In this busy fall selling season, several recently released children’s books are moving quite quickly out of the gate. Here we’ll take a look at factors fueling the early success of five titles: Blood of the Witch and Fang of the Vampire, which launch Tommy Donbavand’s Scream Street series (Candlewick); Ruined by Paula Morris (Scholastic/Point); Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick (Simon & Schuster); and Day Is Done by Peter Yarrow, illustrated by Melissa Sweet (Sterling).
The stories behind these successes vary, but early in-house enthusiasm about the books appears to be a common thread. Smart marketing has also played a role in effectively spreading word of the books, as most publishers are aggressively pitching the titles where they know tween and teen readers are: online. Authors are also doing their part, both by crafting plots with kid-enticing themes and characters and by promoting their works through various venues.
British author Tommy Donbavand is an energetic master of digital marketing initiatives, blasting news online about his Scream Street series, which Candlewick launched in August with two titles. This middle-grade series centers on a boy who turns into a werewolf on his 10th birthday and moves to Scream Street, where he befriends a vampire and a mummy.
Donbavand wrote the content for Candlewick’s dedicated Web site, which includes numerous interactive features and links for kids to subscribe to monthly “Screamcast” podcasts and “Terror Times,” a monthly e-newsletter. The author also promotes Scream Street prominently on Twitter, on his own Web site and on a new Web site that also offers news of other authors writing in the same genre.
Donbavand signs book for a fan
at Borders in Gateshead, England.
John Mendelson, Candlewick’s senior v-p, sales and digital initiatives, explains that “an early groundswell of support from our sales staff” clinched the decision to bring Scream Street, originally acquired by sister company Walker Books in the U.K., to this country. “Since the sales staff embraced this and felt the series definitely had a place in the U.S. marketplace, we decided to publish it here,” he says. Though Candlewick initially considered a first printing “south of 20,000 copies” for each of the debut novels, “the chorus of positive early responses” boosted that number considerably, and after three return trips to press there are now north of 50,000 copies of each title in print.
The books are reportedly moving well in both the trade and mass market and Candlewick has accelerated its publishing schedule for the next two books: Heart of the Mummy is due next February and Flesh of the Zombie will pub in April. Two additional Scream Street titles are due in late summer or fall 2010.
“We feel there is a real desire in the marketplace for a fresh alternative to Goosebumps, which Scholastic continues to do well with,” says Mendelson. “Scream Street is targeted to a slightly younger audience. It’s funny and scary, but not too frightening.” Indeed, Donbavand seems to do a good job of balancing the funny and the scary: in one of several online videos he has created, he himself appears to morph into a werewolf as he explains Scream Street’s premise.
Paula Morris and her novel at
Octavia Books in New Orleans.
Digital marketing also helped launch Ruined by Paula Morris, which Scholastic/Point released in August. This YA novel tells of a teen who meets a long-dead runaway slave while staying with her voodoo-obsessed aunt in New Orleans. The publisher promoted the novel on 34 teen Web sites and blogs, all of which participated in book giveaways. That campaign delivered 4.6 million unique impressions and yielded more than 1300 blog comments. A Ruined sweepstakes promoted on Cosmogirl.com sent the winner to New Orleans over Halloween weekend to be ushered on a tour of the city by Morris.
In another successful viral campaign advertised on two radio stations and on the stations’ Web sites, readers were invited to enter a sweepstakes for concert tickets by reading and blogging about Ruined. This initiative delivered 9.6 million impressions. A video featuring an interview with Morris was distributed via several Web sites, including YouTube.
Scholastic, which initially printed 15,000 copies of Ruined, has returned to press twice, for an in-print total of 25,000 copies. Scholastic Book Fairs will carry the book beginning in August 2010, which will account for a paperback printing of some 150,000 copies.
A New Orleans resident, Morris has made appearances at local bookstores and was interviewed by various media outlets in that city. Commenting on the novel’s promising start, Leslie Garych, Scholastic’s v-p, trade and marketing, says, “Paula Morris’s expertise of New Orleans history and setting combined with strong characters, mystery, romance, and paranormal elements make Ruined a stand-out YA read. The online community seemed a perfect fit to embrace such a multi-faceted YA title, and regional events and media interest helped to get people talking.”
A mortal teen is drawn into an ancient battle when she falls in love with a fallen angel in Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick, which Simon & Schuster published last month with a 250,000-copy first printing. The novel has already spent two weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and will move up to the #4 spot on the November 15 list.
The publisher has been anything but hush-hush about the novel from the start. Early in-house excitement led executive editor Emily Meehan to acquire the book at auction. “From the moment people read the manuscript in-house, we knew we had something special,” Meehan recalls. “And when it started selling in country after country—I think rights have now been sold in 13 countries—we really knew we were on to something.”
In May, an in-house e-book buzz campaign alerting all S&S departments about the novel was followed by a teaser mailing to
S&S Canada brought Hush, Hush to Toronto in October with a chalk-art mural drawn by local legend Chalkmaster Dave. Pedestrians at the corner of Yonge and Dundas watched Dave recreate the jacket image while wing-wearing assistants handed out feather-shaped bookmarks.
independent booksellers, librarians and the press; the first 50 individuals to respond received numbered and signed bound manuscripts of Hush, Hush. Positive feedback encouraged S&S to do an extensive ARC giveaway at both BEA and ALA, which brought rave reviews from booksellers, librarians and bloggers. “It hasn’t stopped since,” Meehan says.
S&S’s considerable outreach to the library and education markets will continue at the NCTE conference in Philadelphia later this month, where Fitzpatrick will sign books. The author made a handful of bookstore appearances in October and will embark on a tour of Houston, Dallas and Austin in January; and on a joint tour with Lisa McMann. author of Gone, to Phoenix, Los Angeles and San Diego in February. And fans of Hush, Hush will be happy to learn that a sequel, Crescendo, is scheduled for fall 2010 release.
Day Is Done
Author and illustrator publicity is clearly driving the success of Peter Yarrow’s Day Is Done, illustrated by Caldecott Honor winner Melissa Sweet, which Sterling published in October. The book, which has already returned to press, currently has 125,000 copies in print and debuted on PW’s picture book bestseller list in the top slot on October 19.
Derry Wilkins, Sterling’s manager of children’s publicity, is currently on the road with Yarrow on the second leg of his tour for Day Is Done, which—well, at the end of the day—will have brought him to some 25 markets across the country. Some of Yarrow’s bookstore appearances have attracted hundreds of fans, reports Wilkins, many of whom remember Yarrow as a member of the 1960s trio Peter, Paul & Mary. “Part of the draw is certainly that people want to come see this person who was part of such an iconic music group,” she says.
Peter Yarrow, performing at a reading
at Books Inc. in Palo Alto, Calif.
Yarrow doesn’t disappoint those fans. At each signing, he picks up his guitar and performs. “He loves interacting with kids and older people as well, and these appearances inevitably turn into wonderful events where everyone is singing together,” says Wilkins. “At one event, there was a three-year-old girl who knew all the words to “Puff the Magic Dragon,” and Peter put the microphone in front of her and let her sing.”
Yarrow’s 2007 picture book with Lenny Lipton, Puff the Magic Dragon, illustrated by Eric Puybaret, is also likely feeding the impressive size of the audiences on his current tour, according to Wilkins. “Booksellers, educators and librarians fell in love with that book when it debuted and I think many people are coming to these events because of that book,” she says. “And now they are embracing Day Is Done as well.”
Scream Street: Fang of the Vampire and Blood of the Witch by Tommy Donbavand. Candlewick, $5.99 each paper ISBN 978-0-7636-4607-3 -4608-0
Ruined by Paula Morris. Scholastic Point, $16.99 ISBN 978-0-545-042145-4
Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick. Simon & Schuster, $17.99 ISBN 978-1-4169-8941-7
Day Is Done by Peter Yarrow, illus. by Melissa Sweet. Sterling, $16.95 ISBN 978-1-4027-4806-6