The King Is Back

Our guest today is New York Times bestselling author, Steve Berry. Steve’s books have been sold in 49 countries and 39 languages with over 8 million copies in print. His novels include The Amber Room, The Romanov Prophecy, The Third Secret, The Templar Legacy, The Alexandria Link, The Venetian Betrayal, and his latest, The Charlemagne Pursuit. His next thriller, The Paris Vendetta, will be available December 2009. In addition to writing novels, Steve serves on the International Thriller Writers board of directors as co-president.

By Steve Berry

berry-steve2Over the past six years I’ve been asked countless times by the press, fans, and friends about The Da Vinci Code.  It’s a natural question since my stories are constantly compared to it.  Dan Brown even provided a wonderful blurb for my first novel, The Amber Room, (calling it “sexy, illuminating, and confident . . . my kind of thriller”).  I still like reading that comment from time to time.

Dan achieved what every writer dreams about.  He wrote a story that utterly captured the imagination.  One of those tales that rang with a sense of originality.  Remember all the press.  The hype.  The talk.  The buzz.  It was amazing.  People flocked into stores and bought The Da Vinci Code by the millions.  The result?  A guy who barely existed after his first three novels, was catapulted into a worldwide household name.  Eventually, non-fiction books, more fiction, television shows, games, memorabilia, a movie, you name it, and that book spawned it.

dan-brownBut that will not be Dan’s legacy.


What he did is bigger than all that. 

Dan will be remembered for bringing a genre back to life. 

Here’s reality:  When the Cold War ended in 1990, the traditional, tried-and-true-good-old-fashioned-spy-thriller died.  By 1995 the genre was virtually gone.  By 2002 editors simply weren’t buying, and people weren’t reading, spy thrillers.  Sure, if you were Cussler, Follett, Ludlum, and Forsyth you were okay.  Those long standing audiences were fully developed and totally assured.  But if you were anyone else, especially a rookie trying to break in, times were tough.  During the 1990s my agent submitted 5 separate thrillers to New York houses.  They were rejected a total of 85 times.

Then, in March 2003, the world changed. 

That was when The Da Vinci Code was released. 

tdcFor the next 36 months The Da Vinci Code was either #1, 2, or 3 on The New York Times  bestseller list, mostly in the #1 slot.   On every other American bestseller list the story was the same, as was the case from around the world.  Few books can claim such a feat.  A genre that what was once called ‘spy thriller,’ re-emerged as the international suspense thriller, a blend of history, secrets, conspiracy, action, and adventure. 

Just exactly what I, and many others, happen to be writing.

Many of us received our chance to find an audience thanks to what Dan Brown and Doubleday did in releasing The Da Vinci Code.  Thrillers were hot once again.  Hundreds of new books appeared.  The resurrection led, in no small measure, in 2004, to the creation of International Thriller Writers, an organization now of over 1000 working thriller writers. 
Happy days were here again.

Every few years a book comes along that literally changes things.  Stephen King’s Carrie.  David Morrell’s First Blood.  Scott Turow’s Presumed Innocent.  John Grisham’s The Firm.  Those books fundamentally altered their genres.  They also opened up opportunities that, before them, did not exist for others.

The Da Vinci Code is such a book too.

I tell the story that every time I pass a copy I stop and bow.  Perhaps that’s an over-dramatization but, in my mind, I always utter a silent thanks.  Maybe I would have made it to print one day.  Maybe not.  All I know is that I did make it in 2003 thanks to Dan Brown, Doubleday, and The DaVinci Code.

In September, The Lost Symbol will be released.  This time Dan and Doubleday will not just resurrect a genre, they could well revive an industry.  Book sales have been decreasing over the past two years.  Print runs are down.  Re-orders are slow.  Backstock is disappearing.  Already, bookstores and booksellers are salivating at the prospects this fall offers.  People will, without question, return to the stores.  Books will be sold, and not just Dan’s.  The ripple affect will be huge.  Everyone’s bottom line will be positively affected.  This is precisely what the publishing industry needs.  The Lost Symbol will certainly debut at #1 and remain there for many months, if not years.  Already it is the single largest first printing in Random House history (5,000,000), but my guess is that number will increase before the fall. 

Welcome back, Dan.

For the past six years, many a prince has fought over your throne.  Several have laid claim, but none emerged to take your place.

Now they all must move aside.

The king is back.

May his reign be long and prosperous.

So what do you think? What effect will Dan Brown’s new thriller have on the publishing industry? Will it surpass The Da Vinci Code?


Coming Sunday, June 21, Paul Kemprecos tells us what it’s like to collaborate with Clive Cussler. And future Sunday guest bloggers include Robert Liparulo, Linda Fairstein, Julie Kramer, Grant Blackwood, and more.

13 thoughts on “The King Is Back

  1. Hi, Steve. Thanks for the great post; and welcome to our little corner of the blogosphere.

    I think you hit the nail on the head about Dan Brown’s impact on the book world. When TDVC was released it triggered discussion and debate in social settings that extended way beyond the typical klatches of writers. And unlike must-have books from the recent past–COLD MOUNTAIN comes to mind–people actually read the book cover to cover and went searching for more. TDVC is responsible for spawning increased sales of art history books and enrollment in art history courses.

    As a Roman Catholic, I found myself saying, “Whoa! Is that really true?” and I started doing some of the kinds of research that my mother would have said I should have been doing all along. At one level, TDVC didn’t just change the nature of book discussion; it defined it anew.

    Can he do that again? I think probably not–at least not to the same level of frenzy. Even the creator of a new genre can only be first once. In fact, I predict a tough road ahead for Mr. Brown. The jackals among the literati have had six years to hone their attack strategies. “Sure,” they’ll say, “you can talk two bazillion people into buying that sort of thing, but frankly, his publisher is disappinted that he didnt sell 2.7 bazillion.”

    I personally thought TDVC and ANGELS AND DEMONS were both brilliant books. Sure, I have some problems with the final sequence in A&D in particular, but so what? Dan Brown takes me to places I could never find on my own, and he makes me enjoy learning arcane stuff that turns out to be fascinating.

    His real brilliance, though, comes from the seamless meshing of fact and fiction. I can almost hear his inner professor saying, “Think I’m wrong? Prove it.”

    John Gilstrap

  2. Hey Steve, thanks for being our guest at TKZ. I’ve got to hand it to Dan Brown, he’s probably the most courageous writer on the planet. For quite some time, the talk on the street was that there would never be another book from him. After all, why should he write another? Once you’ve climbed Mt. Everest, all the other mountains seem less attractive. I even heard a rumor that his next book would be under a pseudonym. Then there’s the pressure he must be facing to produce a hit. We can only imagine what’s expected of him from his publisher. And the critical standards he must be facing by everyone with an opinion. It’s easy for some to say that he probably doesn’t care because he’s made so much money already. But I believe Mr. Brown is as much a dedicated writer as the rest of us. He has to write, despite the consequences. Dan Brown is the ultimate poster child for “be careful what you wish for”. I wish him luck and I’ve already preordered his new book. No matter what happens, THE LOST SYMBOL will have an impact on us all. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts.

  3. Thanks for stopping by, Steve! Couldn’t agree more about the impact of TDVC. In fact, it created such an appetite for thrillers that nearly everything is branded a thriller these days, from noir novels to PI stories to police procedurals. I’m excited for his new release, and hope it will revitalize sales, particularly in the wake of this week’s PW report that first quarter sales were down another 3.8 percent.

  4. Steve, great post. I read your excerpt in the back of James Rollins’ book. I’ll have to read your books now.

    I think the economy bouncing back will start at the bookstores.

  5. Great post and I believe you are but not just for the reasons you say. (Here I go… on my soapbox… but I spent 12 years spending 150 million dollars a year on real advertising One of the reasons that the book will get people back in stores is because for the first time in all these years there will be millions of dollars of marketing done for a book to make sure everyone knows its out. If the book industry advertised books with ingenuity and effectiveness that Coke and Pepsi advertise soda we would not be in this mess where we rely on blockbusters like this.

  6. We’re waiting to see what happens with “The Lost Symbol” at our mystery bookshop. I agree, it’s going to energize readers, and that’s going to be a huge boost to everyone.

    But we may not carry more than five or six copies. Okay, 25 maybe.

    We, as a specialty shop, can’t compete with the deep discounts that will be offered by the Big Boxes, and most folks will pick it up at one of them or Costco or whatnot. We’ll have a few dedicated customers who will pay full price through us just to support us, but I believe we’ll end up treating it like the last Harry Potter book. We’ll sell it, we’re not insane, but we’re not anticipating “The Lost Symbol” keeping us alive and solvent.

    Where we’ll flourish is with people who are now exposed to the whole genre and want more. That’s going to be our forte’.

    So, Mr. Berry, is your backlist still available? Because we’re going to really enjoy introducing folks to you, once their appetites are whetted!

  7. I think the great thing about these event books is that, not only do they get readers into bookstores, but even if they only buy The Lost Symbol, the good experience they have reading it reminds them how much they like reading. They then go in search of novels that are like it so they can recapture that feeling, and that benefits all of us who write in that genre.

  8. ” Already it is the single largest first printing in Random House history (5,000,000),”

    I hope you’re right, because Random House is betting the bank on this one. If they’re wrong, and it tanks, we’re all going to pay for it.

    The publishing industry reminds me of the local football team, the Washington Redskins. Every year the Redskins win the off-season, signing the biggest free agents and making some kind of splash. And every year some other team (Pittsburgh, New England, Indianapolis) quietly builds a broad-based team that actually wins.

  9. Hi Steve
    Welcome to TKZ – here’s hoping the thriller revival continues. I have my fingers crossed that The Lost Symbol’s success also helps pull up lots of other great writers too – more book buying will be a much needed boost to the industry that’s for sure!

  10. In addition to art history, TDVC also reinvigorated interest in the Knights Templar, the Vatican, and the Bible. At one point Barnes & Noble had an entire section of the store devoted to an unbelievable number of titles related to the book, including a table of nothing but books on the KT.

    Excellent post, with an original viewpoint.

  11. Good to read all the comments. And, yes, my backlist is all available and waiting for bookstores to re-order and stock their shelves with— as everyones’ should be. Get real people. Dan will bring the industry back to life—no question— and that ain’t a bad thing. God bless him and God bless Doubleday. It’s just what the industry needed at just the right time.

    This is the first time I’ve ever blogged and it’s been fun.

  12. Sorry I’m late to this (out of town), but I think you hit on several important points, Steve. What caught my eye was your comment that “Dan will be remembered for bringing a genre back to light.”

    You’re spot-on. The hunger was there all along–Dan Brown tapped into an appetite that wasn’t being met, and he certainly had the skill and knowledge to meet it.

    I’d agree Random House has placed a safe bet.

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