William Dean A. Garner On Editing Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, Angels & Demons and Deception Point

William Dean A. Garner On Editing Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, Angels & Demons and Deception Point

dan-brown-photo-1aOne of the most fascinating stories I have ever read: Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code.

I got a call from Mr. Brown in late 2001, after I had done guest edits of his previous novels, Deception Point and Angels & Demons. Mr. Brown said he really liked the edits and suggestions I had made on them, because his knowledge of special operations was sorely lacking. In fact, many of his passages were downright theatrical and unrealistic. But the stories in which they unfolded were exciting, so I could easily forgive his lack of real-world experience and knowledge about special-operations warriors, tactics and behaviors.

He then mailed me an advance reading copy of The Da Vinci Code, and wrote me a lovely and touching inscription on one of the pages of the frontmatter:

“Literary agent, Particle Physics Illuminatus, and former Army Airborne Ranger. With respect for everything you do!” Dan Brown

After editing The Da Vinci Code, I called Mr. Brown’s editor at Doubleday, Mr. Jason Kaufman, and said, “You have an international bestseller on your hands.” Kaufman replied, “We hope so,” then thanked me for my contribution. A few months later, The Da Vinci Code exploded onto the worldwide stage and has gone on to become one of the most popular novels of our time.

Please keep something in mind here: all this was back in the day when Mr. Brown was an obscure author whose books had sold only about 2,500 copies each, if even that, and no one outside his editor at Doubleday knew who he was, let alone bought and read his books.

How do I know Mr. Brown’s sales figures?

Simple: up until a few years ago, anyone armed with a list of ISBNs could look up all the current and past sales and demand figures for those books, using Ingram Publishing’s 800 line, which has since been discontinued. For example, I looked up and recorded the top 100 books on Amazon.com at the time, then compared those figures with what the New York trade publishing companies were reporting. The actual sales were 10-100 times less than what the big publishers were reporting to the worldwide public.* For example, one of the Harry Potter books was reported by its publisher to have sold around 10 million copies then, but the Ingram sales figures stated approximately 785,000. Not bad, of course, but also not 10 million.

*New York trade publishing’s dirty little secret is another story altogether. . . .