I got the November issue of Wired magazine in my office last week, and was pleased to see that it included an interview with Orson Scott Card, author of Ender’s Game and many other great science fiction stories and books. I consider Ender’s Game one of the top ten science fiction stories of all time.
At one point in the interview, Card is asked, “Of all your work over the past three decades, why has Ender endured so well?” Card’s reply didn’t surprise me, much: “If I knew, I would do it again. I don’t, but I have some ideas.”
Orson Scott Card is not alone is having his greatest success at the beginning of his career. Many of Stephen King’s followers consider The Stand his greatest achievement, a book that was written several decades ago. And look, unfortunately, at M. Night Shyalaman’s work. He had some wonderful films; unfortunately they were his early ones.
In some cases, I think it is a matter of creative people using their best idea first, and then running out of ideas. They often say that mathematicians do their best work in their 20s, simply because that’s when the fresh ideas come. And I see that with writers as well. Often it’s a matter of one or two great ideas at the beginning, with the rest of their career a matter of capitalizing on those earlier ideas.
In my own case, my first book, 52 Things to Do on Sabbath, was published in 1983. Since that time it has sold more than 30,000 copies. My second book, If Tomorrow Comes, is in its second edition and currently sells about twice as much as all of my other books combined. It can be frustrating, especially if you are looking for that best seller that never seems to come.
That’s not to say that there aren’t exceptions to this early success rule. But on the other hand, there is no magic formula to make it happen. It’s a matter of learning from your mistakes, doing your best, and trying again and again and again.
Sure, I would love to have a best seller. But for now, I am just content with the opportunity and ability to keep writing books that I can enjoy writing and other can hopefully enjoy reading.