Yes, the fantasy novels keep on coming—from both sides of the Atlantic—and they keep on selling, too. Fresh on the heels of success in Britain, Faerie Wars (Bloomsbury) by Irish author Herbie Brennan was released in the U.S. in May 2003 with a first printing of 15,000 copies. The tale of a boy who discovers a faerie and, later, a portal to the faerie's realm fits neatly into the crossover genre spurred in recent years by Harry Potter and his literary kin. "When the book came in from the U.K., Bloomsbury USA knew it had a gem on its hands," said Deb Shapiro, director of publicity for Bloomsbury Children's Books. According to editorial director Victoria Arms, "It was unlike any fantasy I was seeing."
Shapiro noted that diligent networking and targeted galley distribution "got the book into the right people's hands." Galleys were sent to teen reading groups, fantasy organizations and the media, among other places. "By word of mouth, it took off," she said. "It was a hand-selling darling."
As the book took wing, additional trips to press were ordered, bringing Faerie's total hardcover in-print figure to 40,000. The paperback reprint of Faerie Wars came out on September 1 and already has just over 50,000 copies in print.
Such success generated reader anticipation for the sequel, Purple Emperor, which Bloomsbury released on October 4 with a 30,300 first printing. "They do pretty well for us," said Katie Snodgrass, children's book manager for Square Books Junior in Oxford, Miss. "We have a select group of young teens who come in and are really interested in fantasy. Brennan's books have gotten a good response, especially since the first one is in paperback now."
Fans will be pleased to learn that Brennan is hard at work on the third, as-yet-untitled, book in the series. According to Shapiro, it will "center on Blue and her role as queen of the Faerie Realms."
The combination of time travel to vivid far-flung worlds and suspenseful action—all in the life of a seemingly normal 14-year-old boy and his dog—is proving irresistible for a good number of middle-grade readers. Such is the premise of the
Pendragon series of original paperbacks by D.J. MacHale (Simon & Schuster/Aladdin) that have consistently earned spots on the New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists.
To date, the first five books have sold a combined total of more than 1.3 million copies. The series premiered in September 2002 with a 20,000-copy first printing of The Merchant of Death. By last summer, the series' fan base had shown steady growth and Pendragon #5: Black Water, which pubbed in August, had an initial print run of 50,000 copies.
Promotions have proved a boon for the books along the way. A gift-with-purchase offer for a watch earlier this year was paired with a carton pack display that featured the first four Pendragon titles and discount pricing of Merchant of Death at $1.99. A promotional Pendragon compass made available this summer was also a big hit. In September, S&S gave away free copies of The Merchant of Death to attendees of Dragon*Con, the country's largest multimedia/popular arts convention focusing on science fiction and fantasy. Copies of the same title were also a giveaway during the World Science Fiction Convention (WorldCon) in September.
The Pendragon boxed set containing the first three books in the series was released last month and 20 winners of a just-ended consumer sweepstakes won signed copies of the new set.
"Pendragon has been great for us," said Erin Taylor, owner of Wonderland Books & Toys in Rockford, Ill. "It helped to have a summer promotion [from S&S] that featured the first book for $1.99. That's when we saw the explosive sales, and then kids came back in for the others. Both boys and girls are reading it, though mostly boys. The books are filling the gap for those boys who have read Harry Potter and A Series of Unfortunate Events and swear they don't want to read anything else. Those kids really like the series effect."
Young readers will hopefully show the same enthusiasm for Pendragon: The Territories of Halla Volume 1, an illustrated companion book to the series due out in May 2005. And the sixth Pendragon series title will arrive in fall 2005, this time in hardcover.
The Bounty of Bartimaeus
Can't get enough of those meaty fantasy novels? Never fear. British author Jonathan Stroud is among the authors helping to sate young readers with his
Bartimaeus trilogy (Hyperion/Miramax; Listening Library audiobook). The Amulet of Samarkand kicked things off in September 2003 with a first printing of 200,000 copies, and lots of buzz soon followed, including the announcement of the sale of film rights to Miramax. The murder-mystery tale of a young magician's apprentice, a powerful djinni named Bartimaeus and the theft of a historic amulet, was quickly embraced by booksellers and kids alike. The paperback edition arrived in May 2004 with an initial print run of 150,000 and has already been back to press several times, bringing Amulet's combined in-print total (all editions) to approximately 550,000 copies.
Hot on the heels of its predecessor came Golem's Eye in September. The first printing of 200,000 copies is selling well and an additional printing is in the works, according to publicity director Jennifer Levine.
Stroud recently completed an eight-city tour of the U.S. Readers were able to get in on the act by participating in a Bartimaeus Fantasy Writing Contest. With the books as a springboard, contestants were encouraged to write about the most fantastic magical creature they could imagine. The grand prize—winning character could appear in book three, The Other Side, which is due out in January 2006.
"They've been pretty popular with our fantasy readers," said Ellen Scott, manager of the children's department at Bookworm in Omaha, Neb. "We've had requests for the third one already. Once those series catch on, kids can't get them fast enough."
Just how did Peter Pan learn to fly? And how did he get on the bad side of Captain Hook? Those questions and many others are answered in
Peter and the Starcatchers (Disney Editions; Brilliance Audio audiobook) by Ridley Pearson and Dave Barry. Spurred by the curiosities of Pearson's daughter—a Peter Pan aficionado—these two bestselling authors formed a writing tag-team to create their first children's book. The result is being billed as a "prequel" to the J.M. Barrie classic.
A hefty 500,000-copy first printing debuted on August 31 (the book's official one-day laydown). According to Levine at Hyperion/Disney, the initial quantity is nearly depleted and a reprint has been ordered. Pearson and Barry rode a wave of publicity this summer including an appearance on the Today show, a front-page Life section story in USA Today and a front-page Weekend section feature in the New York Times. A 12-city book tour turned out a bevy of believers, many of them dressed as pirates.
"This title is starting to catch on," said Snodgrass at Square Books Junior. "When it first came out, it didn't get much attention in our store. But now that people are doing their Christmas shopping, it's picking up steam. Adults who know the authors' names always ask, 'Is this really a kids' book?' But once they hear what it's about, they're usually hooked."
Barry and Pearson aren't about to let go of their shooting children's book star anytime soon. More books about Peter, Hook and the gang are planned, though no release dates have been set.
Frequently, part of what drives sales of a hot children's book title comes down to three words: format, format, format. That is certainly the case with The Nick Jr. ABC Block Books from Chronicle. This licensed project consists of a box that contains 26 diminutive books, each focusing on a different letter of the alphabet. Launched in fall 2003, the box has sold more than 100,000 copies thus far.
It's no wonder then, that a follow-up has made the scene. This month, Chronicle publishes
Colors, Counting, Shapes: A Shape Sorter Box: 15 Shaped Books in a Sorting Box!. Modeled on the classic shape-sorter child's toy, this companion book boasts a 50,000-copy first printing. It’s also a main selection for Children’s Book-of-the-Month Club and will be featured in Scholastic's book clubs.
"In spring/summer 2004, we did a major publicity push for all of our Nickelodeon titles," said Cathleen Schmidt, children's publicity manager for Chronicle. "Chronicle feels that we can put our high-design look on licensed products and really raise the bar in this area. The ABC Block Books were a huge success, so we took the idea one step further and came up with the Shape Sorter Box, a unique book format exclusive to Chronicle."
At Wonderland, Erin Taylor noted, "The ABC Block Books continue to do well for us, especially for baby gifts."
We checked up on the most recent installments in some popular series as well as one of this season's buzzed-about children's books by a celebrity.
First introduced as an irrepressible kindergartener in 1992, Junie B. Jones is in first grade now, and she clearly continues to go to the head of the class when it comes to sales. Barbara Park's series about the spunky girl with personality plus now has more than 26 million copies in print. This fall's release,
Junie B., First Grader: Boo... And I Mean It! (Random House; Listening Library audiobook), was out of the gate in September with a first printing of 335,000 hardcovers. Already back to press once, the total in print figure is 375,000.
Things are just as busy over at Mary Pope Osborne's The Magic Tree House. In September Jack and Annie embarked on
The Winter of the Ice Wizard (Random House; Listening Library audiobook), which featured a first printing of 300,000 hardcover copies. After one trip back to press, the total is 320,000; the entire series can boast more than 33 million copies in print to date.
The Spiderwick Chronicles continue to scare up sales with the September release of book five,
The Wrath of Mulgarath by Tony DiTierlizzi and Holly Black (S&S). This latest title was touted with a $200,000 marketing campaign, a 12-city author tour, launch of www.spiderwick.com and a first printing of 250,000 copies. The book now has 390,000 copies in print (a figure that includes copies for the 100,000 boxed sets released in October). The total series count now stands at 2.5 million in print.
Slightly older readers are turning out in force for their favorites as well this autumn.
The Grim Grotto, number 11 in A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket (HarperCollins; HarperChildren's Audio audiobook) bowed with a whopping one-million—copy first printing on September 21. The book has gone back to press a not-so-grim six times, and currently has 1.5 million copies in print, for a total of 25 million copies for the series sold worldwide.
A major marketing and publicity blitz for the title has included a five-city author tour, and a launch event at Symphony Space in New York City. No doubt the release of the feature film based on the books next month will offer The Grim Grotto an even bigger boost—a turn of events sure to send Snicket into a dark depression.
And what of
The O'Reilly Factor for Kids (HarperCollins) by cable talk-show host (and sexual harassment lawsuit defendant) Bill O'Reilly? The book launched with much pre-lawsuit fanfare and a 180,000-copy first printing on September 28. Appearances on 60 Minutes, Live with Regis and Kelly, the Today show and others made up the list of planned publicity. To date the title has gone back to press three times for an in-print total of 225,000 copies.