Monday, January 28, 2008

The Wait of the World's on Dan Brown
'Da Vinci Code' Author Has Sluggish Publishing Industry In Suspense Over Follow-Up
By Jeffrey Trachtenberg writing in The Wall Street Journal, January 25, 2008;

Dan Brown's 2003 novel "The Da Vinci Code" was the biggest publishing event in decades, a global best-seller that spawned dozens of literary knockoffs, a cottage industry of explanatory nonfiction titles, and a vast European tourism business focused on sites mentioned in the book.

Now that Harry Potter -- the only bigger publishing phenomenon of the age -- is retired, no book has been as eagerly awaited as Mr. Brown's next novel, purported to be about freemasonry and the Founding Fathers. The problem is, it is still awaited...and awaited...and awaited.
The whole industry is impatient. Book sales are generally sluggish, and one explosive, high-profile title can jump-start sales across the board as customers pour into the stores and walk out with a bagful of titles. When Bertelsmann AG reports 2007 results in March, it will be the first time since 2002 that it didn't get a boost from "The Da Vinci Code."

Meanwhile, the nation's biggest retailers can barely restrain themselves. "We're constantly asking," says Bob Wietrak, vice president of merchandising at Barnes & Noble Inc.
So where is the new novel? It's a mystery worthy of the deepest secrets of the Knights Templar. Mr. Brown, holed up in New Hampshire, isn't saying. His agent, Heide Lange, isn't, either.
"When a major author doesn't deliver, you get down on your knees and pray," says Laurence Kirshbaum, a book agent who heads up LJK Literary Management in New York. "You can't threaten, you can't cajole, you wait."

Back in November 2004, a spokeswoman for Doubleday said the target publishing date for Mr. Brown's next book was 2005, although she noted that "there are no guarantees."
Now, the publisher is hinting that a manuscript is close. "Dan Brown has a very specific release date for the publication of his new book, and when the book is published, his readers will see why," says Stephen Rubin, president of Bertelsmann's Doubleday Broadway Publishing Group, whose Doubleday imprint publishes Mr. Brown. Mr. Rubin declined further comment.
What date could that be? Since some of the leaders of the American Revolution were masons, including George Washington, an obvious reference point would be July Fourth. In addition to it being Independence Day, the cornerstone of the Washington Monument was laid on July 4, 1848 in a ceremony hosted by the Freemasons.

There are other more obscure dates that could be significant, however: On Sept. 18, 1793, President Washington led a Masonic parade down Pennsylvania Avenue to lay the cornerstone of the U.S. Capitol. It is considered one of the most important events in Masonic history. A third choice? The cornerstone of the White House was laid on Oct. 13, 1792, during a Masonic celebration. (On that date in 1307, the King of France ordered the arrest of Knights Templar. There has been speculation connecting the Knights and the origins of the Masons, although the matter is in question.)

Mr. Brown's publisher said several years ago that the next book is tentatively titled "The Solomon Key." In an undated post on his Web site, Mr. Brown writes that it is "set deep within the oldest fraternity in history...the enigmatic brotherhood of the Masons." Elsewhere on the site, he notes that Robert Langdon, a fictional Harvard symbologist who first appeared in Mr. Brown's second book "Angels & Demons" and was played by Tom Hanks in the movie version of "The Da Vinci Code," will "find himself embroiled in a mystery on U.S. soil. This new novel explores the hidden history of our nation's capital."
Up until now, Mr. Brown wrote his books in quick succession: the first, "Digital Fortress," was published in 1998; followed by "Angels & Demons" in 2000, "Deception Point" in 2001, and "The Da Vinci Code" in 2003.
The first three books sold modestly when first released, but the fourth -- about the search for the real meaning of the Holy Grail and the bloodline of Jesus -- was one of the most remarkable stories in publishing history. There are more than 80 million copies in print world-wide, according to Ms. Lange. It served as the basis of a blockbuster movie of the same name, released in 2006. Mr. Brown's earlier titles subsequently became wildly popular, too, each of them selling millions. "Angels & Demons" has 39 million in print.

Mr. Brown's income from all four books, including "The Da Vinci Code" and revenue from the film, has made him a rich man. Forbes magazine estimated Mr. Brown earned $88 million between June 2005 and June 2006, minus management, agent and attorney fees. Dan Burstein, editor of the best-seller "Secrets of the Code: The Unauthorized Guide to the Mysteries Behind The Da Vinci Code," thinks Mr. Brown may have earned as much as $250 million to $300 million from all related properties.

Many writers have struggled. Charles Frazier, whose debut Civil War novel, "Cold Mountain," was published in 1997 and won the National Book Award, needed nearly a decade to deliver "Thirteen Moons," published in 2006. Although "Thirteen Moons" generated some good reviews, the book never caught fire with readers. It's estimated that there are 4 million copies of "Cold Mountain" in print in the U.S.
"It's a classic case of an author who has written a phenomenon being reluctant to commit," says David Steinberger, CEO of the Perseus Books Group, a unit of Washington private-equity firm Perseus LLC. "The next book almost always underperforms, because the author is already at his zenith. There is only one way to go."

Mr. Brown's timetable was affected by a plagiarism suit brought in the United Kingdom by two of the three authors of "The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail." That book, a work of nonfiction published in 1982, explored the possibility that Jesus had not died on the cross but married and fathered a child -- a theme central to "The Da Vinci Code."
Although Mr. Brown was exonerated in early 2006, the matter was time-consuming. At one point, Mr. Brown filed a lengthy personal statement which said of his work habits: "For me, writing is a discipline, much like playing a musical instrument; it requires constant practice and honing of skills. For this reason, I write seven days a week. So, my routine begins at around 4:00 AM every morning, when there are no distractions."

"The Da Vinci Code" was also criticized for factual miscues; this time, he may be taking particular care. "He has toured a number of Masonic temples to get the historical facts correct," says Akram Elias, grand master of the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of the District of Columbia.
The Masons are a fraternal society dedicated to self-improvement and charitable works. Membership is open to all religions and political parties. Although Mr. Brown portrayed the secretive Roman Catholic group Opus Dei in a negative light in "The Da Vinci Code," Mr. Elias says he isn't worried. "Freemasonry will survive Dan Brown," he says.
Meanwhile, some publishing veterans say the wait is understandable. "When you have that level of success, you feel an obligation," says Mr. Kirshbaum. "He's climbing Everest times 10. He probably wants to make the next book perfect."

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