Kristin Cashore.
Photo: Laura Evans.

Few words strike deeper dread in the heart of a writer than “orphaned manuscript”—a book acquired by an editor who leaves before seeing it to publication. So last December, when editor Kathy Dawson announced she was leaving Harcourt for Dial, author Kristin Cashore did not hesitate to say she would switch publishers, too.

But would Fire follow? The companion to Cashore’s bestselling debut, Graceling (Harcourt, Oct. 2008), which has sold 80,000 copies in hardcover, was less than 10 months from publication. And with ALA’s midwinter conference just weeks away, librarians and booksellers were already inquiring about advance reading copies.

“The manuscript was here before Kathy left for Dial, so many people had read Fire and loved it,” said Linda Magram, v-p of marketing at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. “But we were motivated by wanting the book—and the author—to do well, no matter where it was published.” In a move that is magnanimous even in the polite world of children’s books, Fire moved to Dial with Dawson in January.

The depth of that graciousness was tested immediately when Penguin (Dial’s corporate parent) asked Harcourt to include the first chapter of Fire in the Graceling paperback, which will be released this August. “That got the wheel turning,” said Magram of the collaborative marketing plan that has since come together. “In 25 years in this business I’ve never done this with another publisher, and that’s share our marketing plans, totally. We each know, month-by-month, what the other is doing, and we’re working to capitalize on that.”

Each publisher has listed the other’s Cashore title in its fall ’09 catalogue, and all advertising will carry both cover images. Penguin is creating an online book trailer that will feature both Fire and Graceling. “From the booksellers’ point of view, we want them to know these books are coming so they can merchandise them together,” said Emily Romero, v-p of marketing at Penguin Young Readers Group.

Both books are absorbing fantasies, set in vaguely medieval worlds, with romantic angst between the leads providing most of the tension. Though Fire was initially billed as a prequel to Graceling, Penguin is now calling it a “companion”; the two books share just one overlapping character. Graceling was named a Best Book of 2008 by Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal and Kirkus Reviews.

At BEA in May, bookseller interest in the follow-up was “overwhelming,” according to Romero, and led Penguin to add a five-city tour for Cashore to its marketing plans. Cashore spoke at the Association of Booksellers for Children’s New Voices luncheon, participated in ABC’s Author Tea and signed galleys; Penguin gave away nearly 1,300 galleys of Fire over the course of the show.

“Not only were both autographings huge hits, but Cashore was also the first topic of conversation with almost every bookseller we met with,” said Shanta Newlin, publicity director at Penguin Young Readers. “One bookseller, Cathy Berner from Houston’s Blue Willow Bookshop, said that before we discussed anything she wanted to remind us that she had sent in a request for a Kristin Cashore event this fall, and that if she could have one author, it would be Kristin.”

Berner says she is “totally passionate” about Cashore’s novels. “One of the girls in our book club said this and I totally agree: the worlds Kristin creates are simple enough to remember and clever enough to intrigue,” Berner said. “We’re starting to market Graceling to our adult book groups because it’s so meaty. It’s the kind of book you could give to anyone because it spans so many genres.”

Cashore has not sought the spotlight: she did her first bookstore appearance just last month. “She does say she’s shy, but she spoke to the reps at sales conference, and when she gets in front of a crowd she is actually quite self-possessed and dynamic,” Romero said.

Cashore is currently working on a third book in the series, one that follows the story of Bitterblue, a character introduced in Graceling. Dawson is aiming for a 2011 release. For now, teen readers like those at Hicklebee’s in San Jose, Calif., can’t wait to meet Fire, the intriguing main character of book two, named for her gorgeously colored hair. “We’ve done very well with Graceling,” said store co-owner Valerie Lewis. “Those readers are hot to get their hands on Fire.”

Perhaps fittingly, Fire is an orphan. Looks like she’s on her way to finding a home as well—with readers.