I am beginning to think that there are only two ways to go if you're (a) intending to make a career as a writer, and (b) really smart. And, come to think of it, these two ways may be two sides of the same coin.
Method one: work as a ghost. Forget about 'making your name'. Instead, team up with someone -- or possibly a succession of people -- who are already names. Celebrities who want to 'write' an autobiography or a how-to book. Or, better yet, celebrities who want to write a series of novels.
The only other smart way to plan a career as a writer is to build a brand. Agatha Christie got to that point, towards the end of her career. She'd been around pretty much for ever, doing a book or two a year, and everyone knew exactly what to expect. And of course, she did it supremely well, which helps. But the point about strategy two is that you set out, from the beginning, to write in a particular genre and to make yourself a brand name in that genre, preferably by doing two or more books a year. None of this sitting around for a couple of years and 'finding your theme'.
These thoughts have been in my head for quite along time, and have been mentioned, or implied, in this blog more than once. However, what concentrated my mind was M.J. Rose's link to an article about James Patterson. Seems that Professor John Deighton has been examining the case of James Patterson from a branding point of view. And the resulting discussion is quite informative.