The birth of the book

The Jerusalem Post's literary editor had a inside role in publishing the 60-million selling novel.

dan brown book 88 298 (photo credit: AP)
dan brown book 88 298
(photo credit: AP)
The name Dan Brown speaks for itself. Whether or not you've read his books, The Da Vinci Code's unprecedented success has given its author iconic status around the world. Brown's book has been translated into countless languages (including Hebrew and Arabic), has sold well over 60 million copies worldwide, and inspired an entire genre of books dealing with Jesus, Leonardo Da Vinci, and secret societies. Brown himself is reported to be worth over 400 million pounds, a sum acquired through royalties, bonuses, and subsidiary rights. He's also been the subject of a much publicized lawsuit in England (found to be without merit) in which he was accused of lifting ideas from another book, and has taken heat from Christian groups and even the Vatican. With this week's release of The Da Vinci Code film, his star status is destined to rise only further. When I first came across Dan Brown, he was a fairly anonymous writer struggling to get his books noticed. I was applying for a new job at Doubleday, an imprint of Random House, the largest book publisher in America. I had already been working for some time at Doubleday under an executive editor who published mainly African-American fiction. While I enjoyed the job, I felt it was time for a change of pace. A new senior editor had been recruited to acquire men's fiction and non-fiction. As a 22-year-old Jewish girl, I was just as unlikely a candidate for that position as I was for the previous one. But in the book business, an editor is expected to be able to identify any good (or marketable) book, regardless of genre. For this reason, Jason Kaufman, the new senior editor, wanted to know one thing before hiring me - would I be able to recognize a good thing when I read it? He handed me an unbound manuscript, Deception Point, by Dan Brown. My test was to read it that night and report back the next day about the book's merits or faults. After a few short chapters, I could tell the author had a gift for suspense. The book was replete with mini-cliffhangers, and although not a tremendous fan of what I considered "boy books," I was compelled to read on. The next day I conveyed my positive assessment. Kaufman was pleased. Anyone who liked a book of Dan Brown's was a friend of his. Within a day, I was informed the job was mine. There is no doubt in my mind that Jason Kaufman is Dan Brown's biggest fan. He worked with Brown at Pocket Books, a division of Simon and Schuster, editing his first three novels, Digital Fortress, Deception Point, and Angels & Demons. The books did nominally well, but were for the most part overlooked by the public. Jason complained that Pocket never really "got behind" Brown with any real marketing muscle. Brown's work was allowed to flounder, and was therefore easily lost among the hundreds of other titles published each season. If only Brown were with a publisher that really believed in him, Kaufman was sure readers would discover and embrace his smart, fast-paced style. After leaving Pocket for Doubleday, the first thing Kaufman did was orchestrate the acquisition of Brown's next novel. Only a proposal at the time, an offer was made on The Da Vinci Code based on the merit of his previous book, Angels & Demons. Before even meeting Brown, my first task was to draft his contract. Brown signed away rights to his next two books for "a good deal," an advance sum in the publishing world that vaguely ranges between "a very nice deal" and "a significant deal." After that, chapters began to roll in, and Brown and I began to converse regularly about the book and changes made to the drafts. Truth be told, Brown didn't require much guidance. His writing style, and intuition for pace and intrigue, were already well honed. Our job was mainly to act as sounding boards; discussing character development, chapter placement, scene structure and dialogue. Kaufman and I worked on several books simultaneously, usually 7-8 per season. But Brown was always the priority. It wasn't hard to put him first: He was unusually humble, devoid of ego, open to suggestion, and generally a pleasure to work with. For a published author, these are often rare commodities. As each chapter was submitted, I'd print them out and take them home to read and work on. Kaufman of course was doing the same. What he didn't know was that my roommate would ask me nearly every day if I had a new chapter to bring her. She was just as hooked on the first draft as I was. Already we could see there was something different about this book. It was only when the final chapters came in that it appeared Brown had reached a stumbling block. Several versions were submitted, rewritten, and reconceived. To this day, I wish I'd saved those drafts. Of course, there was no way to know what a phenomenon the book would become. There was always some indication it would do quite well. When the final draft came in, I circulated copies around the office. The director of marketing and publicity needed copies, as did the editor-in-chief, publisher, and deputy publisher. Internal buzz began to build. Everyone was hooked. The sales department soon had their copies and they too began to rave to buyers. It was then that the publisher made a bold gamble. He gave the green light to print 10,000 advance reader copies to be sent out to critics and booksellers around the country, a very large run. It was a financial risk and an extremely rare maneuver that would pay off tremendously. Kaufman and Brown were over the moon at the publisher's show of faith. This could be his shot at recognition, Brown thought. Maybe he'd finally be able to make a steady living from writing. After receiving the same enthused feedback from booksellers and critics, Doubleday shipped 230,000 copies, timed to be released on March 18, 2003. By the time the book was released, I had already been living in Israel for two months, and would only be able to witness the growing frenzy from a distance. I would miss the crazed excitement in the hallways, Brown's ecstatic response, Kaufman's promotion, and the media furor. The book went on to sell 6,000 copies on the first day and 23,578 by the week's end. It was number one on the Times hardcover fiction bestseller list in its first week - almost unheard of for an obscure author. Brown would continue to outdo himself in sales records around the world. He became a sensation. As for hidden secrets of the book, even the book's jacket text has a code built into it. Whether the character of Sophie was named for Jason's oldest daughter Sophie, I can't say for sure. But I do know Kaufman was flattered when Brown named Langdon's editor Jonas Faukman, an anagram of his name. As for the backlash the book has experienced from various Christian organizations, I think it was inevitable. When a book succeeds at this magnitude, backlash comes with the territory. But not many of us at Doubleday anticipated it. A good proportion of the early readers were Jewish - from Jason, to myself, to the publisher, Steve Rubin and the deputy publisher Michael Palgon. For a book that garnered so much attention for its blasphemous content, many of its first readers were rather unphased by its controversial Christian overtones. The attitude was that the book was based on interesting ideas and never purported to be a textbook or bible. As for me, my minor role in its development has been reduced to nothing more than a hidden acknowledgement in the preface. But truth be told, it's enough for me to look on at all the hysteria as a spectator - and occasionally look up my name in the Hebrew edition when no one's watching.