As followers of her blog and social media accounts know, author Victoria Aveyard doesn’t like to waste time. And evidence of that truth is reflected in her writing career, which has taken off like a shot, beginning with her YA debut Red Queen (HarperTeen, Feb.), the launch of a dystopian trilogy featuring a teen heroine who can control lightning. The book earned the top spot on the March 1 New York Times YA bestseller list in its first week of release, the only title by a first-time author to accomplish that feat. Red Queen has been optioned for film by Universal with Gennifer Hutchison (Breaking Bad) attached to write the screenplay. And when she hasn’t been working on her novels, Aveyard has completed and sold a screenplay project, Eternal, with Marvel comics creator Stan Lee.
Though the road to bestsellerdom for new authors these days is often fast-tracked by some sort of media tie-in or celebrity recognition, Red Queen’s rapid rise was fueled by determination, solid marketing, plenty of passion, and, as Aveyard has stated, some good luck.
Aveyard graduated from the BFA screenwriting program at USC in April 2012 armed with a portfolio of projects. With encouragement from a manager/producer who was interested in one of her TV pilot ideas, she went for broke and expressed in a meeting with his company (Benderspink) her desire to write a YA novel. On her website she describes how that bold move earned her representation for her work (but not a job just yet), and how she furiously wrote Red Queen in a six-month period of that post-grad year while living at home with her parents in Massachusetts. Soon after she finished that draft, her screenwriting reps passed the manuscript to their publishing contact, New Leaf Literary and Media. Agent Suzie Townsend (who took on the manuscript within a week of reading it) sent Red Queen to Kari Sutherland, senior editor at HarperTeen, in April 2013. Sutherland read it immediately and loved it. She passed it along to editorial director Jen Klonsky, as well as to other editorial colleagues including executive editor Kristen Pettit, and everyone had similar, wildly enthusiastic responses. “The feedback was unanimously fantastic from the very beginning,” Klonsky says. “We all knew we had something really special on our hands.”
HarperCollins didn’t waste any time either. They made a pre-empt offer for Red Queen and walked away with the planned trilogy, which has since landed in the guiding hands of Pettit, following Sutherland’s decision to leave her publishing position to start a family. The in-house buzz for Red Queen continued at a steady hum with its early readers praising the author for her richly imagined world, a swift-moving plot with an immediate hook, and her authentic characters. The editors and marketing staff at HarperCollins believed that the book’s commercial accessibility made it a prime candidate for crossover readership and that the story of Mare, a “regular” girl thrown into extraordinary circumstances and trying to find her identity in the world, would appeal to a broad readership beyond fantasy fans. The announced first printing was an admittedly “aggressive” 150,000 copies.
Aveyard’s team at HarperCollins was also impressed with the author’s ready-made facility with social media and knew it would be an asset when it came to book promotion. A cover reveal in early July 2014 helped introduce Red Queen to the Epic Reads community (HarperCollins’s online hub for YA readers), and the striking jacket got an overwhelmingly positive reaction on the site as well as from accounts. According to the marketing team at HarperCollins, the growing awareness and interest in both the book and author prompted anexpansion of the content strategy for the title. “We had high hopes and big plans for Red Queen from the very beginning but we couldn’t manufacture the kind of organic buzz it started getting at the moment we first mentioned it on Epic Reads,” says Christina Colangelo, director of integrated marketing. “All of our marketing and publicity plans were about capitalizing on that hunger for the book that we saw in our community.”
There has been a steady content push to both YA and adult crossover readers since last July, and that effort was combined with early bookseller outreach, consumer promotions at various conventions and book festivals, and both traditional and social advertising campaigns (book trailer and web sampler). Independent and mass merchandise retailers embraced the title, naming it an Indies Introduce and Indies Next Pick, and prime placement of the books including front of store, endcaps and “buyers’ picks” displays. In light of the book’s early head of steam, HarperCollins also bulked up plans for post-publication appearances: Aveyard attended Winter Institute earlier this month, where she was feted at two bookseller dinners, and made several solo stops in California, including Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego and Books Inc. in San Francisco. She was part of the Epic Reads Winter 2015 group tour this month, along with authors Cynthia Hand and Jasmine Warga, visiting Anderson’s Bookshop in Naperville, Ill.; B&N Waterford Lakes in Orlando, Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, N.C., and Vero Beach Book Center in Vero Beach, Fla. Aveyard will additionally be doing a swing of Massachusetts events and signings in early March and is scheduled to participate in YALL West and the L.A. Times Festival of Books, both in April.
Not surprisingly, there’s no sign of Aveyard slowing down. The Eternal screenplay, about Greek Gods on Earth, is in development at Sony. And looking further ahead, the second book in the Red Queen trilogy will be released in February 2016, with the third volume scheduled to follow a year later. In the meantime, fans can keep up with Aveyard’s latest musings and activities, which she faithfully chronicles on social media.
Correction: A previous version of this article misspelled the name of writer Gennifer Hutchison.