Reminder on Getting Signed Human Divisions + Thoughts on Dan Brown

First thing’s first: If you wanted to get a signed copy of The Human Division and are not able to get to one of my tour dates, here’s what you do:

1. If you want it signed and personalized, order the book from one of the stores on my tour I have yet to visit and they’ll be happy to set aside a copy, which I will be happy to personalize to you (or whomever you wish to have it personalized to).

2. If you just want it signed, the better to sell it on eBay when I am smothered in a tragic kitten avalanche, then check with the stores I’ve already been to, they probably will still have signed books in stock. For example, Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore in San Diego has tons of signed Human Divisions, and after tonight, so will their Redondo Beach store, and so on. Alternately, my hometown bookstore, Jay & Mary’s Book Center in Troy, Ohio, has signed stock on hand and would be delighted to send one along to you.

Of course, if you can come to the signings, please do come to the signings. They’re fun. And I don’t want to be alone.

Second thing’s second: A couple of weeks ago I was contacted by a journalist who was doing a story about authors who have a book coming out on the same day as Dan Brown’s new book Inferno, presumably because it will be amusing to hear us wail and gnash our teeth about that particular juggernaut crushing our books. I wasn’t home when he called and he never got back to me about it, so I will not be in that article. But if I had been, what I would have said is this:

I am in fact entirely unconcerned. I have no doubt that Inferno will sell rather more copies than The Human Division, but I doubt seriously that it will take away any sales from my book; which is to say I doubt that someone is going to walk into a book store, see Brown’s book and mine, and have a great existential crisis about only being able to choose one or the other. There may be overlap between our audiences, but I suspect that the overlap we have would choose to get both.

This would be the place to say something snarky about Brown, but I have nothing snarky to say about the dude. I read one of his books; it was entertaining and I was entertained and if there was anything about the book that was supposed to be deeper than that it went right past me. Being cranky about a Dan Brown book not being high literature is like yelling at a cupcake for not being a salad; it’s really missing the point. You don’t want the cupcake? Don’t eat the cupcake. Apparently lots of people like cupcakes. They don’t care that you want them to eat salad. You eat salad, if it’s so important to you.

But beyond this, I suspect that the article this journalist fellow was writing might have been predicated on a zero-sum thinking, which is that the money spent on Dan Brown today takes money from other writers. It doesn’t actually work that way. There are a certain number of Dan Brown readers who read one book a year, and the book they read this year is his. Bluntly put, that’s not money taken from me or other writers because we were never in contention for that cash. There is the another category of Dan Brown reader, which are the sort of people who love to read books, and also read Dan Brown. Someone in that category is going to cruise through Inferno in a couple of days and be on to the next book — perhaps mine, perhaps someone else’s. The point is in this scenario Dan Brown doesn’t take money away from any other writer in any significant way, because people who love reading read a lot of books.

And then there’s a third scenario in which people who didn’t know they like to read, read a Dan Brown book, enjoy it and then say “what else is out there?” In which case Dan Brown just did me and every other author a favor, because now there’s a new reader to shop our wares to. This is one reason why you won’t hear me gripe about Dan Brown, or E.L. James, or Stephenie Meyer or [insert frequently maligned author here]. They don’t hurt my career, and have the potential to benefit it.

So good luck to Dan Brown on his sales today, not that I think he will need it. And good luck to me, too. I suspect when the day is over, both of us will be perfectly happy with how it’s turned out.

109 Comments on “Reminder on Getting Signed Human Divisions + Thoughts on Dan Brown”

  1. “Being cranky about a Dan Brown book not being high literature is like yelling at a cupcake for not being a salad; it’s really missing the point.”


    Happy Release Day!

  2. Clive Cussler was my dad’s gateway author about 20 years ago. But recently, he had knee replacement surgery and laughed when books and magazines were all I’d sent him as a ‘get well package’ until he tried to watch daytime TV and thanked me. :)

  3. I’ve listened to 56 books this year so far including The Human Division. However, I don’t have immediate plans to listen to Dan Brown’s Inferno anytime soon. So, YOU SHOULD BE ASHAMED FOR TAKING BREAD OUT OF DAN BROWN’S MOUTH.

  4. The only place where I see competition like that having an impact would be on a Fiction Bestseller list. When you get a mammoth release, it tends to dominate for a little while.

  5. The article may be premised on a zero-sum analysis of book sales. It is also possible that it is considering the impact of launch marketing. When a publisher chooses a launch date for a new book it also considers its marketing budget for the book. To the extent a book’s marketing budget is weighted to have its greatest impact leading up to and following the book’s launch, if a juggernaut book is launched at the same time with out-sized marketing efforts and attendant press coverage, what impact would that have on the value of another book’s marketing dollars? As John writes, juggernaut books may create new readers, just like tent-pole movies may create new movie-goers. If you go to the bookstore to pick up a juggernaut book, you may also pick up another book you see at the same time. it certainly is unlikely to cut into an existing audience for a different book, but what is the impact on marketing efforts (and marketing dollars) for books that may not have an established audience or about which a general audience may as yet be unaware?

  6. I’m one of those who will read both. OK, technically, I’ve already bought THD in 13 weekly installments. But I like both you and Dan Brown, so I can read both. So there.

  7. Well, you are no fun at all, Scalzi, being all reasonable and not-jealous and shit. ;p

  8. The renowned science fiction author John Scalzi blogged on the internet a very well considered statement using the computer he had connected to the global communication network.

  9. Being cranky about a Dan Brown book not being high literature is like yelling at a cupcake for not being a salad; it’s really missing the point.

    When I was in high school, I liked to approach blockbuster books with the sniff of derision you’d expect from a hipster hearing Top 40.

    I’m glad I grew out of that.

    (One might even say that I used to only read genre mid-listers, but now everyone’s into that. I was making fun of Dan Brown before it was cool).

  10. Hi John,

    I know sometimes it can be hard to tell tone of voice in text, so let me start by saying that this is an honest question, not asked snarkily or presuming any kind of answer. (People go looking for arguments on the Internet? Who would do such a thing?!)

    Do you think your feelings on launching at the same time as Dan Brown would be different if this were, say, your first novel? Or if you were a midlister who was putting out the last novel under contract, and the publisher is waiting for the sales figures to determine whether to offer a new one?

    As I understand it (and please, please correct me if I’m wrong!), those first week sales are critical in determining how profitable a novel will be–if it is at all. As you said, a certain type of reader will devour Brown’s novel in a week, then be back at the bookstore for something new. Is it possible that, for some authors, that delay of a week could make the difference? Do publishers not really decide things that quickly?

    Anyway, I may be way off base here, which is why I ask. I certainly don’t have much direct experience with publishing. I hope your tour is going well, and congratulations on the launch!

  11. Being cranky about a Dan Brown book not being high literature is like yelling at a cupcake for not being a salad…

    That. Made. My. Morning, so much that I posted this before reading to the end.

    Thank you.

  12. Awkward. I didn’t know Dan Brown had a new book coming out until this blog. Bought it on Kindle. Will be buying Human Division in dead tree form when Scalzi comes to Powells.

  13. It’s great to see an article on Dan Brown that is not deriding him. I too have enjoyed each of his books simply for their entertainment value and have expected nothing more and nothing less.

  14. …And now that I’ve read to the end, two more thoughts:

    There are a certain number of readers, I imagine, who will see his book, go “ooh! shiny!” and never get around to honoring yours with the same reaction (or – almost as unfortunately – wait until the mass market paperback comes out to do so). There are only 365 days in a year, and you can only spend so many of them reading. (Yes, that makes me sad, too.) I do not imagine, however, that that submarket is one to lose sleep over.

    Also, the person responsible for that (news) story idea needs to be taken behind the woodshed and reminded that eighth grade was a looong time ago. Then there’s the fact that sour grapes are the privilege of the writers who haven’t gotten published yet.

    If it’d been me, I’d’ve deliberately wasted the reporter’s time for being so juvenile. (Yes, I see the hypocrisy in that. No, I don’t care. Some people just have it coming.)

  15. Several years ago, was interviewed by a newspaper reporter who wanted very badly for me to fight with Curtis Sittenfeld. The question was “Curtis Sittenfeld said that calling another female author a chick lit writer is like calling her a slut. Any comment?” When I deigned to take the bait, either at the interview or in the follow up phone call where the reporter told me point blank that her editor was “making her ask” the reporter proceeded to draw some very spurious conclusions, such as the fact that I was at the time writing a series about venomous, man-eating unicorns would “cement my reputation as a chick lit author” as if any chick lit novel, at any time, anywhere, was about unicorns, venemous or otherwise.

  16. The only Dan Brown book I remember reading was Flight of the Old Dog, about an upgraded B-52 sent into Soviet Union to rescue some scientists or something. Wasn’t bad but military fiction not really my thing. It was the 80’s and I was a B-52 mechanic so lots of copies laying around.

    Book selection for me has changed. Before, I had to ration books due to short finances. Now, I ration due to time. Big Idea is useful for helping me chose next book (still deep in Lives of Tao). Maybe get Dan Brown to submit Big Idea about latest book? Might get some new readers.

  17. Jason: I don’t have any direct experience with publishing either, but my general intuition is that more people walking into bookstores is better for all authors. It may be disheartening if your book is on a shelf behind a huge display of blockbuster releases, but the person who walks into the bookstore to grab Dan Brown’s latest is far more likely to see your book than the person who never comes in at all.

    I also suspect that blockbuster books in some ways subsidize smaller titles, by giving publishers the cushion they need to take risks on unknown authors, and booksellers the margins they need to keep the lights on.

    As far as first week sales–again, I have no direct experience with publishing, but unless I’m wrong they mostly run on a slower schedule than that. For movies where there’s been lots of hype in advance, the first week earnings are probably a good indication of how a movie’s going to earn out overall. The same is probably true of blockbuster books. But for other books, there’s probably too many variables to track things that cleanly. While Inferno’s going to be all over the front of every bookstore and newsstand, and is getting a lot of media buzz, that book tucked in behind the Inferno display probably has nowhere to go but up in terms of word-of-mouth, positive reviews, etc. So it might see a bump in sales later in the game, where Inferno‘s opening numbers are more likely to reflect overall interest in the title because more people that would be interested in it are likely to hear about it from all the initial buzz.

  18. No, Scalzi! Don’t you realize that There Can Be Only One? You must take up your Mallet Sword Of Loving Correction and challenge Brown to a duel for the Quickening Book Release Day!

    And, don’t you realize that your sensible attitude risks alienating the vital book-buying complete dick demographic?

  19. I read fast enough that having two books to read isn’t exactly bad news. Writing will always be a slower process than reading. So as a practical solution I have a little list of authors I want cloned. Dan Brown’s books are entertaining but he’s not on my authors-to-be-cloned list. That’s just my preference. You can go clone your own authors after all. (Assuming you get permission, it’s just creepy otherwise.)

    BTW John, do you mind sending me a cheek swab or two? Or a sample of your hair would do. It’s for a good cause. Thanks ever much!

    (That’ll raise some copyright issues! I can’t wait till that hits the courts.)

  20. I don’t get the whole author hating mindset that so many writers have, and I think it comes a whole lot more from writers than readers, who mostly read who and what they like and ignore who and what they don’t like.

    I’ve never thought that an extremely successful writer moves the needle all that much for any other writer. They may blow open a genre or niche, but that’s nothing but good for everyone in that space.

    I will probably read the Dan Brown book. He tells a story as well as anyone; that is, a whole lot better than most. There is no possible way for someone to connect the dots between my reading Brown, to reading Scalzi. I can’t even do that, they are so unrelated.

  21. Hope you don’t get kitten waves busting through houses in Ohio like they have in Canada.

  22. Hmm. Buy a Dan Brown book or one of John’s? Get to harass John in person on the 20th or go see Fleetwood Mac in Tacoma Dome? Decisions, decisions. After all, Stevie Nicks ain’t getting any younger. :)

  23. I agree, people who love to read are gonna buy books. People [and by “people” I mean “me”] who walk into a bookstore intending to get just one book often walk out with more. If there are two bookstores on a block both often do better than if they were across town from each other, because the person who doesn’t find exactly what she is looking for in bookstore 1 will go next door to bookstore 2 (John Dunning talked about this in “Booked to Die”). Same principles apply for other vendors – as you see in “antiques row” areas in certain cities.

    I personally don’t read Dan Brown, after having gotten 50 pages into “Da Vinci Code” and realizing that I knew exactly what was going to happen, so why bother. However, I applaud his success and wish him more of it, because a high tide raises all boats.

  24. Oh, man, preach it, Brother John. Every time someone picks up a book and has a good time with it, it benefits every other writer. (Unless, I guess, the book is titled How to Suppress Books or maybe Fundamentals of Stalking Writers and Making Them Miserable). It is much more likely that a reader will become a different reader, and read our stuff (marketing departments help that happen all the time), than it is that a non-reader will become a reader (despite mighty efforts, teachers and librarians can only do that a small fraction of the time). And the existence of megahumongomonsterselling books means the distribution chain stays in business and stays big enough to matter. And the possibility that any book might become a big seller greatly enhances their attractiveness as the lottery tickets they are for publishers (and self-publishers). Somebody hug Dan Brown for all of us, seriously.

  25. Jimbot says: After all, Stevie Nicks ain’t getting any younger.

    Neither is Señor Scalzi. See him while he’s young!

  26. I’d say being mad at a Dan Brown book is more like being mad at a cupcake for not being one of those elaborate cakes they make on CAKE BOSS (which I’ve never seen) or ACE OF CAKES (which I kind of enjoyed). You didn’t order some elaborate multi-tiered cake that looks like the Starship ENTERPRISE, you ordered a cupcake – so stop complaining. (And now, all I can think of is cake – sweet, delicious cake. With buttercream frosting….) (Being on a low-carb diet sucks sometimes.)

    I read Brown’s first four books, up to THE DA VINCI CODE. They were enjoyable enough as pulp thrillers, even if Brown repeats the same story beats more than I’d like: If the hero really truly trusts somebody, they’ll be the book’s Big Bad; the hero (Langdon in all but DIGITAL FORTRESS and DECEPTION POINT) and his/her Companion for the book will be running like mad over the period of a day or so in search of the Answers to the Problem, while pursued by a seemingly endless stream of minions; the Hero and/or Companion will be wrongly accused of a crime, so The Authorities will be pursuing them as well but never catch up to them until the climax; and the Big Bad’s Main Minion will be some kind of Scary Deformed Bond-Henchman Type. I started to read THE LOST SYMBOL, but gave up when I realized it was The Same Story I’d Already Read Three Times Before – and lampshading it wasn’t helping!

    What I never got was, why THE DA VINCI CODE was such a big deal to so many people. Was the idea that Christ may have gotten married and had a family, and that his descendants might have survived into the present, really that Earthshaking? I first remember hearing about the possibility when I was going to college at Loyola-Marymount in LA in the Seventies, and it’s the premise of Kevin Smith’s movie DOGMA as well – which also gave us Cardinal George Carlin, Jay and Silent Bob, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon as Gorgeous Fallen Angels, Alan Rickman and Chris Rock as Angels With No Genitalia, Alanis Morissette and Some Old Bum as God, and a Shit Demon! On balance, I’ll take DOGMA over THE DA VINCI CODE any day, because it has fun with its premise….

  27. The major metropolitan train station in Ontario had teams of marketers/promo persons flogging Dan Brown’s book today, for “$15 tax included, for the hard cover, one day only blah blah blah”. And I thought, huh I wonder if that bookstore on the concourse has Scalzi’s new book. It did not.

  28. The situation is probably quite the opposite from what that journalist expected: authors whose books are sitting next to Dan Brown’s new one on the “New Releases” tables or endcaps in stores (or their equivalents online) should be stoked. More people probably will see their books this way. It’s like buying a very expensive ad that places your book right in front of tons of readers, some who don’t read a lot and some who do.

  29. I agree with you on every key point, yet disagree *slightly* with your overall thesis. I don’t think it does any particular harm for someone who doesn’t read often to read a Dan Brown book, then go back to all of their non-literary activities. I don’t think it does any harm for anyone who reads a lot to blaze through one of his books and go back to reading Proust. And I don’t think it does any harm for the literary elites to ignore the book entirely and keep reading Proust. But even with the knowledge that this book is just dumb popcorn fun, I think we could be doing a little better than this. I read The Da Vinci Code years ago when everyone was talking about the movie and found it to be a bit lacking even as the sort of thing you’d read on a flight. So while I’m not judging anyone for reading this new book, I have to ask if they wouldn’t be better off reading, say, Michael Crichton.

    By the way, I’ve been following your blog for a long time, but have yet to read any of your books. I promise that I’ll get around to Old Man’s War and Redshirts someday. I’m still young, for a sci-fi nerd.

  30. Thanks for the pro-tip of ordering ahead from the bookstore where you will be signing. Done and done. (and done). I hope your signing hand holds up.

  31. Meh. Some days I want cupcakes, some days I want salads, some days I want a porterhouse steak. All I ask is that the option to choose any or all of the above remains open, although that starts to sound like a really good menu, if enough calories for the whole day.

  32. As my retired English teacher mother reminded me this weekend when I was lamenting that my kids read nothing but Pokemon books, I read nothing but comic books and D&D at that age and “reading anything is better than reading nothing.” If Dan Brown’s books make someone read who wouldn’t otherwise read, or walk into a bookstore that otherwise would’ve been passed by, that’s a good thing.

  33. This post reminded me that Inferno should be on my “read eventually but preferably soonish” list; I already had Human Division preordered. So, yeah, high tides and stuff.

    Off topic but….Tangozulu’s comment brought to mind a book I read a long time ago about an author who gets sent into an alternate reality. He attempts to sell the books he had in mind before that happened, only to be found out by alternate-future himself, who had already written those same books in this version of reality, etc….Any idea what book this might be? It’s probably at least 20 years old.

  34. Wonder if the journalist was checking for a parallel between book and movie releases?

    If I recall most big budget movies make a major chunk of their money on opening weekend so if your extremely expensive action-figure themed epic adventure opens the same day as IronManX that tends to put a dent in revenue as most people go and see one movie on a given weekend, likely the biggest/baddest one, and won’t necessarily trudge back out to the mega-plex to catch the other flicks they missed next weekend especially if there’s some other new, shiny extravaganza opening.

  35. “Being cranky about a Dan Brown book not being high literature is like yelling at a cupcake for not being a salad”… heh. I’m happy there are lots of things that AREN’T “high literature”, which is a vapid, nose-in-the-air term that almost always equates to “plodding, boring, slice-of-life, whiny existentialist angstipation” in what usually passes for literature in recent times. In this case, “salad” would equate to a pile of room-temperature iceberg lettuce with no dressing: pretty much blah on the palate, even if it does supply a touch of roughage and brings about poo. :)

  36. As an editor at a large trade publisher I can say that the only books we worry about putting up against authors with monster sales are those that are also in contention for the top NYT spot. Midlisters have no place to go but up, whereas number-one bestselling authors get cranky when they debut at #2. And when they ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.

  37. Speaking of cupcakes, I recently read that if you lick the frosting off a cupcake, what remains is a muffin, and that muffins are healthy. You’re welcome.

  38. I am perfectly happy to yell at Dan Brown books for being slightly stale cupcakes with sugar frosting instead of whipped cream on top: it is fine to eat slightly stale cupcakes with sugar frosting on top, but the advertising suggested that there would be delicious whipped cream on top of my nice fresh insulin-killer, dammit. [/vague and tortured metaphor]

    Man, it’s so sad that existentialism is associated with “high literature” snotfesting! Kierkegaard and Sartre were gloomy old men, but there’s nothing inherently angsty about the core of the philosophy.

  39. Way back when Harry Potter was dominating the bestseller lists, a certain slice of society took some nasty shots at J.K. Rowling because kids were reading what they perceived to be rubbish. My response then was “yeah, but they’re reading.” My feelings on Mr. Brown are about the same.

  40. Wait. So there are people who love to read who can enter a bookstore and then exit having only purchased one book? I wasn’t aware such willpower was possible.

    More seriously, I’m sure there are some people who were only up for buying one book that week and who will pick Brown’s over someone else’s. I’m guessing they’re outnumbered by people who will remember to go to the bookstore because Brown’s book is being released and will see another eye-catching title while they’re there and pick it up too.

  41. What I find amusing about the whole X taking money from Y argument is that it ignores one rather important detail: until I buy the book and give someone the money, it’s no one’s to take. I know this is a difficult concept for certain quarters to grok in a world where consumers are snootily disdained as passive sheeple waiting to be conned out of their next buck by predatory marketing – though somehow the intelligentsia never seem to include themselves in their low esteem for the unwashed masses – but, for Dog’s sake, try to remember that that money belongs to the buyer and is not dessert carrion to be divided amongst the critically acclaimed.

  42. To play devil’s advocate, I can think of one way this can affect your sales: someone who cannot afford to buy both books on their release day, chooses Dan Brown’s and, by the time she/he has more money to spend on books, they have forgotten about your book/again prefer to buy something else/develop a literature-related allergy/whatever. But I don’t suppose something like this happens enough to make any significant dent in your sales.

    I do wonder, though, whether the journalist wasn’t thinking of potential lost sales, but of media attention.

  43. @ldgilmoure FWIW, that’s Dale Brown, not Dan Brown. I loved Flight of the Old Dog and the other books in that series when I was younger but just can’t get into them now.

  44. Huh. I always thought the expression was “first things first,” as in “first, let us do the first things.” Upon reading this, however, I immediately had a duh moment and realized that “first thing’s” makes more sense. Comprehension! Whee!

  45. Agreed that it’s silly to think of publishing like it’s a zero-sum game. Upthread someone asked that “if you were a new writer whose first book was coming out the same day – well, books stay in print and stay in the stores a while. It’s not like theater where if your one-person show opens the same day as Resevoir Dogs: The Musical, and you’ve got a limited run, you’re screwed.

    As for Dan Brown – one of my friends was very nearly a Jesuit Priest, and has also been a great reader whose literary tastes run towards reading Canterbury Tales in Middle English. It’s really fun to ask him what he thinks of Dan Brown.

  46. I have read one Dan Brown book–and that is enough. (Deception Point has plot holes that are just a bit larger than the story it tells.) I enjoyed the story and then resented the author for having me believing so much BS (even if temporarily).

    Dale Brown, OTOH, wrote Flight of the Old Dog, which I did enjoy–and I hope he didn’t BS me with his B-52 verisimilitude.

  47. Being cranky about a Dan Brown book not being high literature” – I don’t think many people were expecting high literature; they complained because it was so lumpily written it was distracting and kept throwing people off the road Brown was trying to lead them along. I gave up after about 30-40 pages. I bought it because it sounded intriguing; I wasn’t expecting high literature, which I can’t say I often try, but simply a decent read, which I didn’t think I was getting. Arthur C Clarke and Alastair Reynolds aren’t “high literature” either but they read perfectly well (to my mind).

    Here’s an article by the publishing director of Head of Zeus with a thriller due out the same time as Dan Brown’s new book. She’s not anti-Brown – “I know it’s not very cool to like Dan Brown, but I do. His books are incredibly addictive” – but worried whether her offering (The Abomination by Jonathan Holt) in the same month would be obliterated by Brown, and whether they should shift pub date out of his way, as Hollywood studios shift release dates out of the way of superblockbusters. They decided it would be wimpy to do that, and so have gone ahead; and, indeed, obviously her article is itself part of some kind of marketing campaign piggy-backing on Brown.

  48. What’s “tragic” about a kitten avalanche? When my time comes, if I die in a kitten avalanche, I’ll die with a smile on my face.

    If it’s a venomous man-eating unicorn avalanche, not so much. (Now I want to go find out what series Diana Peterfreunde’s comment was talking about.)

  49. That comment above was about the Da Vinci Code, btw.

    I am one of those people who can go into a bookshop and buy either nothing or several books, but rarely just one. On my 21st birthday I had a bit of money given me and bought 17 in one afternoon! (I know, I should have got four more for the full Monty).

  50. Former bookstore manager here. In response to Jason’s question, I think that a specific subset of authors will be negatively affected in the very short term by coming out day-and-date with a super-big author. These authors would specifically be newer authors who are getting a ton of marketing dollars thrown at them but not on the scale of Dan Brown, are in the same category (Fiction, Genre Fiction, Popular Nonfiction), and are not so close to Dan Brown’s work that they can be featured alongside. Those authors will see some drop off because they won’t be on the front table that they normally would be on with 30 copies waiting to greet new customers as they walk in the door, but instead are relegated to the ‘new books’ wall or whatnot.

    Even then, though, I think those authors are benefited in the long term; they might want to move their release date, I guess, but there’s just as good a chance they’re helped by the much, much larger crowds that are there to buy Dan Brown’s book. Maybe move it a week _ahead_ of his, so your books are in the store while his are also, but you also can buy that front table for week one.

    Certainly midlist titles or new authors not getting huge publicity hikes are helped, not hurt, by opening along with Dan Brown; they aren’t having their good publicity spot taken away as they didn’t have one to start with. They’re helped by the influx of new readers. John might be big enough that he is losing a bit of position, but as he notes his readership is pretty loyal and will probably buy the book anyway (and I think most SF/F genre authors fall into this boat – three parts loyal readers, one part genre readers who find them by browsing the section anyway, and a dash of random new readers). I don’t see Human Division being a book a random new reader just picks up, anyway; it’s in a series, so they’ll get scared away even if it does read well enough without the back story. Redshirts, on the other hand, probably would’ve been good to schedule a week off of any super-huge releases – that had a very large ‘random new reader’ base that needed to accidentally stumble into it.

  51. Most of the complaints I see about Dan Brown books (and which mesh with the bits of him I’ve read, which admittedly isn’t much) isn’t that he’s writing cupcake books, but that they’re cupcakes made out of stale flour with expired milk. It’s like Duke Nukem Forever (if probably not as bad), which was proclaimed misunderstood by the critics because it’s a “hamburger” game. Well, no; the problem wasn’t that it was a hamburger game. The problem is that the hamburger was made of shit.

  52. Something tells me that the takeaway on your statement, if it made it into the article, is that Dan Brown is a cupcake.

  53. Da Vinci Code is the only Brown I’ve read to date. If taken purely on its merits as a grailblazing adventure novel, it isn’t bad – it wasn’t enough to get me interested in buying any of the guy’s other books, but it was also a long way from the worst thing I’ve ever read.

    What gets me annoyed at Brown isn’t the book itself, but his little author’s note at the beginning – and his subsequent insistence in interviews – that the Priory of Sion is “an historical occult society” that featured both Leonardo and Isaac Newton amongst its leaders.

    Spoiler: it isn’t.

    It was a surrealist hoax cooked up as a prank in the 50’s by a couple of bored French aristocrats, and which the authors of The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail later jumped on and took far further than its original perpetrators ever intended. Pierre Plantard admitted under oath in 1993 – a whole decade before DVC was published – that he and Phillipe de Cherisey had made the whole thing up.

    If Dan Brown sicks to writing fiction, I don’t have a problem with him. When he makes easily-debunked claims that said fiction is based on fact, and people continue to believe him in spite of said debunking because he’s Dan Brown, I have a big problem.

  54. You are entirely correct about your sales, and his not being a salad.

    I just wish his cupcakes were a little better. They’re not baked bads or anything, but when I was given an illustrated copy of Da Vinci code, I was like, ‘Umm. Umm. Pretty pictures! Score!’

  55. At some point, though, you have to blame the people who believe him for being 1) gullible and 2) willing to believe any aspect of a novel as fact. I don’t think Dan Brown’s a great writer but I also don’t think it’s his fault that some people aren’t really clear on the line between fiction and reality.

  56. @ Dave Crisp

    Well, there’s no law against lying or being deluded, and anyone who could claim libel (save perhaps the Catholic Church) is long dead. You don’t have to like it, but Dan Brown can conspiracy theorize to his wallet’s content. The cost of a free and open society is that charlatans can sell bullshit to gullible customers. Dan Brown is one of untold thousands that do and have done precisely that. Having a problem with it seems as futile as yelling at the sky and really not worth worry about. For example, there’s this urban legend going around about a radical Judean preacher who rose from the dead…

  57. I drove to Amazon today, the lines were very long. They wrapped past Google and reached almost to iTunes. I did not stop to ask, how many people were lined up for your book and how many for the other.

    I did just have a horrible disappointment when reading your post. I was under the impression, today was the release of the first part of Human Division II. I hope, that day comes soon.

  58. @Gulliver: Oh, I freely admit I’m irrational on this issue. But there’s just something that gets to me about the whole Priory of Sion mess in ways that other conspiracy theories/urban legends don’t.

    Perhaps it’s because, with most others, there’s at least a faint glimmer of possibility that they might be true, even if you have to believe in an increasingly improbable string of coincidences to get there. But the PoS can be so easily shown to be bollocks (without even having to resort to Occam’s Razor) that i don’t get how supposedly intelligent people – especially someone like DB, who must have come across Plantard’s confession if he researched the subject as thoroughly as he claimed – can fall for it so completely.

    *shrug* To quote Umberto Eco: “There exists a secret society with branches throughout the world, and its plot is to convince the planet that a Universal Plot exists.”

  59. Perhaps John Carter Of Mars.
    Anyway, I remember books of that genre starting with an author’ note
    about how he hadn’t written the book but had gotten the manuscript in
    some weird(?) way from the guy who had actually lived it.

  60. To add on to what chacha said– if you walk into the movie theater to watch a movie, chances are you’re not going to watch multiple movies that night (or at least you won’t pay to watch the second movie, depending on your morals and how much free time you have). Books stack nicely on shelves and will wait to be read. So I’d imagine that other books are complements to the Dan Brown just out best-seller, whereas movies in theaters are substitutes for each other.

  61. Yay! Foucault’s Pendulum…now there’s a conspiracy novel I can get behind :)
    That and the Illuminatus! Trilogy.

  62. I read the DaVinci code and it was meh, ok, and while stuck in an airport I read Angels and Demons. This taught me a couple of things. Firstly, I had to get a Kindle so I was never stuck at the mercy of the book selection in a small airport again. Secondly, I learned that you have to turn on a mobile phone to listen for the dial tone to see if you had signal. (Seriously, it’s in there and the book was written after mobile phones had become pretty common.)

    I haven’t read a Dan Brown novel since and probably won’t. OTOH I will be reading The Human Division.

  63. John, you realize you just blurbed Dan Brown’s next book, right?

    “I read one of [Dan Brown’s] books; it was entertaining and I was entertained…”
    -John Scalzi, author of The Human Division

  64. The only Dan Brown book I’ve read is Digital Fortress, and that only because I ran into the paperback on the books table at Costco once and thought, “hmm, maybe this is worth a shot.” It was an OK read, kind of like a low-priced Tom Clancy knockoff, even if a bunch of the stuff he spouted off about crypto and computer security in that book was Hollywoodized total crap.

    A genuine Scalzi, though, is not only entertaining and frequently a laugh riot in places, it will hold my attention a lot longer than that book did. (Heck, I remember ordering Old Man’s War and receiving it just before going in for knee surgery, and putting off starting reading it until after the surgery, because, if I died on the table, I didn’t want to have the regret of never knowing how it turned out. I think I made the right call.)

    So yeah, Dan Brown’s got another book out, bully for him. Relevance to my life: minimal. The Human Division now out in hardcover? Damn, I have to wait till Friday when I get paid to go buy a copy, even though I already bought all the installments on Nook!

  65. Plus, the whole point of his books (and those of others) help payroll lots of other people and especially when the book sells well.

  66. @ldgilmoure FWIW, that’s Dale Brown, not Dan Brown. I loved Flight of the Old Dog and the other books in that series when I was younger but just can’t get into them now.

    Along those lines, I learned the hard way that Joel Rosenberg and Joel C. Rosenberg are different.

    I also learned that GPS satellites receive uplink signals from navigation systems in cars. It makes me wish for a cell phone with a dial tone.

  67. See also _The Scarlet Letter_ for a preamble alleging the story is a found manuscript. And _She_, though that wasn’t actually the manuscript, was it?

    I should go re-read _She_. Pass the time with one ripping yarn while I’m waiting on the next…

  68. I just got my copy of THD today. And now I need to learn how to make Churros. Thank you for that, John.

    Anyway, on Dan Brown, it’s not about him not being “high literature” or anything like that. It’s the fact that an author who is essentially writing about historical events, science, and/or theology does not bother to do any freakin’ research into the things he is writing about.

    I suspect that part of the reasons I like SF and Fantasy is that suspension of belief is par for the course.

  69. GeoffGerber: “To the extent a book’s marketing budget is weighted to have its greatest impact leading up to and following the book’s launch, if a juggernaut book is launched at the same time with out-sized marketing efforts and attendant press coverage, what impact would that have on the value of another book’s marketing dollars? …what is the impact on marketing efforts (and marketing dollars) for books that may not have an established audience or about which a general audience may as yet be unaware?”

    Well, 1) books aren’t movies. A new book from a bestselling author does not have a marketing budget that is weighted to have the greatest impact leading up to and following the book’s launch. A lot of the marketing will be just before and right after, but books sell over the long term, a bestseller stays much longer on the shelves and online listings, and it is not unusual for publishers to hold back on some major marketing efforts like ads until things jell in the market and the word-of-mouth ball gets rolling, for bestsellers and other titles. It’s not like movies having premieres and opening weekends.

    2) The only probable negative impact may be when two bestsellers of comparative worth are being put out by the same book publisher, because then the publisher’s resources are stretched, so a second bestseller might not get as many launch efforts or attention from the big booksellers. However, publishers usually stretch out their bestsellers, making them the lead titles of different months, or different types of bestsellers, to avoid this problem. (Plus a dealer like Amazon doesn’t care.) For everybody else — bestsellers at other houses, mid-list, newbies — a new release from a big bestseller is a gift. It means that the publisher will buy a bigger co-op deal with the booksellers for more titles and get the booksellers to take more titles. It means a draw to get people into physical bookstores and browsing online stores. It means that people will be reminded that there is this thing called written fiction and that it is interesting. A percentage of those people, as Scalzi explained, will buy other stuff. And the media also will remember that written fiction exists, that it is a hot commodity, and so they will write about more fiction titles than they would otherwise bother to do.

    Fiction writers don’t directly compete in the marketplace. They are symbiotic — they help each other sell. This is why Scalzi and Patrick Rothfuss do not fight each other with daggers when they meet except for fun. That Scalzi is touring for The Human Division while lots of people are coming into the stores he’s speaking in to buy Dan Brown’s book is a plus for Scalzi, as they will check him out and you know how entertaining the fellow is.

  70. Uhm, vis “_She_” I suspect that you don’t mean ‘She’ Haggard but
    instead something that can’t really be identified via a web search.

    The kitten avalanche in Ohio is, judging by the local cats, one
    feline gestation time from now.

    TheMadLibrarian says: With “steamed” new potatoes and parsley
    and butter and, depending on where you have to be tomorrow?
    A hint of garlic or cumin.

    The Journalist says: – Yeah, dude went to a parallel universe for
    a better life, rewrote some of his stories that he couldn’t sell
    sent ’em off, and got a phone call from his native self.
    “[‘Dude, you did exactly what I’ve been planning to (_For _years!)
    do to those stories of mine. How’d you manage that?’
    -Some fast thinking:- ‘I, Uh, was an editor at Analog for a while.
    Did you submit them there?’
    ‘I did, yes, that explains.’
    ‘Oh, scheisse, so much for my new career as a writer.’]” – _ –
    I, as the native to the universe guy would have gone the coauthor
    route: Howsabout you rewrite all of my unsellable crap and we
    split the money 99.99/0.01 because you’re just doing a little bit of
    I, as the new guy to the universe woulda said something like “So,
    you think somebody would pay for that? ‘Cause, if so can you
    send me some of your works that editors were to stupid to buy
    and maybe we can get some moola off of me rewriting them?
    We can split the money 99.99/0.01 because after all I’ll be the one
    who made your excellent works into something that editors like.
    (Really. back when I read that one my thought really was that they
    should be co authors.)

  71. @psrmspn wrote:

    Way back when Harry Potter was dominating the bestseller lists, a certain slice of society took some nasty shots at J.K. Rowling because kids were reading what they perceived to be rubbish. My response then was “yeah, but they’re reading.”

    Yup – and I don’t know anyone else, but however much I wish Ms. Rowling’s prose was equal to her ability to tell an engaging story I’m thankful she made my task as “THAT uncle who only gives us BOOKS for presents” a lot easier. I’m willing to give Harry Potter, sparkly emo vampires and Hunger Gamers all kinds of passes because they got my younglings into Diana Wynne Jones, Tolkien and a certain novel with a female teenage protagonist written by our host. (And it would be hypocritical to get too sanctimonious about kids reading dreck, because I didn’t exactly fall out of the womb musing on post-colonialist discourses in the novels of James Joyce.)

  72. My favorite bit of Brown “research” is the description of the German Enigma machine in Digital Fortress as a “12 ton beast”. Even if you can’t get to see one on exhibit (there are several), it’s not at all hard to find pictures of them, with people or hands for scale. They are about the size and weight of a large manual typewriter, as one would expect just from knowing that code clerks did, in fact, have to carry them around.

    Even in fiction, this is the sort of thing that readers expect an author to get right.

  73. “If Dan Brown sicks to writing fiction, I don’t have a problem with him. When he makes easily-debunked claims that said fiction is based on fact, and people continue to believe him in spite of said debunking because he’s Dan Brown, I have a big problem.”

    This sums up my issues with Brown perfectly. I read The Da Vinci Code. It kept me entertained as I read it, even if I predicted every single plot twist and even if it felt a bit empty once I finished it. And I have no problem with writers using fictitious history and made-up organizations. My problem is when he tries to claim “the characters are fake, but everything else in this book is real.” That, to me, is going too far. True, he’s allowed to do it in a free and open society, but just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.

    And that’s why I’ll never buy another of Brown’s books ever again. It’s not because he’s not literary enough—most of what’s considered “high literature” I find to be pretty boring anyway. I love pulp books, I’m a pulp novelist myself. I just have an issue with him deliberately lying to the audience and telling them that what’s fiction is actually fact.

    And yes, I know I’m alone in this. My own girlfriend loves his books and just laughs when I tell her why I don’t like him. But that’s just how I feel about it.

  74. Like Yuripup above I’ve read one Dan Brown book, Deception Point, and it had so many astronomy, paleontology, and aviation howlers that it cured me, quickly, of the urge to read any others. Like others here, I find Dale Brown much more fun and he tends not to get the science we know NOW wrong.

  75. There are days when I wonder if I’m not so smart because I find myself arguing with people who insist that authors like Dan Brown and Stephanie Meyer are eroding the intelligence of the human race and I can’t help but wonder if I’M not the one who’s missing the point. Thank you, John, for validating my logic on this matter and, most of all, for articulating the argument far more succinctly than I frankly possess the skill to. And I would add that the argument applies equally well to Justin Bieber, fast food, reality television and Michael Bay movies.

  76. Dying in a kitten avalanche is now my preferred way to go. I’m sure I’ll read the Dan Brown book eventually but doubt I’ll buy it. If I put myself on the library wait list now, I should have it in time for the beach in July. Nothing wrong with beach books.

  77. I just looked in on Google books, Play Books? Anyway, Inferno and Human Divisions are listed directly next each other in the new arrivals section. Not sure if thats due to my buying habits or what. I think John’s loyal minions are in more places than we might have thought.

  78. I bought the Da Vinci Code once. Secondhand.
    I tried to read it once. Gave up pretty quickly.

    I have no ideal where it is now…

    On the other hand, I’ve never met a Scalzi book I didn’t devour.
    Except for those early non-fiction works. They were a bit harder to process all at once :-)

  79. John – I am just SURE you are wrong. There are a certain number of books that get sold every year, that number NEVER changes! So if Brown’s book sells 100k copies that means every other author is going to sell some number less than they would have if not for that guy!

    That is how it works, right?

    Its a chicken/egg do we have stupid media because people are stupid or are people stupid because we have stupid media? Thanks for not playing along

  80. But, but what if someone who reads Stephanie Meyer then say “what else is out there?” and reads your book and then say “wow this prose is so much better, I will never read Stephanie Meyer again!”. Would that make you feel bad for taking sales away from Stephanie Meyer?

  81. See, this is why I respect Mr. Scalzi so much. Also, I am incapable of exiting a bookstore with only one book. And now all my brain can think is CAAAAAAAAKE!

  82. @Kat – I don’t disagree with what you’re saying for the large part, but I would note that there is some competition for perhaps the most significant marketing a book will have: location in the bookstores. There is certainly some marginal loss from books losing placement when a big bestseller moves them out from the key areas to place [BIG BESTSELLER] there; that mostly affects only a few authors who might potentially be in those locations as well, of course, but it probably does have a small negative effect to lose that placement. For the rest of the authors in the bookstore, it’s nothing but positive. :)

    I don’t think it’s negative over the long run for any author – totally agree with that – but given the choice of same day&date or a week earlier/later, it might have a small difference in sales for authors that would potentially have front-of-store placement.

  83. To be perfectly honest, I can’t recall who Dan Brown is or what his book’s about. Like the movie? Dunno. Yeah, you could say I’m ________________ (fill in the blank).

  84. Dontcha just love people who have to try to turn every discussion into something political?

  85. Where was all this vitriol when Return of the Living Dead claimed it was based on a true story?

  86. Em, you mean it wasn’t? I was sure that I saw something on the National Geographic channel on the zombie apocalypse.

  87. Agree with The Sanity Inspector. Brown is under no compulsion to be even a little historically truthful or accurate in a book sold as fiction. Not even in the author’s note.

    Have you guys learned nothing from The Princess Bride?

  88. It didn’t bother me particularly that Dan Brown broke the conventions for the “verisimilitude trope.” (I’m not sure what to call it, offhand, but there are ways to tell the difference between the “I found this mysterious manuscript in a bottle” preface and the “this is based on actual history” preface/afterward.) I think I found him a little pretentious and a lot silly, but so what? Didn’t mean he couldn’t have written a fun-to-read novel. I didn’t even mind (much) when my students started trying to write me research essays based on Brown’s claims; anyone who was naive enough or stupid enough to accept a novelist’s research without double-checking the sources probably deserved the rotten grade. What got me going were the actual errors in the course of the plots of the novels–I read both DaVinci Code and Angels and Demons before I gave up, and I kept getting thrown out of the action by something that just didn’t make sense. That, I found irritating. But for people who didn’t notice, or didn’t care, and who found the books enjoyable? More power to them.

    I also seem to remember having a bit of a problem with the prose style, too, but, well.That’s another issue.

  89. Joe: “I don’t disagree with what you’re saying for the large part, but I would note that there is some competition for perhaps the most significant marketing a book will have: location in the bookstores. There is certainly some marginal loss from books losing placement when a big bestseller moves them out from the key areas to place [BIG BESTSELLER] there; that mostly affects only a few authors who might potentially be in those locations as well, of course, but it probably does have a small negative effect to lose that placement. ”

    It’s true that bookstores have limited bits of prime real estate. However, the big bestsellers nearer Brown’s orbit (he’s a phenom, so let’s say the top five slots bestsellers,) are also required by bookstores to draw in customers and needed in their ads, and they want co-op dollars from publishers. So those books get prime placement as well. Publishers will pay co-op for lesser bestsellers too. So you’re liable to see a special pile of books for Dan Brown and then still also have a front table crowded with bestsellers and gambles. Publishers and booksellers also juggle. A SFF bestseller may have some books on the front tables and then a bigger rider display in the SFF section. The big season is the fall (Christmas,) followed by the big spring season. Booksellers want multiple bestsellers then and will find ways to display them. Publisher may schedule newer books they are backing and other bestsellers in the summer or winter, or they will stagger them before or after a big release in spring or fall. And a book may get more extensive in-store PR several weeks after its release, when it’s gotten a lot of attention. Release dates aren’t majorly important except for pre-orders.

    For Scalzi, it’s really a non-issue. Readers who like Brown are very likely to buy his book as well, and so the inflow for Brown gives him more chances to get them, especially if he’s doing an event at a store. Scalzi has the resources of the category SFF market for marketing and that section of the bookstore. The success of Redshirts means bookselllers are quite jazzed about Human Division and his publisher will pay out co-op dollars to the booksellers. The media will hunt for other stories in relation to Brown’s launch, which gives Scalzi and other SFF and thriller authors more opportunities for interviews. There will be plenty of this: And his doing well likewise helps other SF authors.

  90. I bought “The Da Vinci Code” because I was at church listening to a pastor whom I’d decided I didn’t have a ton of respect for, and he said something about it being well-written, but blasphemous, so people shouldn’t buy it because of the blasphemy. That piqued my curiosity enough to buy it. Enjoyed it, and didn’t attend that church for much longer. I’ve gotten other books of his since then, but I just think they’re OK.

    I bought “Old Man’s War” because I was in my university’s bookstore and needed to kill about an hour before an appointment. The title was mildly intriguing, and the back flap a little more so. Then I read the first two pages. My test for a new author is to read 2 pages and if I want to read more, I buy the book. I couldn’t wait to get to the register so I could get beyond page 2. I just barely made the appointment, and when I’d finished the book, had that warm and fuzzy feeling that comes from finding a new author to put on the “look for” list.

    Oh, and The Human Division was great. I hope to see more OMW universe books in the future.

  91. “Never have quite understood the furor that Brown evokes from history buffs. His stuff’s right there in the Fiction section, after all.”

    Yeah, but he sorta-kinda implies that the fiction he writes is based on and inspired by Actual True Fact For Serious – the “there is a history of symbology professor named Robert Langdon who saved the life of the pope by stopping someone from using antimatter to blow them up” was fiction, but he implies that “there is Seekrit arcane knowledge hidden from the world by a shadowy group known as the Illuminati and This statue here means X and That statue there means Y” is For-Realz fact. And a lot of people take him at his word on that. But it’s only sort-of true – there was actually an Illuminati, but they were a single group in Bavaria in the 1700’s that didn’t get very far, as opposed to being this far-reaching shadowy group within the Roman Catholic church that has been leaving clues for its followers scattered throughout Rome since the time of the Renaissance.

    Yeah, it’s fiction, but he claims certain bits of it aren’t fiction, and that’s what has people all het up.

    (Personally, I think the films end up being an improvement on the books – the fact that it’s film strips away the purple-prose issue, and the adaptations also tend to write out the dippy “Robert Langdon hooks up with his female collaborator” subplot that works its way into the books.)

  92. I saw the film Da Vincie Code (sp?) and enjoyed it well enough. It did not inspire me to purchase and read the novel by Brown. So, is the novel by Brown not worth reading if you’ve seen the film? I get that impression from the comments in this thread.

  93. Angels and Demons, the first in the series, is much better than Da Vinci Code and more of a SF thriller than Code, which is a standard thriller. Da Vinci Code does have a cool scene in the Louvre and some action and fun puzzle stuff, but is mostly people talking to each other about conspiracy theories as well-known facts. There’s only one actual secret to all the secrecy, which is the location of Mary Magdalene’s supposed grave. Angels and Demons is a race to solve puzzles to save the lives of several Catholic bishops from terrorists and find an anti-matter bomb, so it’s fun. I haven’t seen the movie for that one. Brown did several stand alone thrillers before the big series. Don’t know about the other books in the series, though it sounds like he picks a different sort of subject for each one. He is not a prose stylist, but is okay. I put him just behind Michael Crichton stylistically. My sister likes his books, and who could hate Tom Hanks, who is much less obnoxious than the book version of his character.

  94. I agree with others above about Deception Point, but what annoyed me was the total unsubtlety. There was no finesse with the smart alec who proved the scientists wrong every time, it was in your face nastiness. Sure, it’s pulp, but it was annoying and poorly written, not to mention the plot holes and the errors of fact.
    Yet I didn’t mind the Da Vinci code so much, perhaps because it was so obviously silly whereas Deception Point was trying to be serious.
    I finally read The Lost Symbol a while ago, and was pleasantly surprised. He’s either hired a better editor or his writing has improved with practise. Up until the silly bit after the climax, it was doing pretty well as a thriller, and was much better than Deception Point.

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