While out at the Sharjah Book Fair I was invited to a press conference with the guest of honour, Dan Brown.
Given he’s got such a big brand, I asked him if he’d think about self-publishing. “No,” he said simply; he’s got a great team around him, and he knows what it is to self promote. Da Vinci Code was a huge success, but that was his fourth book, and the others didn’t do so well initially. For the first books, he had to tout them around himself, taking out adverts at his own expense, arrange his own radio interviews, selling books out the back of his car, and sometimes when he’d set up events, there would be only one person waiting in the audience.
Team Dan Brown, from left to right, Agent, Heide Lange (Greenberger Associates), Dan Brown and Editor, Bill Scott-Kerr (Random House)
We asked him about his writing practice: did he write while on tour? Well, he got up at 4am every day at home and did that here too. In the same way that he tries to exercise every day, he also makes sure he writes everyday. If he came home from this two week book tour (he’s going out to India after Sharjah to give the Penguin lecture) and hadn’t written, he’d get out of the habit of it, and forget how to do it. Like playing the violin, one needs to practice every day.
What about the work of writing, does he edit as he goes along, or just write forward? No, he edits as he goes. He said his wife Blythe is his first reader, but she doesn’t get to see anything until the fifth draft at least. He wrote a hundred page outline for the Da Vinci Code, and for The Inferno he wrote the ending first.
How does he feel about technology? Digital books are great at helping authors and publishers connect with readers and he likes them for that, but he’s a huge fan of bookstores and was blown away by the branch of Kinokuniya in Dubai, the biggest bookstore in the world.
When he writes, he goes offline. He writes from 4am to 12pm every day. He may later go online for research (finding menus and working out what museums he needs to visit in the world), but he finds technology a huge distraction. He doesn’t run his own social media, but might send in some photographs from his travels that’ll get used. But generally he thinks that technology is an addiction. I asked him if he thought that writing was an addiction for him. No, he said, given his New-England-Puritan-Prep-School background, he just feels guilty it if he doesn’t write every day.
Post press conference, from left to right, Roger Tagholm (Publishing Perspectives), Justine Solomons (Byte the Book), Dan Brown, Liz Thomson (Book Brunch), Louisa Ermelino (Publishing News) and Lisa Campbell (The Bookseller)
We were also interested in how it was to get used to his fame. He said he had to get used to the fans and the publicity initially, and after Da Vinci Code did so well, he became self conscious thinking that what he wrote would now be read by millions of people (the print-run for advance copies of Da Vinci Code was ten thousand books, more than he sold in total for all his other books), but then he got over himself and just wrote the books he wanted to read. That said, he’s still just a writer and faces the blank page each day like every other writer and just needs to write.
That’s the abiding impression I have of Brown, success has come later in his career, and he got there through sheer hard work.