On the morning of September 15th, 2009 I will be standing in a crowd outside my local bookstore, waiting to rush towards the new fiction releases. At the shelves, the crowd and I separate. They will grab copies of Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol (Doubleday). I will snag my own novel, The Art of Disappearing (St. Martin's Press). I'm willing to bet that no two books released on the same day for the rest of the year will top our combined total sales. Dan Brown and I are going to make publishing history.
I've always known that I would have to share my release date with a host of eager novices and established authors. But I had no idea that I'd be joined by Mr. Brown, a literary juggernaut, a one-man stimulus package for the book business. His income from The Da Vinci Code, $250 million dollars, could float a fleet of struggling publishing houses and bookstores.
With an astounding first edition print run of 6.5 million, the largest in Random House's history, Mr. Brown is going to bring customers out in droves. (I will not mention here by how many powers of ten his print run dwarfs mine.) But in case a bookstore sells out of The Lost Symbol, or a customer wants varied fictional fare, my novel will be beckoning. I'll happily ride Mr. Brown's coattails as long as I can.
Internet conspiracies have been swirling about our mutual publication date, hinting its significance will be revealed in The Lost Symbol. Whatever this may be, for me it represents the only day that Dan Brown and I will be collaborators. On September 16th, 2009, we will go our separate ways.
In terms of publicity, we are going to divvy up the terrain. Mr. Brown is an old hand with the high-end media outlets. He'll handle CNN, the Today show, and NPR, but he won't show up in your local bookstore or do a tour of book blogs. You probably won't be able to chat with him online or send him an email.
But I'm going to grind it out on the ground. I'll be reading high and low -- from dive bars in Brooklyn to the Harvard Club of New York. I'll be traveling to independent bookstores and stopping by Barnes & Noble and Borders. I'm going reader-to-reader, meeting the people who've honored me by choosing my book. Along the way, I hope to reaffirm that literary culture is still alive: it's just transformed, gone viral.
You don't believe me? Look at the Internet. There is an abundance of literary social networking sites, Goodreads, Librarything, Redroom, Shelfari, and WeRead, which boast memberships in the millions. These sites make authors available to their fans and critics and allow readers to discuss books with each other. I've joined all of them. The word is out. I'm waiting to hear from you. You'll be hearing back.
Then of course there is Facebook, where Dan Brown and I both have personal pages. Mr. Brown's page boasts an remarkable 60,000 members. Mine, somewhat less. But I'm an untested quantity. I might catch up. However, I'm pretty sure Mr. Brown isn't sitting behind his desk, Tweeting his whereabouts. That's left to his army of social media strategists. But each update or Tweet bearing my name comes straight from the source. It's thrilling to me to be able to reach out to my readers, to participate in this new breed of social media that democratizes literary culture and opens interactive channels of communication between those who love to write books and those who love to read them.
There are critics out there who will question my desire to associate with Mr. Brown. Consorting, even theoretically, with a mass-market bestselling author is not the company that an aspiring writer of literary fiction should aim to keep. But authors who have reached or surpassed the same mind blowing sales figures as Dan Brown (83 million copies) include J.D. Salinger and Charles Dickens. I'll hang with them.
It's no secret that cultural acceptance is fickle and faddish. Unless they feature vampires, wizards, or Robert Langdon, it's hard to judge what books will triumph. Success can come from the most surprising places -- perhaps sharing a release date with Dan Brown is one of them. Maybe in a few years when my second novel is about to drop, a first time author will discover that she has the same release date as I, and blog, Tweet, or editorialize about it, hoping to ride my success to the top.