4 years ago



O n March 18, 2003,

O n March 18, 2003, readers of the New York Times can barely escape her worldfamous smile: almost every section of the paper features an image of the Mona Lisa with the headline “Why is this man smiling?” The ads promise an answer to the enigmatic question at the back of the Arts section. But there, readers merely fi nd information about a new book on sale. Any publisher willing to launch such a teaser campaign needs money and certainty. Ads in the New York Times sell for six-digit sums, after all. Such extensive advertising for a publication launch is unusual. Normally, publishers only go out on a limb like this for celebrity authors or established bestselling writers. But a non-bestselling author receiving this kind of sendoff in the New York Times is practically unheard of. Dan Brown may have written three previous novels, but none of them managed to sell more than 10,000 copies. Why should his fourth book do any better? Its protagonist is even the same as – 26 – THE MAKING OF AN EPIC BESTSELLER Cracking the code An author in search of success, and a determined editor. When this duo makes a career move, they get to enjoy the advantage of how a publisher uses clever marketing strategies to turn their new book into a mega-bestseller. The story behind Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code.” that in Brown’s second book: Robert Langdon, a Harvard professor and symbologist. The only difference is that, this time, Brown is with a new U.S. publisher – Doubleday, an imprint of Random House. People there really believe in his new book, so much so that they’re willing to commit to an unprecedented marketing strategy. “It was a very unusual move,” admits then Doubleday Associate Publisher and now Senior V.P. Publishing Suzanne Herz. By this point, Random House had already done a lot of work behind the scenes to arouse interest in “The Da Vinci Code” among sales representatives, booksellers, reviewers, and broadcasters. But before all this happened, Dan Brown had to fi nd his way to Random House. And that had a lot to do with his editor, Jason Kaufman. It’s the fall of 2000, and Kaufman is working for a different publisher – and he’s frustrated. “I believed in my authors and the books on my list, but for whatever reason, there hadn’t been a lot of successes,” he remembers. One of those authors was Dan Brown. Kaufman believed in him particularly strongly, but Brown’s most recent book had sold only 8,000 hardcover copies. The ambitious editor can’t understand it, and makes the decision to try his luck at a new publisher – Doubleday. In spring 2001, Kaufman shows his new boss, Bill Thomas, Doubleday’s editor-in-chief, the proposal for Dan Brown’s new book, and urges signing a contract for it. Thomas immediately agrees. Brown is offered a lucrative contract for his next two books, a great vote of confi dence considering his previous sales. There is interest from other publishers as well, but Brown decides to stick with his trusted editor, Kaufman, and moves to Doubleday and Random House to be with him. “Doubleday felt like a terrifi c fi t,” Kaufman said, “and Dan agreed.” Over the course of a year, Brown writes and Kaufman edits the fi rst pages of “The Da Vinci Code.” When publishing colleagues read the entire manuscript in spring 2002, they’re unanimous that it’s got the makings of a huge bestseller. Doubleday gets an early start on a campaign to pique interest in the unknown author; they don’t want Brown’s book to get lost in a sea of new titles. At a summer sales conference, for example, Brown is invited to talk with sales reps about his fascination with

symbols and codes – and the role they’ll play in his new book. A short while later, the publisher sends the modest, charming Brown to meet with executives at the headquarters of the biggest book retailers in the US. He tells them about his forthcoming thriller, and the curiosity and enthusiasm grows. Random House prints and distributes more than 10,000 advance reader copies – normally, this number is just 3,000, even for established bestselling authors. The strategy works. Advance orders start climbing. Bookseller Barnes & Noble alone orders 75,000 copies. That’s already 40,000 copies more than the initial planned fi rst print run for all of North America. The enthusiasm among booksellers is so great, that they even band together to suggest their own marketing measures for the book – another atypical occurrence. The ad campaign in the New York Times to mark the launch of “The Da Vinci Code” thus lands on fertile ground, which has been amply primed with expectation. And those expectations aren’t disappointed. In the fi rst week, more than 10 percent of the 230,000 copies printed are sold, and “The Da Vinci Code” stuns the publish- 1 | Doubleday editor Jason Kaufman with bestselling author Dan Brown 2 | The successful duo with Suzanne Herz and editor-in-chief Bill Thomas 3 | The Doubleday marketing team at a meeting in their New York office 1 1 2 The Mona Lisa – a man? With this surprising advertising campaign in the New York Times in March 2003, Random House launches Dan Brown’s new thriller, “The Da Vinci Code“ ing world by hitting the New York Times bestseller list at #1. While most bestsellers have their best sales weeks shortly after they’ve been launched, sales of “The Da Vinci Code” keep growing, week after week. In addition to a riveting book, an allencompassing marketing strategy plays an important role in this development. When ABC-TV airs a documenta- 3 ry titled “Jesus, Mary and Da Vinci,” the publishers ensure that Brown makes a live appearance on the station’s morning television program. There, he reveals that the book jacket on his new bestseller contains a code. Anyone that cracks it could win a trip to Paris. During this week, sales of the book surpass the previous sales record – at a time when the book has already been in stores for 33 weeks. When Dan Brown’s next book, “The Lost Symbol” is published in fall 2009, “The Da Vinci Code” is one of the most successful books of all time, having sold more than 80 million copies worldwide and been translated into more than 50 languages. “We continue to benefi t enormously from the tremendous editorial partnership between Dan and Jason and from the entrepreneurial publishing campaign Doubleday created and implemented for ‘The Da Vinci Code,’” says Markus Dohle, Chairman and CEO of Random House and member of the executive board at Bertelsmann. Just how much the publisher profi ted can be seen in sales of “The Lost Symbol”: the new thriller sold a million copies in its fi rst 24 hours on the market. That’s a record. – 27 –

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