Even if you’ve never read Dean Koontz’s books, you’ve certainly seen them around. Whether in airports, used bookshops, or your aunt’s living room, the work of Koontz litters shelves and stands all over the world. It makes sense, too. At age 70, Dean Koontz has placed himself among the top twenty best-selling authors of all time, with more books in circulation than either Stephen King or James Patterson.
Dean Koontz’s website states that the author’s work has sold an incredible 450 million copies. His latest work was the novel Ashley Bell, published at the end of last year. Like many of his books, it was a New York Times bestseller, and extended a successful and still-prolific career.
His beginnings were not particularly advantageous for an author. His father was a drunk and a philanderer. Koontz recalls moments in his youth when his house would get a post-midnight call from the barkeep, telling him and his mother to pick up the man up who was too drunk to drive, perhaps even too drunk to move. He and his mother would walk the few miles to the bar (being that his father had the only car) and pack him in the vehicle and take him home.
Koontz had always been storyteller. He wrote an eleven-page story at the age of eight, and won an encouraging writing contest as a senior in college. When he entered the workforce, he got jobs in social work and then in teaching, still keeping writing in mind, practicing his craft on nights and weekends. They were hard-working years, but again they probably always were. Koontz still professes to work at least ten hours a day.
It can’t be called a big break, but one formative instance might be called a big opportunity. His wife, Gerda, proposed to him that she was to support their household for five years while he pursued writing. If five years wasn’t enough, she said, then no amount of time will make a difference. By the time this period was over, Gerda was able to leave her job to manage her husband’s booming new career. 2016 marks the long-running couple's fiftieth anniversary.
Part of the success of Koontz’s work owes itself to his versatility of genre. The majority of his readership appreciates him for his suspense novels, although he started his career writing science fiction. His suspense thrillers carry elements of horror, mystery, and even satire. Any fan of Dean Koontz will surely note his adroitness with humor and comedy.
In addition to his multifaceted work, there’s something to be said about the sheer bulk of it. Like many prolific writers, new-coming readers don’t know where to start, and critics get confused, too. There may be drawbacks, but perhaps Koontz explains his side of the story best himself:
When a young and unknown writer routinely completes more than one book per year, publishers urge him to use a pen name--or names--for what they view as excess production. They believe that critics will dismiss the work of a prolific writer without even reading it, assuming it is piffle. Many critics do, indeed, respond this way, even though Henry James--the litterateur's litterateur--produced over a hundred and twenty books in his lifetime, and though writers from Shakespeare to Dickens to Joyce Carol Oates have proved that one can produce quantity with quality.
As a successful and established writer, Koontz does well to help his fanbase whenever possible. His website is a rich resource, and reveals the author has an evident fondness for collectors of his work. Building a Koontz collection can be slightly dizzying (and occasionally dangerous) and his website wants to make sure you’re prepared. “Collectors of Dean’s works have to wade through a great deal of misinformation about his writing,” the official Dean Koontz website writes, “Some misinformation consists of honest mistakes made by bibliographers and book dealers; but some of it is intentionally meant to mislead collectors so that items not of his authorship can be peddled to them at inflated prices.” Part of what makes collecting challenging is his use of pen names, which includes pseudonyms like David Axton, K.R. Dwyer, John Hill, and more. In an even greater gesture to protect fans against scams, owners of Dean Koontz’s personal letters are permitted to send a copy to his P.O. box in Newport Beach, CA for him to confirm or deny its authenticity.
As you may know, there are plenty of living writers who care about their readers. But how refreshing (and unexpected) that one of the most successful and busy authors in the world would afford such care and priority to his collectors. Perhaps, with his passion for literature and a personal library of over 40,000 books, he knows he is one of them.