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WARNING: May contain spoilers!
It has been the biggest publishing sensation of 2009 – the long awaited novel from Dan Brown, ‘The Lost Symbol'.
Whatever you think about Dan or his books from a literary perspective, he can sure bring in the money for the publishing industry and for himself. ‘The Da Vinci Code' sold 80 million books. This book may overtake that plus sell more of the backlist. That's not even mentioning the movie deal!
I have written some lessons learnt from Dan before, so what else can we learn from the launch of ‘The Lost Symbol'?
- Secrecy prior to the release with a teaser campaign. The Lost Symbol website was pretty good with its codes and teasing headlines. They managed to keep it mostly under wraps until launch day. Creating interest without getting the plot discovered in total for such a big release was impressive. It certainly made you want to be one of the first to read it! Could you use a teaser campaign to promote your book?
- Promote the backlist on launch of new book. Once you start writing books, you realise that one is not enough, unless you're Harper Lee of course. Promoting the new book is a great time to re-launch the backlist, especially if you weren't so well known then. Dan Brown's “Digital Fortress” is a terrible book with a boring plot, but I bought it after “The Da Vinci Code”, along with the rest of the backlist, and I bet a lot of others did too. It is also a truth that the more you write and publish and sell, the more money you make (duh!). So write more books, and promote your backlist like crazy on launch.
- Write with visual appeal for movie tie-in. In choosing such gorgeous locations architecturally, Dan Brown almost guarantees a movie hit, purely from visuals alone. He also writes descriptions of the locations well, which help the director to keep the movie true to the book. If you want to write a book that will make it into the movies, consider your locations carefully.
- If it works, don't change the formula. The ‘brainy thriller' is not Dan Brown's invention but it seems to work very well for his novels. I certainly enjoyed the various descriptive passages on Noetics, Washington art and architecture. It also has a central conspiracy, symbols and codes to crack as well as Robert Langdon and the usual intelligent female sidekick. This formula is earning multi-millions, so why change it? I do wonder if he will get bored with writing these novels though. Time to kill off Robert Langdon?
- Using Twitter. Twitter is mentioned in the book, therefore it is officially mainstream. They also had a teaser Twitter account @lostsymbolbook , and if a book launch that big is using Twitter, then the rest of us seriously ought to consider it! They also have a Facebook account.
If your book launch was not as successful as Dan Brown's, then don't worry! His big break came with ‘The Da Vinci Code', his 4th book, written in his mid/late 30s. Getting your book out there is a great start!
That's all my lessons learned, but here's what I thought about the book itself. Don't read if you want to make your own uncluttered decision!
First up, my ultimate goal is to write thriller/action/adventure mainstream novels, so Dan Brown is up there with authors I need to emulate (in some ways!). I also have degrees in Theology and Psychology and LOVE all the spiritual stuff, so I am a perfect audience for this novel. Here's some of my thoughts.
The bad guy, Mal'akh, had potential at the beginning. But he was not ultimate evil, and what he wanted to do was not evil enough in my opinion. The ending was a let-down, after a stronger first half of the book. It certainly didn't have the global terror plot aspects that I was expecting. I don't want to give too much away, but if the plot succeeded it would not have destroyed the world/a global faith/caused the death of millions. Let's face it, a thriller usually has those type of potential disasters to stop!
There were a lot of Masonic ‘secrets' discussed, but Dan Brown seemed incredibly careful to sound sympathetic and almost apologist on their behalf. It made them sound almost cuddly. Perhaps he is a Mason? At least in ‘The Da Vinci Code' he annoyed the church so much they banned the movie from filming in churches. It was definitely controversial. This book is not controversial and as such, is boring.
I was annoyed by the way the author kept appearing in the book and equating his life to Robert Langdon's. I know other people do this. Clive Cussler appears in Dirk Pitt books but in a cool way and not as the central character. Robert is years late in delivering a manuscript and people comment on his appearance. That was annoying.
I do look forward to the movie though. The locations described are amazing, and the visual descriptions were great (I don't know how true though!). It will be interesting to see who gets the part of Mal'akh, the 6'3″ uber-god with perfect physique and full body tattoos. Perhaps they will also change the ending, because it is seriously cheesy!
Probably a 5/10 for the genre. James Rollins wins hands down!