Latest “Symbol” in Book Publishing

As August begins to wind down, readers—those in publishing and even pop culture fans—are gearing up for what is commonly being trumpeted as the book of 2009: Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol, on sale September 15.

For some, the “gearing up” mentioned above may be excitement, trepidation, or even fear. As the sequel to Brown’s blockbuster hit The Da Vinci Code (best-selling adult novel of all time), The Lost Symbol has big shoes and high expectations to fill. Already secure in Amazon’s #1 best-selling position with more than two weeks until pub date, there undoubtedly will be quite a backlash if the reported first global English-language printing of 6.5 million isn’t well received.

The expected mega-hit will make or break the month (maybe even year, if things proceed as anticipated) for Doubleday (imprint of Random House). But what about the other publishers with books sharing Brown’s on-sale date?

In the bookstore happy world, I like to imagine buyers wandering in to their favorite bookstores across the country, maybe first picking up Brown’s latest hit but then wondering around with their copy securely tucked under their arm, to see what else strikes their fancy.

Instead of publishers being scared by this book’s appearance, as Sara Nelson at The Daily Beast discusses in a column titled “Dan Brown: Book Killer,” I think it should be embraced, as traffic into stores and online book sellers should never be perceived as negative. Instead of Nelson’s description of “scuttling like cockroaches”, I would expect to see more money invested in co-op advertising and placement (though as Nelson notes, this umbrella effect didn’t take place during the Harry Potter frenzy).

Entertainment Weekly takes a more positive approach by pointing out the obvious – Dan Brown is not just an author, but a pop culture icon, competing with the publicity of celebrity news and current events, not necessarily cutting into the more specific book-focused attention. The example used is the crowd heading to purchase Nick Hornby’s upcoming Juliet, Naked won’t change their mind and instead buy Brown’s latest.

While of course I wish the hoopla and media frenzy was geared toward a book found on my own lists, I am thrilled by the activity THE LOST SYMBOL is inspiring. I admit to giving in to the pressure and pre-ordering. For those of you who don’t give in to pop culture, you may want to try other smart, action-packed with historical fiction titles featuring “boffin-as-hero” à l à Brown’s Professor Langdon with new voices Daniel Levin (The Last Ember) and Chris Kuzneski (The Lost Throne).

When you do pick up The Lost Symbol whether it be in your online shopping cart or in your tote bag, be generous and grab another title, since after publication date I will be writing a follow-up article discussing the (hopefully positive!) impact of this single novel.

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