Forget about happily ever after. At one time, it may have been enough for The Three Bears to chase Goldilocks from their home and get back to their meal. But publishers know well that a good sequel can pave the road from one-off bestseller to veritable empire. Where did Goldilocks's larcenous tendencies take her next? Did she ever get to finish that nap? And did the bears ever get that broken chair repaired?
A number of this spring's most anticipated titles follow up acclaimed picture books and novels from recent years. Sophomore outings by Jeff Kinney, Melissa Marr and Cassandra Clare aim to grow momentum for their nascent series. Jeanne Birdsall has a long-awaited sequel to her NBA-winning first novel. And seasoned authors return with offerings ranging from the comforting (Laura Vaccaro Seeger) to the cataclysmic (Susan Beth Pfeffer). We spoke with publishers to see why the first books hit their mark, and what to look forward to in their successors.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules by Jeff Kinney (Abrams/Amulet, Jan.)
The backstory: A Web comic first, Diary of a Wimpy Kid became a book through a chance meeting between Kinney and Abrams senior editor Charles Kochman at Comic-Con in 2006. Kochman came to think of Greg Heffley, the Wimpy Kid himself, as a “Holden Caulfield for a new generation.” “The same way that Holden doesn't like certain things, [and] speaks out against phonies—Greg doesn't like jerks or to be bullied. But he's a jerk and he bullies,” said Kochman.
What worked: After 12 printings, more than one million copies of Diary of a Wimpy Kid are in print. “It's very rare to find someone who has a clear perfect voice that perfectly captures childhood,” Kochman said. That voice, he believes, is due in large part to journals and notes that Kinney has been keeping, and refining, over the years. “He's not coming at it through memory, being revised through history and time. [The book] has that pureness of what it felt like when you're not a kid and certainly not an adult.”
The new story: Abrams printed 250,000 copies of Rodrick Rules, which went on sale earlier this month, and already has gone back to press three times. The Last Straw will come out in 2009, and will be the last book based on the Web comic's material. Two additional titles are planned in the series, and a “Do-It-Yourself” journal arrives this November. Kinney is currently touring the country in support of Rodrick Rules, and a redesigned version of Wimpykid.com debuted last month.
Zen Ties by Jon J Muth (Scholastic Press, Feb.)
The backstory: Muth has been working with David Saylor at Scholastic Press since Come On, Rain by Karen Hesse (1999), the illustrator's first book with the house, and Saylor cites Muth's interest in Zen Buddhism as the inspiration behind 2005's Zen Shorts. “What got Jon started on this vein is his thinking that we spend so much time teaching our children basic things—stay away from a hot stove, simple things like that—[but] there are also ways you can pass wisdom on to kids in a very gentle and non-didactic way.”
What worked: Zen Shorts was awarded a Caldecott Honor in 2006, spent 44 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and has more than 300,000 copies in print. For his part, Saylor credits Stillwater, the book's panda bear guru, as key to the first book's success. “Stillwater's the friend everyone wishes they had,” he said. “Someone who's very gentle and loving and listens, but also changes the way you think about things.”
The new story: “We had not necessarily been thinking that there would be a sequel,” said Saylor. “But it's a rich vein, and Jon started to realize there were other situations and stories that Stillwater had to tell.” Zen Ties arrives this month with a 100,000-copy first printing. The new book welcomes Stillwater's nephew, Koo, who speaks in haiku. Two additional books are planned, and in keeping with the seasonal setting of the first two (spring for Zen Shorts and summer for Zen Ties), they will consist of a “mysterious ghost story” for fall, and a winter tale to follow.
City of Ashes by Cassandra Clare (S&S/McElderry, Mar.)
The backstory: Clare's Mortal Instruments series was planned as a trilogy from the start, but Karen Wojtyla, executive editor at McElderry Books, signed the series up after seeing only 60 pages and a synopsis of the story arc. “I can't tell you how seductive this book is,” said Wojtyla, referring to City of Bones, an urban fantasy populated with vampires, angels and numerous other creatures. “She's witty, funny and irreverent, and yet the characters are so fully drawn as people.”
What worked: Wojtyla notes that Clare is an avid self-promoter, and believes that her online presence (Clare is an active blogger) has helped her build an avid fan base. The author also toured with YA author Holly Black last year in support of City of Bones, which helped to broaden her exposure. For online outreach for City of Ashes, the house will offer a number of downloads to help fans spread the word, and Clare will participate in the Simon Pulse Blogfest in March.
The new story: City of Ashes pubs this March, a year after the first book's debut, and Wojtyla is currently editing the trilogy's third volume. She notes that while Clare's trademark wit continues in this second outing, things get more serious as well. “You still have the wisecracking, the fast pace, but you're getting deeper into what's behind these characters, and some very dramatic things happen,” Wojtyla said. “She comes up with twists that I never see coming. She's like a highwire act—she's not afraid to take risks.”
The Penderwicks on Gardam Street by Jeanne Birdsall (Knopf, Apr.)
The backstory: According to Michelle Frey, executive editor at Knopf, Birdsall's manuscript for The Penderwicks felt both fresh and familiar when it landed on her desk in 2003. “I sat down to read it and was immediately transported into the world of these amazing sisters,” she said. “It had such a charming old-fashioned feel and yet was completely contemporary, at a time when a lot of middle-grade fiction had been getting darker and edgier.”
What worked: It may well be The Penderwicks's old-fashioned innocence that has contributed to its success (the book won the National Book Award in 2005, and has nearly 500,000 copies in print). “It's not only a wonderful story that captures so much of the innocence in childhood, but it's also a great escape for children whose lives can be filled with pressures and complications,” Frey said.
The new story: The Penderwicks on Gardam Street is due this April with a 150,000-copy first printing. The story picks up after the summer that is recounted in the first book. According to Frey, the girls' personalities continue to develop in the sequel, and Mr. Penderwick begins dating. “[The girls] felt like members of my family, and they still feel that way,” said the editor, adding that she and Birdsall talk about them like real people.” Birdsall is at work on her next Penderwicks title, though when it will appear, Frey can't yet say. “I like her to have all the space she needs to write the book she wants to write.”
Dog and Bear: Two's Company by Laura Vaccaro Seeger (Roaring Brook/Porter, Apr.)
The backstory: Before Dog and Bear hit the scene, Seeger was best known for her concept books, such as Lemons Are Not Red and Black? White! Day? Night!, which she'd worked on with Roaring Brook's Neal Porter. Author and editor's inspiration for Dog and Bear came from a source close to home—a junk store teddy bear and Seeger's own pet Dachshund. A plot-driven book was a departure for the author, and Porter was pleased with the result. “The old saying is that comedy is hard, and I think the same thing could be said for simplicity,” he said.
What worked: “The first amazing thing that happened was that it got five starred reviews,” said Lauren Wohl, associate publisher at Roaring Brook. Dog and Bear went on to win the 2007 Boston Globe/Horn Book Award for best picture book, which brought added attention, according to Wohl. She recalls a conversation with Seeger that changed the way she thought about the book. “Laura told me, 'This is a concept book—the concept is friendship.' ”
The new story: Dog and Bear: Two's Company arrives this April with a 75,000-copy first printing. The author will appear at ALA this summer, and other events are scheduled as well. Seeger is now at work on a third book starring the duo. “I think these characters just exist for her now,” said Wohl. “She can sit down and see the world through their eyes.”
Ink Exchange by Melissa Marr (HarperTeen, Apr.)
The backstory: “If you've ever panned for gold, you see a lot of sparkly stuff. But when you see a chunk of gold, you know it immediately.” That's how Anne Hoppe, executive editor at HarperCollins Children's Books, describes Melissa Marr's debut novel, Wicked Lovely, about a girl who is courted by a faerie king. Hoppe received the manuscript on a Friday, read it straight through on Saturday, and signed the author to a three-book deal by the end of the following week.
What worked: Marr was named a Flying Start by PW and, with 95,000 copies in print, the book found its audience. “One of the very important elements of these books is Melissa's fan base,” Hoppe said. “She has a fabulous Web site and blogs almost daily. She really wants to have communication and conversation with her readers. Her commitment to them and the way she takes them seriously dovetails with things we do online for her.”
The new story: Ink Exchange goes on sale this April with a first printing of 125,000 copies, and Harper has extensive plans to expand Marr's world. The trilogy's third book is due in spring 2009, and Hoppe recently signed a second three-book deal with Marr. A manga trilogy is in the works as well. “She does transcend the [fantasy] genre,” said Hoppe. “She has an original voice, compelling characters and a compelling world.”
Monster Blood Tattoo: Lamplighter by D.M. Cornish (Putnam, Apr.)
The backstory: “There's always a joy in finding a new world, something that really knocks your socks off,” said Timothy Travaglini, senior editor at Putnam, who acquired Cornish's Monster Blood Tattoo trilogy from Scholastic Australia in October 2005. According to Travaglini, Cornish and his Australian editor, Celia Jellett, work together in the earliest writing stages; when a first draft is ready, he joins in to create what he calls a “three-way editorial process.”
What worked: Foundling, the first book in the trilogy, received three starred reviews when it was published in June 2006; currently there are more than 100,000 copies in print, in both hardcover and paperback. It was also named a Best Book for Young Adults by ALA and was a BookSense pick. “I couldn't be more thrilled. The books are so smart and so creative,” said Travaglini. “[Cornish] spent 13 years building this world [Half-Continent, where humans war with monsters] from the ground up, and he's been writing these novels ever since.”
The new story: “A second book always helps to build the momentum. There's renewed enthusiasm,” said Travaglini of Lamplighter, which lands in April with a 50,000-copy first printing. Putnam will promote Lamplighter at both the San Diego and New York City Comic-Cons, though Cornish won't be touring the U.S. The Jim Henson Company bought film rights to the trilogy last year.
Genius Squad by Catherine Jinks (Harcourt, May)
The backstory: “It's the most entertaining romp through sinister evil I've ever read,” said Kathy Dawson, associate editorial director at Harcourt Children's Books, about Evil Genius, which she acquired in a two-book deal in early 2006. First published in Australia by Allen & Unwin in 2005, the book follows Cadel Piggott, an ultra-brilliant child sent to a school for the criminally inclined, who soon realizes that nothing in his life is as it seems. To Dawson, the result is more than just a thriller. “It morphs into something totally different every 100 pages.”
What worked: Compelling plot aside, Dawson believes that the book's success lies in Jinks's handling of her characters. “I love a good plot as much as anyone else,” she said, “but if it doesn't have depth of character, I finish the book and go, 'So what?' ” There are currently more than 36,000 copies of Evil Genius in print, and a new Web site, evilgeniusbooks.com, will go live next month.
The new story: “This one is just as funny and witty, but explores Cadel as a regular boy in a lot of ways that the first book didn't,” said Dawson of Genius Squad, which pubs in May with a 60,000-copy first printing. “That's what you want to have happen in a second book. You hope that the author will expand on the characters in [such] a way that it's a completely separate entity.” According to Dawson, Jinks is currently writing a third book, titled Genius Wars, though a pub date has not yet been set.
Cathy's Key: If Found Call (650) 266-8202 by Jordan Weisman and Sean Stewart (Running Press, May)
The backstory: When Cathy's Book: If Found Call (650) 266-8233 pubbed in summer 2006, it offered readers more than just a mystery—the book came with an “evidence pack,” including receipts, documents and other items as well as phone numbers and Web sites readers could use to obtain additional clues. According to Lisa Clancy, associate editorial director at Running Press, the publisher's access to suppliers (for its Running Press Mini Kits) were very helpful in putting together the interactive elements.
What worked: Despite a flap over product placement (Procter & Gamble struck a deal with Running Press to referenceCoverGirl cosmetics in the book), Cathy's Book became a bestseller; more than 100,000 copies of the hardcover are currently in print. “It was the first book of its kind to incorporate those elements into the story,” said Craig Herman, v-p of marketing and publicity at Running Press. “It helped to get the reader deeper into the characters, and in terms of plot, it engaged them and took them places they wouldn't ordinarily go on the straight printed page.”
The new story: Cathy's Key arrives in May, and will include new Web sites, phone numbers and evidence, including a Chinese coin, hospital ID bracelet and other items. Because the book is ostensibly written by Cathy, there are no plans for the authors to tour, though they will attend BEA, ALA and regional trade shows. A third book is scheduled for spring 2009, to coincide with a paperback edition of Cathy's Key.
the dead and the gone by Susan Beth Pfeffer (Harcourt, June)
The backstory: Harcourt's Kathy Dawson first read the manuscript for Life as We Knew It in 2005, after running into Pfeffer's agent on the street. In the book, a girl and her family in rural Pennsylvania cope after an asteroid's collision with the moon wreaks havoc on Earth. Dawson found Pfeffer's treatment of the subject disturbingly believable: “It's too close to the things we worry about.” The book became an in-house favorite, particularly among younger staffers. “Just before it was published, I got the sense it would be one of 'those' books. I was haunted by it.”
What worked: Despite her confidence in the book from the start, Dawson still recalls being taken by surprise by the book's enthusiastic reception, and credits word-of-mouth for building buzz (the book found a legion of blogger fans early on). “It has taken on a life of its own,” she said. “That's part of why we felt so comfortable doing a sequel.” Life as We Knew It was named an ALA Best Book for Young Adults in 2007; close to 40,000 copies are in print.
The new story: the dead and the gone, which lands in June with a 40,000-copy first printing, takes place in New York City and follows a Catholic boy dealing with the same events of the first book. (“His faith is a huge part of the story,” said Dawson. “In an apocalyptic book, it's not a bad thing to have faith.”) For Barbara Fisch, associate director of publicity at Harcourt, early demand for galleys bodes well. “People have been writing us saying, 'Please, I didn't get a copy. Can you spare one? My husband wants it for his birthday.' ”