Vintage Books Uses ‘New Approach’ to Crashing a Book Project
Official government documents may not have topped most holiday wish lists in the past, but several such reports found their ways under Christmas trees with increasing frequency the last several years. “The Iraq Study Group Report: The Way Forward—A New Approach” hit bookshelves in early December 2006 and, like a couple of its recent predecessors, has earned overwhelming success. Already in its third printing at the time of this story, the book’s release was made all the more remarkable by the circumstances surrounding its publication: a 24-day turnaround time.
Government reports have, on occasion, sounded blips on literary radar screens in the past—perhaps most notably “The Starr Report” in 1998 and “The 9/11 Commission Report” in 2006, which has sold more than 1 million copies. But what sets apart “The Iraq Study Group Report” was the unprecedented time-crunch challenge overcome by its publisher, Vintage Books. Vintage, a trade paperback imprint of Random House, churned out the best seller in just over three weeks and did so, says Senior Editor Andrew Miller, without seeing any of the book’s copy until the weekend it shipped. Just a couple of weeks later, more than a quarter-million books were in print.
In order to accomplish the ambitious task, Vintage had to first convince the Iraq Study Group (ISG) of Vintage’s competence and capabilities. The publisher, known for such smash hits as Bill Clinton’s “My Life” and Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code,” bid against three other companies for the right to publish this title. Vintage won, Miller says he was informed, for “our [quick] turnaround time, and that we thought we could ship … more copies than the other [bidders]. Their goal was to get [the book] out widely, and that we gave them the best chance of doing that.” Promising quick results and widespread distribution may have won the ISG’s faith, but delivering on that pledge was an undertaking Vintage had never encountered before.