“35 Girls. 1 Crown. The Competition of a Lifetime.” With a tagline that sounds like a prelude to “the most dramatic rose ceremony ever!” on TV’s The Bachelor, Kiera Cass’s April 2012 dystopian YA romance The Selection (HarperTeen) was off and running, buoyed by warm reviews, a dedicated Facebook page, and a spot on the IndieNext list for spring 2012. By May, it had charted on the New York Times bestseller list.
Fast forward a year: this spring has seen the release of a tie-in e-novella titled The Prince (March), the paperback reprint of The Selection (April) and the just-out hardcover of its sequel The Elite (May). After a first printing of 24,000 and 13 trips back to press, The Selection now boasts 175,000 copies sold in all formats, while The Elite has already sold 90,000 copies of its initial 100,000-copy print run (in all formats) and has gone back to press four times.
Set in a post-WWIII United States (now called Illea), ruled by a royal family and regimented by a prescribed caste system, Cass’s tale stars 16-year-old America Singer. America has been offered the opportunity to enter the Selection – a contest that gathers a group of teen girls winnowed by lottery from which young, handsome Prince Maxon will select a bride. The move would greatly help America’s lower-middle-caste family, but she would much rather ignore the pageantry and be with her secret true love, Aspen.
“The Selection was first pitched to me as The Hunger Games meets Cinderella meets The Bachelor, and it lived up to that pitch with its strong female lead, dystopian setting, fairy tale romance – and of course, the catty girl competition!” says Erica Sussman, executive editor at HarperTeen. “I fell in love with the book the first time I read it. I think the series has hit a real chord with teens and with a crossover adult audience because it’s so romantic, exciting, and suspenseful, and it’s not like anything else on the teen market.”
In support of her new releases – and a growing fan base – Cass is just as visible as her books, these days. She has a strong online presence via a YouTube channel, Tumblr, Twitter account, Pinterest pages and the series’s Facebook page, which, according to Harper senior publicist Mary Ann Zissimos, has served as a “home base” for more than 20,000 fans. Cass has her own blog and Web site, where she can additionally spotlight her skill as what Zissimos calls “a superstar with video content.” To that end, for the release of The Selection, Cass dressed up as five different members of “the Selected” in Bachelor-style introduction videos, which Harper paired with a sweepstakes. For The Elite, Cass crafted four “spoiler videos” that were released each week for a month prior to the on-sale date. Zissimos credits the positive responses to the video campaigns to Cass’s “charm and humor,” which she says really shines in the author’s uploaded material. The HarperTeen site epicreads.com hosted an Elite Week prior to the book’s publication, and featured Cass and her books.
Though social media provides vast exposure, Cass has also been making in-person appearances of late. She participated in panels and signings at the 2013 Romantic Times Booklovers Convention earlier this month in Kansas City, and this week (May 7-10) is part of the HarperCollins YA Dark Days of Summer group tour with fellow authors Elizabeth Norris, Aprilynne Pike, and Amy Tintera. The group is making four stops throughout the Midwest, including Anderson’s Bookshop in Naperville, Ill. Kathleen March, children’s manager at Anderson’s sister store in Downers Grove, says that Cass’s books “are constant sellers at both locations. When The Elite was released, we hadn’t been open for 30 minutes when we got a call from a girl at the [nearby] high school during her free period making sure we had gotten our copies in.”
March believes that the series is hitting both familiar and fresh notes with readers. “Cass has really captured that Hunger Games-Twilight feel,” she says. “America lives in a Hunger Games-type world and she is fighting for true love, forbidden love. At 16 you are willing to fight passionately for what you want, and you find out what you will give up for it. That has resonated with girls so much. The Hunger Games and Twilight paved the way, but this is an original story.”
The third book in the trilogy, The One, is tentatively scheduled for May 2014.
The Selection by Kiera Cass. HarperTeen, paper $9.99 Mar. ISBN 978-0-06-205994-9
The Elite by Kiera Cass. HarperTeen, $17.99 Apr. ISBN 978-0-06-205996-3