During summer 2007, the University Press approached Leeson about a writing a book on the economics of piracy. He decided the book was the perfect opportunity to propose to his then-girlfriend, Ania Bulska, by printing the proposal on the dedication page.
“After I was approached to write the book, after a week or two, the idea hit me — I don’t know how to describe it,” Leeson, an economics professor at George Mason University, said. “I thought it was innovative, different, perfect for her.”
For the Press, keeping Leeson’s planned proposal secret presented several unfamiliar challenges, employees said.
“This is the first time I’ve ever seen someone propose to anyone in a book,” said Press senior editor Seth Ditchik, who worked with Leeson on the book. “Everyone really got behind it and made sure that anything we did for the book didn’t ruin the surprise for his then-girlfriend and now fiance.”
The publishers took extra precautions to ensure Leeson’s proposal went according to plan, Ditchik said. The dedication page — which reads “Ania, I love you; will you marry me?” — had to be removed from advance review copies, or galleys, so that no one else would learn of the proposal prior to publication.
“When we were preparing the galleys, we had an ‘aha’ moment because someone might pick up on it,” Press assistant publicity director Jessica Pellien said in an e-mail. “I’ve never had to … deliberately excerpt [that] portion of the book from the galley.”
Pellien noted that the foreword also had to be excluded from the galleys, since in it, Leeson explained why he included the proposal in his book: “Several people besides me were critical to writing this book,” it read. “First and most important is my girlfriend, Ania Bulska ... In this book’s dedication I ask her to marry me. If I’ve succeeded in hiding my plans from her since writing this, she should be very surprised. I hope she says ‘yes.’ If she doesn’t, I might have to turn to sea banditry, which would be tough since I don’t know how to sail (though I’ve tried to learn).”
Despite the special care that had to be taken with the book’s publication, Pellien said the outcome was well worth the extra effort. “It’s not often you come across romance while promoting economics books, so this has been a lovely and unique experience for me,” she said.
Leeson had the book mailed to a cigar shop near his house to keep it hidden from Bulska. “We went to great strides to get a copy available,” Pellien said, adding that the publishers sent “the first one off the press” to Leeson as soon as it was available.
On March 20, Leeson proposed to Bulska at the Washington, D.C., restaurant Citronelle. Leeson said he asked the waiters to bring a treasure chest to the table before dessert. Inside the chest was a copy of the book with a ribbon marking the dedication page.
“I gave her a key to unlock it … for a layer of surprise. She was happy because she thought we were celebrating the book,” Leeson said. After Bulska read the dedication, Leeson opened the false bottom of the treasure chest, revealing an engagement ring.
Bulska said the proposal came as a “total surprise.”
“The treasure chest came … [and] I was like, ‘What’s going on?’ “ Bulska said. “There was more than one waiter, and someone came with a camera ... I thought, ‘Oh, my God, is this happening? Is this what I think it is?’ ”
When Bulska saw the book inside, she thought they were celebrating the book, she explained. “He said, ‘No we are celebrating more — keep reading,’ ” she explained. “I was very touched. It was very nice, and the chest was cool-looking. It was legit.”
Ditchik praised the originality of Leeson’s proposal.
“I think that the genius of it is that I’ve never seen it done before, so it ups the ante for guys in the future,” Ditchik said.
Bulska echoed a similar sentiment. “Some of my friends are like, ‘It’s the most amazing, most romantic proposal ever.’ They are taking that as the bar for proposals now,” she said.
Leeson said his plan initially met with some skepticism. “One of my closest friends told me it was a horrible idea. He said, ‘What if she says no? You’ll be a jackass,’ ” Leeson said. “But I listened to my own judgment.”
Ditchik noted that the book had already generated interest. “The story of the proposal is great, but on top of it, it’s the only book I’ve published that my mother has asked [for] a copy of,” he said.