Apparently interest in the da Vinci Code publishing success remains high. I found another USA Today article. This one, Publishers Try To Crack ‘da Vinci Code‘, is by Carol Memmott and cites publishers who are seeking the next ‘da Vinci Code‘ and who are trying to come up with some kind of reasoning for the book’s phenomenal success. They have embarked on the quest in search of the elusive da Vinci Code recipe for success: Does this book have the right mix of history and conspiracy wrapped in a thriller package?
Others call the book’s success a fluke.
Despite the analogies many make, good writing and successful books are not simply the result of a recipe. Taking the same elements and throwing them into a plot pot won’t guarantee them the elusive break-away bestseller. In fact, the mix that made up the ‘da Vinci Code’ success has been done before. Publishers want to duplicate the success but not necessarily the story. Sure, there are books out now and others in the planning stages that will ride the coattails of Dan Brown’s bestseller but they won’t achieve the same acclaim.
One major factor that figures into the equation but is seldom if ever mentioned is that of the cultural landscape. The Da Vinci Code was released in March of 2003. Over the last several years religion, particularly Christianity, has been getting a lot of press in newspapers, magazines and in book releases. I don’t think you can discount the impact of all the media generated with Gibson’s release of the movie The Passion of the Christ. If anything, the interest and controversy surrounding the movie increased the public’s attention for the very subjects that thread through the pages of Dan Brown’s book. What I find interesting is that The Da Vinci Code, a work of fiction, has generated so much interest and controversy. A large number of people in and out of the media continue to react to the book as if it were nonfiction. Brown did what every good novelist does. He researches; he sifts through various materials and weaves a narrative that is a nonstop thriller intended to engage the reader at every turn. But Brown’s readers are getting a little more than engaged, and this has spurred an onslaught of books that seek to repudiate the book’s claims–ignoring the fact that it is a work of fiction. In fact, Brown’s premise isn’t all that new. What is new is the response.
In many ways, I think Brown was both smart and lucky. The timing of several factors created a wave that carried him to bestseller status. First, his publisher got behind him and did everything it could to stir up word-of-mouth by distributing 100,000 advanced reader copies instead of the usual 3,000. This type of action can stir the pot. Years ago, Diana Gabaldon’s publisher handed out hardback copies of her first book Outlander to every attendee at the annual Romance Writer’s of America convention that summer. Gabaldon’s book took off. Second, when the media began to stir up the controversy over the Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown took a back seat. He didn’t go out and talk about the book. Instead, he let the media do his talking, and, the media being what it is and left to its own devices, hyped the controversy and even aired entire shows devoted to the book and its subject matter. (Who wouldn’t want that to happen?) Brown simply sat back and allowed the chatter to swell. So now you have word of mouth growing from inside the industry out to the readers; while, at the same time, the media left to its own devices, is whirling around building up the story and the controversy, while another huge media wave catapulted Gibson’s movie The Passion into worldwide bestseller status. The momentum of these three energizing forces pushed Brown’s book further into the spotlight resulting in the release of numerous books written in direct response to Dan Brown’s plot premise. Major magazines devoted entire issues to the premise of the book and to the major figures such as Jesus, Mary and others.
During the past several years, a lot of ink has been written on the whole God thing. I don’t think you can ignore that or what it can mean to a public’s growing interest in the subject matter, and it all continues even with bloggers like myself who contribute to the ongoing discussion of the book’s successful catapult to the top of the bestseller list.
By the way, if you haven’t read The Da Vinci Code, consider the special illustrated version to add another dimension to the reading experience. (If you haven’t voted, please take a moment and go to the upper right poll and let me know what type of material draws you to Down the Writer’s Path.)