first book, "Sweet and Deadly," was published in 1981 when she was 30. She has won the Agatha and many other awards for her fiction.

-- Jo Nesbo, born in 1960 in Norway. He worked as a journalist and stockbroker before publishing his first book, "The Bat Man," in 1997, when he was 37. He has also won an Edgar.

-- James Patterson, born in 1947 in Newburgh, N.Y. He began writing after a career in advertising. His first novel, "Along Came a Spider," was published in 1993, when he was 46. He has won an Edgar and many other awards as well.

-- Geraldine Brooks, born in 1955 in Australia. She was a journalist and wrote her first book (nonfiction), "Nine Parts of Desire," in 1994 when she was 39. She won a Pulitzer for her 2005 novel, "March."

Did you figure it out? What we’ve got is this: All of these writers are now over 50, and all were at least in their 30s when their first books were published. All have received high honors: Edgars, Agathas and Pulitzers.  Three of the five have worked as journalists (the others were a poet and an ad exec). All of them hit the ground running, meaning their first books were well received. Four of the five published their first books in the 1990s, the last golden years of big publishing. All of their current books, with the exception of Brooks’, are mysteries.

The most important things to consider, however, may be the questions that they ask you: What have you learned from their stories? Is time on your side? What are you doing with those boxed novels under your bed? What are you waiting for?

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Los Angeles Times bestsellers list

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-- Susan Salter Reynolds

Photo: Author Michael Connelly. Credit: Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times

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