A Discovery of Witches reach­ed the hardcover best-seller list before it even hit bookstores. How? Well, it wasn’t witchcraft. Author and history professor Deborah Harkness explains how the buzz to be able to nail that achievement was developed (hint: nerds help).

How did the huge buzz around your book start?
I think it started with an appearance I made at Comic Con in October, where they handed out some advance copies and buttons. And closer to the publication date, we got some advance praise on the Internet and in print media.

Are you a reader of fantasy?
Well, as a historian, I read mostly nonfiction. Since I have limited hours, I have to keep abreast of history books.

So, if you don’t read fantasy books, how did you come up with the idea for this book?
I was on vacation and it was a month after the final book in the Twilight series was published, and there were all these displays in the airport. I got curious as to why, after so many centuries, witches and vampires and ghosts and angels still exert this powerful pull on us even though we think of ourselves as such scientific beings. And, what if there really were these creatures among us? What would they be doing? What on earth would vampires do for a living? And if vampires were scientists, what would witches be? So, I just began building this world in my mind.

In A Discovery of Witches, they’re academics. How do you make it seem sexy?
Academia can be really dry and stuffy but it’s not always the case. Libraries are magical; it’s a place where infinite possibilities can happen. I just took that idea to the last degree.

Reading and knowing things is sexy — I’m gratified knowing that my readers think nerds are sexy.