D-Day is coming: Why Dan Brown's latest novel is guaranteed to be a success

Dan Brown's release is the latest in an impressive line of 'event' book launches that the publishing industry runs like military campaigns. Danuta Kean discovers how to market a guaranteed blockbuster

A campaign for global domination is afoot, following months of planning, and executed with almost military precision. And by this weekend it will almost certainly have achieved its aim: to claim the top spot in every English-language book chart in the world. The campaign? The launch, at midnight last Tuesday, of The Lost Symbol, Dan Brown's much-anticipated follow-up to the global megasmash The Da Vinci Code.

It is a perfect example of "event publishing", in which the usually fusty world of books swaps its cheap-white-wine approach to launches for the kind of splashy glamour and media clamour usually associated with Hollywood blockbusters.

Security surrounding the novel is as much a part of the hype as the drip feed of information, handled in the UK by Alison Barrow, the publicity director at Transworld, part of Brown's global publisher Random House. Before its launch, only four of her colleagues had read the new novel, while email communications were heavily encrypted and retailers were forced to sign sales embargoes that exacted a heavy penalty if they were broken. It's enough to make The Da Vinci Code's hero, Robert Langdon, proud.

Though Barrow says the secrecy is all aimed at preventing hackers and bloggers from spoiling the fun, she admits that it helps to create a buzz. "Speculation and building a sense of anticipation are an integral part of the enjoyment for Dan's millions of fans," she says of a campaign that is claimed to be the biggest ever for a book in the UK.

We've been here before, of course. If the name is big enough, event publishing is the best way to avoid bad reviews – which, if The Da Vinci Code is anything to go by, are a given for The Lost Symbol. They also give a book water-cooler cachet: you have to read it to join the conversation.

Midnight launches and media embargoes of eye-watering severity follow a template created for novels starring Harry Potter and Hannibal Lecter. The brouhaha surrounding these books begins with a slow reveal of information designed to entice rather than inform, and ends with late-night parties in bookshops aided by ample amounts of Polyjuice Potion, chianti or communion wine. And it works: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the final instalment in JK Rowling's series, sold a record-breaking 2.65 million copies on its first day of sale in 2007.

"If you were to distil these campaigns down to one word, that word would be anticipation," says Colin Midson, the publicity director at Rowling's publisher, Bloomsbury. But, as with any anticipation, the fulfilment can come as a mixed blessing. For Bloomsbury, the end of Harry's adventures coincided with a drop in its share price, which more than halved the company's value from £285m to £134m. The City may understand success, but it does not understand publishing, and too often reads the success of one book as a recipe for guaranteed profits.

For books that go massive, a pleasing aspect for publishers is dealing with supermarkets. "Books like that give you greater negotiating ability when dealing with the retailers," says Jenny Todd, the sales and marketing director at Canongate, which publishes Philip Pullman's controversial event book, The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, next Easter. "Retailers are obsessed with missing out on market share," she adds, of how the clamour gives publishers rare clout. "In the week that a book like that goes to number one, anyone without good market share will have to explain to their bosses what happened."

Canongate previously enjoyed stratospheric success with Yann Martel's Man Booker-winner Life of Pi and, last year, Barack Obama's Dreams From My Father, both of which sold in the millions. As the company is privately owned, its head, Jamie Byng, is able to plough the money back into the business, investing in expansion and new staff.

The biggest problem raised by event books is managing the news agenda: a job made harder by the internet. The PR agency Colman Getty manages publicity for the Man Booker Prize as well as for JK Rowling, and last year had a leather-clad blonde and a cohort of marines speed down the Thames to deliver to a bookshop the first copies of Sebastian Faulks' James Bond novel, Devil May Care. The photo opportunity made the News at Ten and the front page of almost every newspaper.

The Bond launch, like Brown's, was global, which raises previously unseen turf wars between their publishers. "There are these issues around what time a book launches and who gets first dibs," explains Dotti Irving, Colman Getty's chief executive. "Is a book launched at midnight in the UK or midnight in the US? Do you stagger the launches around the world over 24 hours, or have them launch at exactly the same moment with a tea party in the US and breakfast in Hong Kong?"

It's not just that leaks can spoil the story and destroy a book's news value. They have an economic impact. If a book makes the News at Ten, it will bring into bookshops customers who rarely buy a book. And although only a very foolish publisher would launch a children's book in the same week as Harry Potter or a thriller to coincide with The Lost Symbol, there is strong evidence that queuing punters do buy other books once they get in front of the displays, says Jeremy Neate of Nielsen BookScan, which monitors sales through the tills.

"In July 2005, when Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince appeared, the book market was running at sales of £23m a week," he explains. "It then jumped to £41.3m, of which Harry represented £15m, which suggests that sales of other books didn't suffer. The same sort of pattern is true of the last Harry Potter." Given that the UK book market shrank for the first time last year, it is a pattern everyone in the book trade will hope to see repeated.

But Neate issues a warning: at its height, Dan Brown fever resulted in the reclusive author's entire backlist taking the top spots in the books charts. Which means that, by the time you read this, we won't just have been defeated by Brown's publicity machine; we will be sick of it too.

The hit list

'Life of Pi' by Yann Martel

Canongate

In 2003 the Booker-winning title accounted for 45 per cent of Canongate's turnover, but the publisher couldn't rest on Pi's success. Happily, it has just announced record profits for 2008, thanks partly to two more surprise bestsellers it bought in 2007 by a then barely known author, Barack Obama.

'Harry Potter' by JK Rowling

Bloomsbury

With worldwide book sales of more than 400 million, the Harry Potter brand is worth $4bn. But, once lauded for getting kids to read, the Bloomsbury marketing machine has come in for some stick – and reached its nadir when heavies at a launch apparently "manhandled" the literary editor of The Independent. Bloomsbury's profits fell by a third in 2008, the first post-Potter year.

'Devil May Care' by Sebastian Faulks

Penguin

The fastest-selling hard-back novel in Penguin's history, the 36th Bond book sold 44,093 copies in four days. But Faulks says he won't write another. "Once funny, twice silly, three times a slap," he said, quoting "nanny's popular saying".

'The Lost Symbol' by Dan Brown

Random House

When its 15 September publication date was announced, much of the fiction due this month (just before the Booker deadline) was rushed out ahead of it. The Lost Symbol is already Amazon's number-one seller on pre-orders alone.

Arts and Entertainment
Novelist Martin Amis at The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival

books
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'

After giving gay film R-rating despite no sex or violence

film
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Williams will be given a 'meaningful remembrance' at the Emmy Awards

film
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Arctic Monkeys headline this year's Reading and Leeds festivals, but there's a whole host of other bands to check out too
music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Cliff Richard performs at the Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam on 17 May 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Educating the East End returns to Channel 4 this autumn

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch will voice Shere Khan in Andy Serkis' movie take on The Jungle Book

film
Arts and Entertainment
DJ Calvin Harris performs at the iHeartRadio Music Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush

music
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Mark Crown, DJ Locksmith and Amir Amor of Rudimental performing on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park, Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Capaldi and Chris Addison star in political comedy The Thick of IT

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judy Murray said she

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Seoul singer G-Dragon could lead the invasion as South Korea has its sights set on Western markets
music
Arts and Entertainment
Gary Lineker at the UK Premiere of 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Bale as Batman in a scene from
film
Arts and Entertainment
Johhny Cash in 1969
musicDyess Colony, where singer grew up in Depression-era Arkansas, opens to the public
Arts and Entertainment
Army dreamers: Randy Couture, Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren and Jason Statham
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off 2014 contestants
tvReview: It's not going to set the comedy world alight but it's a gentle evening watch
Arts and Entertainment
Umar Ahmed and Kiran Sonia Sawar in ‘My Name Is...’
Theatre
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

    Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

    Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
    Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
    Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

    Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

    Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
    eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

    eBay's enduring appeal

    The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

    'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
    Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

    Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

    Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
    Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

    Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

    After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
    Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

    Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

    After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
    Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

    Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

    Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
    7 best quadcopters and drones

    Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

    From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
    Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

    Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

    The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
    Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

    Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

    British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
    Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

    A descent into madness in America's heartlands

    David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
    BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

    BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

    Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home