Write a Bestselling Novel Using the Dan Brown Factor

Bestselling Author of "The Da Vinci Cat"

Bestselling Author of "The Da Vinci Cat"

Welcome to our weekly guest column by Ezra Barany, the Book Mentor and author of the bestselling novel The Torah Codes. He offers indie novelists important tips, entirely under our control, to help our books be discovered by readers all over the world. This week he focuses on how to write a bestselling novel using a technique Dan Brown uses.


Dan Brown’s books are bestsellers and, in my opinion, will sell for years to come. Is it because his writing skills are brilliant?

As much I love reading his books, most people will probably say his writing skills are not what sell his books.

If not that, then what?

If you know that you’re a good writer and think that’s all you need to be for people to buy your books for the next milennia, you’re not alone. Thousands of brilliant writers have books out there but their readers aren’t buying.

Is there some way to make sure those first readers of your book will suggest your novel to their friends? There is, but it means sucking in that pride and asking, “What would Dan Brown do?”

What Would Dan Brown Do?

Dan Brown’s most famous book, The Da Vinci Code, was, in my mind, a lot of fun. By the time I finished reading it, I felt like Dan Brown personally took my hand and led me through an adventure. And I’ve had that feeling from a lot of fun thriller writers, ones that people have never even heard of.

Yet people kept talking about The Da Vinci Code. Was it really that much better than other thrillers?

Yes. And here’s why: It had a message.

No. That’s not it. Almost all the thrillers I’ve read had a message. Drug trafficking is bad, child prostitution is horrible, etc. Having a message in your story does not do enough to make people spread the word about your book.

Dan Brown’s novel had controversy.

His controversial statement was that Jesus had kids and you can meet some of the descendants of Jesus even today. Anyone who cares about their Christian faith will not be taking that information lightly!

Drug trafficking and child prostitution are not controversial topics. Don’t get me wrong, drug trafficking and child prostitution are awful, but who would disagree? Who would say, “I don’t think so! I think drug trafficking is a perfectly normal, healthy part of life”? No one I know, (thankfully).

When I wrote The Torah Codes, I wrote about something most people will want to disagree with. Embedded in the story, I present scientific proof of G-d’s existence and proof that She wrote the Torah, the Five Books of Moses.

In my next thriller novel, I’ll be presenting something even more bothersome. (Why “bothersome?” I’d rather not believe that G-d wrote the Torah, but I’m a scientist and arguing against the results of replicated experiments which followed the scientific method would make me a hypocrite. So even though it bothers the hell out of me, I know that G-d wrote the Torah.)

The point is if you have controversy in your story, you are much more likely to have your readers spread the word about your book.

What’s Good Controversy?

So what’s considered good controversy? Follow these three rules on how to offer good controversy.

1. Be a contrarian — Incorporate in your story something you firmly believe but goes against what most believe. What is that one secret you don’t share about yourself among polite society? Do you know that Elvis is still alive? Are you into BDSM? Do you have evidence that Lincoln was poisoned before he was shot? Whatever it is, it must be something you know to be true or truly represents you.

2. Be able to back it up — It’s not enough to say you saw Elvis. You have to have the characters in your story find FBI and US Marshall documents, documents that exist in real life, which show how he needed to be placed in the Witness Protection program when becoming an informant to help a Federal investigation. Yes, I just made that up, but if you do have in your hot little hands such documents, people will be floored at your story being based on true facts. Add a Fact page at the beginning or end of the book (depending on how much your fact page gives away your story) listing what facts your story is based on to make your story genuine.

3. Be a priority – When a reader talks to a friend, they’ll mention the most important thing(s) on their mind. If your story isn’t one of their most important things, they won’t mention it to their friends. If your controversy is that most toothpastes increase tooth decay, that may be interesting but not exactly as important as how Johnny got an A on his last physics exam and how there’s a new city tax on all residents whose last names start with F.

I knew someone who, when I mentioned something uninteresting, he handed me a quarter and said, “Here’s a quarter. Call someone who cares.” (He lost a lot of quarters!) When you come up with that part of you which is controversial, ask yourself if people even care.

A good question to ask your friends and strangers is, “If I convinced you that [mention your controversial statement], would that be one of the top three things you’d share with your friends when chatting with them?”

What if you already finished your manuscript?

What if you already finished your manuscript without any controversy and you’re thinking about publishing next? Isn’t it too late to add controversy? Not at all!

In my book The Torah Codes, I have only two short chapters devoted to explaining what the Torah codes are. Two other chapters mention the codes in passing.

In my next book, my controversy doesn’t support the plot of the story but it does show off the character’s arc and highlights the book’s message.

Ideally, the controversy should be entwined with the story, but if your story’s already done, consider incorporating your controversy into the message of your book. Add a chapter or two to identify the controversy, then weave traces of it through the rest of your book to support your book’s message.

Instead of having a character reflect on how she stopped that head of government Harry from his drug trafficking and all the ill effects the drug trafficking caused, have her think about how she’s still glad about stopping Harry,  even though the money was used to fund a cure for cancer. Because drug trafficking is wrong no matter what the money’s used for.

Imagine how it would be to cite a credible source on your Facts page proving our government found a cure for cancer with drug trafficking money! My guess is there are a lot of people who would make that information a priority and, to their skeptical friends, would recommend your book. And no, the government didn’t really do that, I just made it up. Your controversy, however, must be true (to you).

So when you write your novel, be a contrarian by offering controversy, be able to back it up, and make sure it will be a priority in your readers’ lives.



Book marketing mentor, Ezra Barany is the author of the award-winning bestseller, The Torah Codes. Contact Ezra today to begin the conversation on how he can help you now via FacebookTwitter, or contact him through this blog, or email: EZRA at THETORAHCODES dot COM.

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  • Great post! I am heading down that road. Have a question about length for memoir. I know there have been some incredibly short books that had success long ago, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” and “Jonathan Livingston Seagull.” I am concerned my book will not be 50,000+ words. I’m not a person that thinks words should be added just as filler. My story will take as many words as it takes. I’m moving forward, trying not to be concerned about length. Any thoughts?

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