Business Authors: Lessons from Tom Clancy

Oct 7, 2013 | Writing A Book

Very few authors have sold 100 million books, or picked up licensing fees for video games and movie scripts. Tom Clancy did that. Even fewer have invented a genre. Tom Clancy did that, too, inventing the genre of “techno-thriller.”

Clancy died last week at 66 and his obituaries covered the details of his life and achievements. The New York Times headline was matter-of-fact:”Tom Clancy, Best-Selling Master of Military Thrillers, Dies at 66.” The Wall Street Journal got a better handle on the nature of Clancy’s achievements with, “Author Crafted Thrillers and Created a Franchise.”

The odds are pretty good that neither one of us will wind up matching Tom Clancy’s achievements as a fiction writer. But if you’re thinking about writing a book of any kind, you can learn a lot from Clancy’s work.

The story’s the thing. Even though Clancy is lauded for his accuracy and technical detail, we read his novels all the way to the end because of the stories. Stories are the most human way to communicate.

Technical details can embed themselves in stories. When that happens, the details are learned right along with the story line. Be careful though, too many details can bog down the story. Deborah Grosvenor, Clancy’s first editor, thought there were too many details in The Hunt for Red October. The version we got to read was about a hundred pages lighter than the first draft.

Passion helps the work go smoother. Evidently, Clancy skipped right over the usual children’s literature and immersed himself in publications like The Naval Institute Proceedings and technical manuals. Passion is the fuel for the attention to detail that drives great writing.

You can learn a lot from public sources. In the military, they call it “Open Source Intelligence.” Writers just call it research. There’s an awful lot of data and information just lying around in public sources. Find it and then use it in your writing.

No matter what you write, a book, articles or blog posts, you writing will get better results if you learn from one of the great popular fiction writers of all time.