When Christopher Paolini began writing the Inheritance Cycle series, he was just 15 years old. A lot has changed in the 13 years since.
The biggest change, of course, is that Eragon, the first book in the series, became a worldwide bestseller. Paolini went on to write Eldest, the second in the series, and Brisingr, the third, which also became bestsellers the world ’round, and next week Inheritance, the fourth and final book, will be released to much fanfare, with a November 8 laydown.
Eragon was self-published back in November 2001. After a few years of Paolini and his family promoting the books at bookstores, libraries and schools, with sales steadily increasing, folks at Random House started hearing rumblings from sales reps about the book. At the same time, author Carl Hiaasen’s stepson had bought a copy of the self-published book in Montana when they were on vacation and loved it. Hiaasen sent the book to his editor at Random House as a heads-up, to check the book out. Knopf Books for Young Readers made the acquisition and published Eragon soon after, in August 2003.
Eragon was an instant hit, going on to sell over six million copies (one million of those sold within the first five months) in North America. Eldest has sold four million copies since its 2005 release; Brisingr has sold three million copies and set a Random House record by selling 550,000 copies in a single day, its laydown date of September 20, 2008. Nancy Hinkel, v-p and publishing director at Knopf Books for Young Readers, says, “You think about having a great day, but selling 550,000 copies was a big surprise and we were so excited when we saw the number.” Inheritance is evidently expected to sell well, as the house has ordered a 2.5 million copy first printing.
The Inheritance cycle has been very important to the bottom line at Random House Children’s Books. Joan DeMayo, senior v-p, director, children’s sales and director, special markets sales, says, “Over the course of the last eight years, the Inheritance cycle has remained a unique and wonderful selling opportunity for our accounts, and is supported enthusiastically across all sales channels. For us as well, the publishing experience has been remarkable, and so much has changed from the beginning. Back in 2003 with the release of Eragon, Christopher was an unknown—and we were introducing a new and emerging young author. Today he is a worldwide literary star. We continue to be inspired by the annual sales growth of the series and the anticipation readers have for this final volume.”
Big first printing numbers and huge marketing campaigns are enviable, but who are the people working with the author behind the scenes? What does it actually take to get the final book in a huge bestselling series off the ground? PW was invited into the Random House offices to meet with those most intimately involved in the process, and to sit with the book’s author and editor as they went over the copyedited manuscript for Inheritance together.
The Editing Process
Knopf executive editor Michelle Frey has been Paolini’s editor from the very beginning. When Eragon first came to her, she was immediately drawn to it. She says, “I’ve always been a big fantasy fan and I fell in love with Eragon right away.” Even though the book was written by someone so young, Frey never had any worries about Paolini’s capabilities as an author. “This book fell into a different category from other teen writing,” she says, adding that the book was “in great shape” when it came to her, and she and Paolini just did some line editing to streamline the story a bit. “Christopher will confess that he had an out-of-proportion love of adverbs, so that’s where we did the line editing, but we didn’t touch the plot or the characters. It was such an accomplished book already.”
During the editing process for Inheritance, Paolini came into the Random House offices in late August to work with Frey. Frey says she’s never done this with any other author, nor for any other book, but because the book was on such a tight timeline and is so large (the first draft arrived in excess of 300,000 words), both author and editor thought it best to go over the changes in person.
Watching the two work together, it is instantly clear that Frey and Paolini trust each other completely and admire the other’s abilities. They go through page after page of the manuscript, looking over each query with great care, agreeing on what should stay in the story and what should be changed. Paolini says of the process, “90 percent of the time we agree on changes, and the other 10% it’s a matter of understanding the other person’s point of view.”
Frey’s admiration for her author’s storytelling abilities is also very clear. “He cares about the craft so much and he’s very open to feedback and determined to be the best he can be,” she says. “With every book he’s striving to be a better author. It’s amazing that for the most part, his vision for the whole series has always stayed the same. There were small changes to the story throughout, but the four books are startlingly similar to what he plotted out when he was 15.”
Working on the books in the series for the past decade has been especially rewarding for Frey because of the many fond memories she has. When Eragon was first published, she says she hoped the book would do well, but she had no idea just how well it would end up doing. “The book debuted at #3 on the New York Times bestseller list the first week it was out. It was so cool and I will never forget that moment,” she says.
Sometimes things didn’t go exactly as expected, as the time a copyedited manuscript ended up on Tierra del Fuego by mistake, or the way both she and Paolini learned that packages to him must be marked very clearly, because he lives in rural Montana and packages can get pretty beat up and unrecognizable in transit.
But the mishaps are more than made up for by special moments that happen unexpectedly. Because of the tight deadlines for Inheritance, Paolini was writing some of the story in New York City. “I was actually with Christopher when he wrote the very last few lines of the book,” Frey recalls. “That was something he wasn’t sure how he was going to handle until the end. I was nervous to read it because I wanted to know if he could make it just right. And then when I read the end, I cried because it was so perfect and so poignant.”
When asked what the most enjoyable part about working on the books has been, Frey said it’s definitely working with Paolini. “He’s such a down-to-earth, caring guy,” she says. “It’s a lot of pressure to work on a series as successful as this and it’s great to be partners with someone who is so authentic and kind.”
It’s All in the Details
For a wordsmith like Artie Bennett, executive copy editor at Random House, working on the Inheritance Cycle books is a dream come true because Paolini is himself a great lover of words and turns of phrase, he says. Bennett’s admiration for Paolini began early. “When we had an impassioned discussion some 10 or so years ago, while working on Eragon, over where a dieresis should fall on a place name, I knew this would be the beginning of a beautiful friendship,” he said.
Bennett says that copy editors face many challenges when they work on a series, and the Inheritance Cycle was no different. For one, there are several hundred characters, and sometimes auxiliary characters will appear two books apart. Keeping track of the places the characters travel to is tough too. And the four languages Paolini coined for the series was a challenge as well. “Within these languages, Christopher has created extensive rules of grammar, so it isn’t just words that one has to keep track of, but it’s an entire syllabus of rules that challenges any copy editor working on the series. Christopher has an affinity for accents on words and characters and that poses a challenge to anyone working on a series,” Bennett says. “But despite all of that, for me the greatest challenge was that I want to jump ahead in the book and find out what happens in the story. I’m not only his copy editor, I’m a fan of his series. I have to keep myself from peeking ahead, because I could easily plow forward on the strength of the story and fail to do what I need to do to ensure the quality of the book.”
While working on the manuscripts, Bennett appreciates that he doesn’t have to worry about offending the author with any of his comments. “I would say that Christopher, for all of his vast accomplishments, remains a humble self-effacing individual and it’s not in his makeup to bridle at suggestions that I would make or something his editor would make. He’s deeply appreciative of the work people have put in on his work. He hasn’t let his celebrity or his riches affect him. He remains the sweet, charming young man he was when he started the series.”
Bennett says he worked closely with a team to get the work done on time. Janet Renard was the expert reader, reading for any discrepancies in the books. Janet Frick was a copyeditor; Jennifer Healey was the proofreader. “In a series this big, you can never have enough people chipping in,” he says. “Deadlines were punishing, but for me and for everyone else who worked on the series, it was a pure labor of love.”
Bennett says that one of his great career privileges was working in close communication with the author on Inheritance . “What was different and very gratifying was when Christopher wrote some of Inheritance in New York, we worked with an intimacy that we hadn’t previously shared. For previous books, if I had a question, it would be a game of telephone because his editor would relay the question to Christopher and he would answer to his editor, who would relay the answer to me. With Inheritance, we sat together for extended periods and we went over any questions. We worked with a synchronicity that made for a really rewarding relationship.”
Word lovers may want to know that Inheritance may indeed be a ground-breaking book. Bennett says, “Christopher uses the word Hippopotomonstrosesquipedalian [meaning “big words” or words that are one and a half feet long] in the book, which might be the first use of the word in a literary venture.”
Getting the Word Out
The number of people in marketing and publicity who have worked on the books in the Inheritance Cycle is vast, including people in design, trade marketing, school and library marketing, digital marketing, publicity, along with global Random House colleagues in the U.K., Germany, and Canada.
For Judith Haut, senior v-p, communications and marketing for Random House Children’s Books, who has spearheaded Paolini’s campaigns from the beginning, the end of the series is especially poignant because she goes back a long way with the author. In fact, she was the very first Random House person to meet Paolini. “As soon as we acquired the book,” Haut says, “I got on a plane and flew to Houston and drove to Luling, Texas, to meet Christopher, who was traveling around doing school visits promoting the self-published edition of the book. It was really a wild experience.”
During the initial meeting, Haut watched him give his presentation to a classroom. “I was struck by how poised and energetic he was,” she says. “And once I met him I was struck by how smart he was. He really connected with those kids in the school.” Haut was also the one who picked up Paolini at the airport at midnight on a Saturday night after Eragon was published, when he was flying in for his first trip to New York City.
The marketing and publicity wheels for the book began churning many months ago. “When we announced the book back in March, our goal was to reengage the fans,” Haut says. Since then, there have been multifaceted publicity and marketing efforts every week in order to keep the buzz going and strengthen it through the November 8 on-sale date. This summer Random House repackaged the paperbacks of Eragon, Eldest, and Brisingr and saw “a huge lift in sales,” she notes. “We brought a lot of new readers to the series.”
In July, RH’s digital marketing department launched a Facebook app called Inheritance Quest. It was launched at Comic-Con and has been a huge hit with fans (close to 200,000 likes). The app calls for players to complete over 50 challenges, eventually earning your Inheritance medallion.
Once the book is released next Tuesday, Paolini’s 18-city tour begins immediately, with an appearance that evening at the Union Square Barnes and Noble in New York City. He doesn’t finish the tour until December 20, for a stop close to home in Bozeman, Mont. He will have a short break until heading to Europe in the spring to begin another tour.
If previous appearances are any indicator, the tour will feature many packed rooms filled with diehard fans. “People have shown up in costume and they want him [Paolini] to sign their arms or their foreheads and they have their stacks of battered copies of the books,” Haut says. “We see people who’ve been through the series since the beginning and new young fans as well.”.
And while the daily work on the series has been demanding and challenging, Haut said mostly it’s been exciting and thrilling. “We have all loved working on this property,” she said. “It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity. We’ve been able to be so creative, especially on the digital marketing front.”
In speaking with those who work with Paolini on the series, it seems as if he’s become a good friend to many. The same can be said of Paolini’s feelings about his home at Random House. “Working with the team at Random House has been rewarding, especially with this last book,” he told PW. “The editing and attention and love have been great; it’s made a big difference. I can’t ask for more.”
For someone who began an especially huge undertaking at such a young age, and has dealt with innumerable pressures of writing a succession of bestselling books, Christopher Paolini exudes the grace and charm of someone twice his age. The time and pressure of writing the Inheritance cycle certainly hasn’t taken away his love of the written word, and he says he certainly hopes to write more books.
In fact, his love of language, and challenging himself, is so strong that he said, “I have a fantasy where I can write a book straight through without stopping.” If anyone could pull that off, it’s likely Christopher Paolini.