The poor publishing world; to be threatened by the likes of (gag) Dan Brown.
Ok, I know this is no laughing matter. If I learned one thing from all those professionals at the Summer Publishing Institute, it’s that blockbusters can make or break an author, an editor and a publishing house. And in an age when most books don’t sell out their advances, a house needs at least one money horse like Dan Brown, Stephen King and J.K. Rowling so that the little guys–the first novelists who barely sell 10,000 copies–can see their books in Barnes and Noble too.
And so I understand the frenzy surrounding Brown’s latest book, The Lost Symbol, to be released by Doubleday Sept. 15. Doubleday is crossing their fingers, toes and everything else, hoping that it’ll be a bestseller: they have, after all, printed 6.5 million copies for its first run in English. Yikes. Other publishers are rightly sweating, especially if they also have big plans for September releases. In fact, a lot of big books are scheduled to be released this September (this fall season is rumored to be bigger than ever), and they’re all slightly freaking out at the thought of competing with Brown. How are authors like Terry Brooks and Larry McMurty, two giant names who nearly always sell well, going to get noticed if Brown is dominating the dwindling number of media outlets that cover books?
For this reason, Brooks and McMurty’s publishers (Del Rey and Simon & Schuster, respectively) have pushed their pub dates up a few days (both were scheduled to be released Sept. 15 as well). Neither publisher will admit Brown is the culprit–claiming that pub dates are always changed (which is true)–but we all know the reason. In fact, someone let slip that publishers were calling Sept. 15 DB-Day.
I’m not going to come down too hard on Dan Brown in this case. I like my literary blockbuster, just like everyone else. I won’t hide the fact that I’m completely addicted to the works of Stephen King, and I was just as obsessed with Harry Potter as the kids who painted lightening scars on their foreheads (for the record, I never did that). Just because it’s big doesn’t mean it’s bad. Plus, the reason Dan Brown is a blockbuster is because A LOT of people are reading him. That means A LOT of people are reading, which is a-OK in my book.
However, this does not mean that every blockbuster is good either. After The Da Vinci Code explosion had time to simmer down, I took a stab at both it and Angels and Demons. I don’t normally say this, but it was the worst waste of my reading time in quite awhile. I’ll admit that Brown’s books are action-packed, fast-paced and include plot points that are mildly interesting (it was the Vatican thing that drew me in, and I don’t mind a good conspiracy theory every now and then). But the writing was simply atrocious. The dialogue was forced and stuffy, and the prose was laughable. Some people like this, and I know that my tastes tend to be a bit on the snobby side. But I went into this with low expectations. This didn’t even live up to them.
I probably won’t run into this problem too many times, though. Other than Stephen King and J.K. Rowling, I tend not to read the Danielle Steeles or James Pattersons of the world. And I refuse, on principle, to even touch the Twilight series. So in one way, Dan Brown is a book killer: people think his terrible writing is comparable with quality literature, which thereby lowers the IQ of the general population. But that is the fault of every writer that writes a bad book; Brown is only more at fault because he’s popular. Will The Lost Symbol suck just as much as his first two blockbusters? Of course. But is he a book killer just because he’s popular? Of course not.