Matched, the first book in a dystopian trilogy by Ally Condie, is off to a soaring start. In the novel, a teenage girl who lives in a world where The Society selects everyone’s ideal mate falls in love with someone other than her chosen one. Foreign rights to the novel, released by Dutton on November 30 with a 250,000-copy first printing, have been sold in 30 countries and film rights have been optioned to Disney. And booksellers and readers are clearly responding to the significant buzz surrounding the book’s launch: Matched debuted this week in the #2 children’s slot on the ABA’s Indie Bestseller List.
Condie, who lives outside of Salt Lake City, began writing Matched in fall 2008, but it wasn’t her first foray into fiction. The author began dabbling in writing in the early part of the decade, after she quit her job teaching high school English to stay home with her newborn son. “I really missed being in the classroom, though of course I was happy to be at home with my son,” she says. “I realized I wanted something to do—and I didn’t want it to be dishes. I started writing, and after starting some stories I never finished, I decided to see if I could write a complete novel, start to finish.”
Indeed she could. Between 2006 and 2010, Condie published five YA novels, all but one with a religious bent, with Salt Lake City-based Deseret Book Company, whose publications target the LDS audience.
With Matched, Condie took her writing in a very different direction. “When I think about where the idea for this novel came from, I have to trace it all back to my husband,” she says. “He and I were having a conversation about marriage, and he asked, ‘What if the government could decide who people would marry, and what if that were a really great system?’ And then we began talking further about the idea of people being matched up.”
Also inspiring the author was her memory of chaperoning a high-school prom with her husband, a setting she drew on to create a scene in which her heroine attends a ball to learn whom she’s been matched with. “At the prom, we witnessed the teens all dressed up and on their best behavior,” she says. “And I tied this together with the conversation I’d had with my husband and thought, ‘What if teens went to a formal event to find out who they are to marry?’ I then decided to create a world in which that scenario would take place.”
After finishing Matched, Condie faced another challenge. “I hadn’t had an agent for my earlier novels, but realized if I wanted to publish a book for a national market, I needed to find one,” she explains. “That was kind of scary—it was going back to ground zero, almost starting all over again—and I didn’t have any connections. So I made some cold queries, and I was lucky enough to find Jodi Reamer.”
Reamer, an agent at Writers House, acted quickly when Matched landed on her desk. “I read the manuscript on a Friday and I just couldn’t put it down,” she recalls. “Ally’s beautiful writing grabbed me immediately. It has a literary quality, yet such strong commercial appeal. Since I knew she had sent the manuscript to several agents, I knew time was of the essence. I called her on Saturday to tell her how much I loved the book.”
Reamer soon discovered that editors at multiple houses had a similar reaction to Matched. “The response I got when I sent out the manuscript was unbelievable,” she says. “You always hope that others will see what you see, but you never know. To see that much excitement for a new author is incredibly rare.” Reamer brought the novel to auction, in which seven publishers bid, with Penguin clinching the rights with a reported seven-figure deal for three books. (Reamer also conducted an auction for film rights; in the end it came down to two studios, and Disney, with Offspring Entertainment as the producers, prevailed.)
“I think everyone in the publishing industry knew instantly that this novel was something special,” says Julie Strauss-Gabel, associate publisher of Dutton Children’s Books, who acquired the book. She praises Condie’s “extraordinary writing and amazing ability to describe every aspect of her world.” Although she was on maternity leave at the time of the auction, she realized “this was not an opportunity to be missed.”
A 30-country sale of foreign rights to a YA novel by a new author before its publication is “very, very rare,” says Reamer, who brought Condie to Frankfurt this year to introduce her to some of her foreign publishers. “For the first time, Writers House’s annual party at Frankfurt was held in honor of a YA rather than an adult author, which we decided to do given the amount of enthusiasm and presales for this novel.”
The fact that publishers in so many countries have bought rights to Matched “speaks to the author’s unique voice and the incredible world she has created,” observes Don Weisberg, president of Penguin Young Readers Group. “A novel with this breadth of appeal comes along only once in a while. Ally delivered a phenomenal novel and our team did a first-rate job to make it all come together. We spent an enormous amount of time and energy trying to create just the right package.” In fact, the arresting cover of Matched proved to have such universal appeal that all of the foreign publishers will use the same art rather than create their own.
The publisher helped build pre-pub buzz for Matched by bringing Condie to ALA, NCTE, and several fall regional trade shows, and sending her on a four-city tour last month to meet booksellers. The novel is part of Breathless Reads, a marketing campaign that also includes national TV, print, and movie theater advertising. Condie will embark on a national tour with four other Breathless Reads authors in February.
Meanwhile, she is working on revising Crossed, the second novel in the Matched trilogy, which Dutton will publish in fall 2011, and has begun writing the third, still untitled, book. And she is, understandably, enjoying the glowing reviews and enthusiastic reception Matched is receiving. “This has all absolutely taken me by surprise,” she says. “So many people were talking about my novel before it came out that it was a little intimidating, but now it’s all very exciting.”
Her readers, alas, will not immediately include her three sons, now ages two, five, and seven. “My oldest is the only one who has any idea what’s going on in terms of my book,” she observes. “When the first copies arrived, his first comment was, ‘I wish there was a boy on the cover.’ He’s at that age where everything is very gender-specific.”
With what appears to be a promising writing career ahead, might there be a boy on the cover of a future Ally Condie novel? “Right now I’m focused on this trilogy,” she replies, “but I would love to try something different at some point, so that’s very possible. In fact, I hope it happens.”
Matched by Ally Condie. Dutton, $17.99 Nov. ISBN 978-0-525-42364-5