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Waiting for D-Day: Will Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol Be a Mega-Hit?

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How would it feel to be Dan Brown right now? I'm talking about the Dan Brown responsible for writing the DaVinci Code, the book that sold more than 80 million copies. After five long years (at least for his publisher, Doubleday), Brown is back with The Lost Symbol, which will be released in hardcover and electronic versions simultaneously. The Sept. 15 publication date has taken on such prominence it's being called D-Day within the industry.

Depending on how you feel about Dan Brown and his books it’s either a day that will provide a much-needed boost to the book industry, or, if you’re not a fan, it’s a great occasion to mock. Consider “Accounts Payable and Demons,” or “Brown-Out,” or “5 Million Reasons the day stood still,” all courtesy of GalleyCat blog, which invited readers to submit their own profound – or profane – suggestions for the hyped-up day.

Sloganeering and snarking aside, Sept. 15 is a big day. The publishing industry has seen sales flatten during the past year. The Book Industry Trends report for 2009 forecasts revenue growth of 1.8 percent in 2009. The industry’s greatest hope for turning around slow sales is pinned on Brown's book, which will have a record-setting 6.5 million print run world-wide. That's a lot of pressure. According to his website, Brown spent five years researching this book, and all those years served to raise the bar in terms of expectations for The Lost Symbol  to equal, if not better, his previous books’ sales. Then, when the economy took a hit during the past year and book sales floundered, Dan Brown was hailed as the potential savior.

It’s been quiet on Brown’s end, but that’s not unusual as the author tends to be reclusive. A revamped, interactive website is up and running. In June, to build and maintain the buzz until the book is on the shelves, the publisher began dropping clues to fans via cryptic tweets on the social networking site Twitter. Brown also has a Facebook fan page with more than 70,000 fans to date, many of whom share trivia about topics covered in Brown’s books, such as Freemasonry (a topic of forthcoming The Lost Symbol). Beginning this week, the Today show will hold a week-long treasure hunt that offers viewers’ clues to the top-secret locations that are integral to the book. The answers will be revealed Sept. 16, the day after book sales start.

The hype began in earnest last May at Book Expo America. Dan Brown was not there, nor were there advance review copies of his book. However, two huge banners promoting The Lost Symbol hung in the main lobby of the Javits Center to remind everyone of D-Day, using a simple illustration of a lock surrounded by chains and anchored by the date 9.15.09.

Then, last week, approximately 14 days before the much-anticipated book release, Amazon.com’s front page featured a letter from the online bookseller’s CEO Jeff Bezos, who revealed that copies of the much-sought-after book were being kept under “24-hour guard.” Since advance copies, while much in demand, are not available, everyone’s talking about how no one can obtain a copy of the book. It’s a great publicity tactic!

What makes this ongoing buzz interesting is the dueling theories about whether The Lost Symbol can actually help — or will hurt – other books’ sales. The Daily Beast’s Sara Nelson (former editor-in-chief of Publisher’s Weekly), notes that the record-setting Harry Potter book sales did not increase sales for other books. As a result, several big name bestselling authors who had fall releases, such as Pat Conroy and Larry McMurtry, did not want to be overshadowed by D-Day. Conroy’s book, currently #2 on the New York Times Bestseller list, and McMurtry’s book, were released last month.

Not all agree that The Lost Symbol will dampen the prospects for other books' sales. Many booksellers, in particular, are excited about D-Day. National Public Radio’s recent segment on fall books included an interesting discussion about the impact Dan Brown, just by his name alone, will have on stores and sales. Tattered Cover’s lead buyer agreed that Brown’s reputation will bring people into the stores, and then store staff will steer those customers to the other great titles that are on the shelves. Just call him Dan Brown, the “one-man stimulus package.”

Of course if it doesn’t work out as hoped (or hyped), Dan Brown could become known as Dan Bust. You can bet there will be many – authors, booksellers, publishers, and book lovers among them – who will be rooting for Brown to set some sales records and spread some good karma to other books on Sept. 15.

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About Paula Krapf

  • http://www.assemblagist.org Val MacEwan

    Interesting article! Brown’s “Da Vinci” release was a study in advertising and PR and he learned quite a bit from its successful release strategy. Good luck to him. I hope this works, for the industry as well as for Brown. Hype is America’s middle name.

    I enjoy his books.