Three teens inadvertently left behind on an island when other residents escape to avoid a 14-year period of darkness must contend with abandonment, terrifying creatures – and a world without light. The scenario set up in Nightfall, a YA novel by Jake Halpern and Peter Kujawinski, targets readers tantalized by the terrifying. And Putnam, which releases the book today with a 75,000-copy first printing, has launched an online initiative designed to catapult them into that world even before they delve into the actual book.
Visitors to the website will find excerpts of four harrowing incidents in the novel, embellished with scroll-activated sound effects and evocative photo-realistic images, as well as gifs and videos. All components are aimed at making readers feel as though they too have been abandoned and plunged into total darkness and into the unknown. There are sounds of waves crashing on the beach, of ominous footsteps climbing stairs, of a creaky door opening unexpectedly. Visuals include the silhouette of three teens huddled together as ships disappear into the setting sun, the interior of a threatening dark cave, and a precipitous rock ledge.
Investigative journalist Halpern and former U.S. diplomat Kujawinski met in Jerusalem almost 20 years ago, and their friendship led to a writing partnership that produced the middle-grade Dormia trilogy. When they began collaborating on Nightfall, the first YA endeavor for both, Halpern was in India and Kujawinski in Haiti, and they subsequently exchanged segments of the manuscript from other far-flung locales where work assignments landed them.
Arianne Lewin, executive editor of Putnam Books for Young Readers, acquired the novel in a two-book pre-empt deal with Tina Bennett of William Morris Entertainment Endeavor. Lewin recalled being immediately captivated by Nightfall’s multiple threads. “I don’t think there is anything in the market quite like this,” she said. “The novel straddles a lot of lines, including horror, suspense, adventure, and survival. It’s a book I’ve been looking for a long time.”
The world the authors created in Nightfall, Lewin adds, inspired the website, designed to reach further into the story while working within the parameters of the text itself. “Peter and Jake provide the kind of imagery and detail that evokes a strong emotional response,” she said. “Everyone has different images that come to mind as they read, and we decided to put our own creative spin on the story by providing visuals and sound effects that represent the scariest, coolest aspects of it.”
Courtney Wood, Penguin Young Readers’ associate director of digital and social marketing, explained that her team worked with editorial to select four scenes to spotlight on the site that would best evoke “the eerie feeling of what it might be like to be stuck on the dark island, day after day. Our goal was to build on the book’s content to pull kids into the read itself in a way they really respond to, and we’re very pleased with the results. The site is very true to the book, and offers imbedded pieces of content readers can share on social media.”
The publisher’s additional marketing plans for Nightfall include cinematic digital advertising and social media promotion that link readers to the website. In October, the novel will be an anchor title of Penguin’s Wicked Reads campaign, featuring retail book displays, social media activity, author events, and school and library initiatives.
Halpern and Kujawinski are now collaborating on a second standalone novel, Edgelands, tentatively scheduled for fall 2016, which is set in a different locale in the same world as Nightfall and introduces a new cast of characters.
Nightfall by Jake Halpern and Peter Kujawinski. Putnam, $17.99 Sept. ISBN 978-0-399-17580-0