A Series of Fortunate Sales
When author Lemony Snicket (aka Daniel Handler) first made the scene in 1999 with The Bad Beginning, the debut title in A Series of Unfortunate Events (HarperCollins), he most likely didn't realize how truly ironic the title of that first book was. In the two years since, Handler's handiwork--currently up to eight of a proposed 13 books--has racked up sales of more than 3.6 million copies. Each of the books has reached the New York Times bestseller list and Snicket was recently named "Best Children's Nightmare" on Entertainment Weekly magazine's list of "The 100 Most Creative People in Entertainment."
The eighth Unfortunate title, The Hostile Hospital, was released in September; it sold 300,000 copies in its first four weeks and has been back to press four times to meet demand. "The Snicket books continue to fly out of here; they're very steady sellers," said Sharon Hearn, owner of Children's Book World in Los Angeles. "They really strike a chord with the kids and I think many of the sales are generated by kid word-of-mouth," she continued. "We had the author here for a signing last May, and he was great. At first we were a bit concerned about turnout because the event was on a Friday morning. But we ended up with over 200 kids in the store [they were missing school]; we were mobbed."
Will Peters, children's buyer at Annie Bloom's in Portland, Ore., noted that the Snicket books "are doing great. The audience is building with every new one. They have a humor and attitude that really resonate with the kids. They're the type of books that kids who are not really readers will pick up."
At Dragonwings Bookstore in Waupaca, Ill., owner Ellen Davis also reports strong sales. "They're really good for the Roald Dahl fans, the Captain Underpants fans," she said. "The newest one is doing well, and we're still selling the earlier titles, too. I think the word is still spreading, even though they are bestsellers."
Super Numbers for Superhero
It's true. Sales for Dav Pilkey's Captain Underpants series (Scholastic) are proving faster than a speeding bullet (well, almost) and stronger than a reinforced waistband. Ever since Captain Underpants--the briefs-clad comic book creation of clever but misbehaved fourth graders Harold and George--first appeared in 1997 in The Adventures of Captain Underpants, he's been making kids howl with laughter. Pilkey's illustrated "epic novels" about Harold's and George's exploits currently consist of five series entries as well as the Captain Underpants Extra-Crunchy Book O' Fun. There are 14 million copies of the six titles in print. And for the August 21 laydown of Captain Underpants and the Wrath of the Wicked Wedgie Woman, Scholastic ordered a 600,000-copy first printing. That title debuted in the number-one slot on the USA Today bestseller list, where it remained in the top 10 for five weeks and stayed among the top 50 for 11 weeks. The newest book has since gone back to press and currently boasts 1.7 million copies in print. The book also landed in top spots on the New York Times, Book Sense and Publishers Weekly bestseller lists.
The anticipation for Wicked Wedgie Woman was so great that the Captain Underpants area of Scholastic's Web site (www.scholastic.com ) featured a countdown clock starting in mid-June. The publisher provided 3-D Hypno Rings to booksellers as a customer giveaway, and also offered life-size standees with tear-away underpants-shaped notepads.
"Those books are so funny. There's no pretense about them at all," said Patricia Brick, children's buyer for R.J. Julia in Madison, Conn. "I have a hard time keeping them in stock--all the titles. And the boxed set with whoopie cushion is very popular, too," she added. "I think the kids enjoy reading something fun that is not necessarily 'good for them.' "
Hearn of Children's Book World concurred: "It's amazing how popular those books are, and it's well deserved. We've sold over 100 copies of the latest one and it's still going strong. The kids love the bathroom humor, but there is a lot of very clever and witty stuff in there that adults can enjoy, too."
Davis of Dragonwings added, "Kids like the fact that the books walk the line of what's forbidden. And I think younger children find that making their parents read the books to them is delightful. The titles are always on our bestseller lists and I think Wedgie Woman is the biggest one yet. The 3-D Hypno Ring is a very big hit; the instructions are hilarious."
At Annie Bloom's, Will Peters reported that for the Captain Underpants series, "Each one gets bigger than the one before." And of Pilkey, he said, "It's difficult for a lot of authors to hit the humor of that age group the way he does."
Booksellers and fans will be glad to know there's no slowing of Pilkey's "laffs," as he likes to call them. A spin-off series, The Adventures of Super Diaper Baby, launches in February 2002, with a new Captain Underpants title to follow in the fall.
Long Live Redwall
Brian Jacques's fantasy-adventure books about the woodland creatures of Redwall Abbey and its environs first enchanted readers 15 years ago, when Redwall (Philomel) was published. Taggerung, the 14th novel in the series, went on sale in September, with many eager fans waiting for its arrival. Even at 448 pages and $23.95, the book is selling at a brisk pace.
"The series really has maintained," said Brick of R.J. Julia. "As soon as kids get old enough to read the books, we see new waves of sales." As for the book's potentially off-putting price, she noted, "The kids get so anxious for these books--as they do with any series they love--that price is not an issue at all. To tell them that they'll have to wait almost a year for the paperback is not going to work."
At Dragonwings, Davis reported, "We had gotten a display for the book and we sold out of our copies in the first week," she said. "I was a bit surprised that there were that many people right there for the hardcover. It should be on a lot of Christmas gift lists, too." Peters at Annie Bloom's commented that Jacques has "a very loyal, steady following. What flies out of here is what our staff recommends, and there are lots of Jacques fans on our staff. So the newest book is doing very well." According to Penguin Putnam, there are 135,000 copies of Taggerung in print. Worldwide, the Redwall books have sold a total of four million copies.
Redwall aficionados were treated to a second helping this fall, too, with the September release of the Philomel picture book A Redwall Winter's Tale by Jacques, illustrated by Christopher Denise. The title has 40,000 copies in print.
Pants Is a Perfect Sales Fit
A YA novel by a first-time author is just about as tough as it gets when it comes to promotion and publicity. But these circumstances proved not to be a problem for The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares (Delacorte, Sept.), a book that is riding high thanks to an aggressive marketing campaign and strong word-of-mouth. After a first printing of 35,000 and four subsequent printings, the total in-print figure is close to 100,000 copies.
"It's done great for a first YA novel," said Peters. "We featured it in our newsletter and people haven't hesitated to buy the hardcover. The book established itself right away."
To kick things off, Random House sent manuscripts to the Book Sense Advance Access mailing list last May and then in June distributed advance reading copies of the book at the BEA convention. In addition, Random teamed up with Sealed with a Kiss, an outfit that sends care packages to kids away at camp. SWAK included Pants advance reading copies in 300 packages sent to teenage girls. Other targeted mailings, distribution of postcards in the free Max rack displays in various cities and a giveaway of books and T-shirts to the fans who gather in Times Square each day for MTV's Total Request Live program are a few of the special promotions Random House pursued.
In December, a New York City push for the book is likely to take it to new heights. Local radio station Z100 is including Pants in promotions for its annual Jingle Ball rock concert, scheduled for December 13. Ads for the book will run during a weeknight radio show, Interactive 9@9 with Rich Davis. And what better hook for teenage girls than shopping? Z100 will host a Z100 "Party Patrol" event at Macy's in Roosevelt Field (on Long Island) on December 1. The first 100 girls to purchase a pair of jeans during the event will receive numbered, autographed copies of the book. These 100 girls may then bring their books to a pre-party "Style Jam" before the Jingle Ball. At that time, author Brashares will pick a book number and present the winner with a pair of tickets to the concert.
"We loved the book when we read the advance copy," said Davis. "I'm hopeful that we'll sell lots for Christmas." Other booksellers were equally taken by Brashares's debut. "Our staff members really like it, so I can tell we'll sell a lot," said Hearn. Brick of R.J. Julia said with a laugh, "My rep ordered me to read it. I thought it was fantastic. It's one of our picks for the top five children's books of the year. We're selling a ton of them."
The sisterhood of Sisterhood readers may have a feature film adaptation to look forward to in the near future as well. As reported earlier in PW, movie rights to the book were recently sold to Warner Bros. (home of the Harry Potter flick) for "a high six figures."
Can We Sell Them? Yes, We Can!
Any fan of Bob the Builder, the animated TV program for preschoolers airing daily on Nick Jr. and as part of CBS's Saturday morning line-up, knows well the show's catch phrase "Can we fix it? Yes, we can!" Since the show's Nick Jr. premiere in January 2001, the adventures of construction worker Bob, his associate Wendy and Bob's talking trucks have been steadily gaining ground with viewers and have spurred a slew of licensing deals.
The Simon Spotlight division of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing quickly caught Bob's can-do spirit and launched a Bob the Builder publishing program this fall. The line kicked off in September with eight titles in various formats--from picture books to Ready-to-Reads--each boasting a 200,000-copy print run, for a total of 1.6 million books. According to Tracy van Straaten, director of publicity for S&S Children's Publishing, the initial push for Bob included a $250,000 marketing campaign and promotion for the books on an electronic billboard in Times Square carrying the message "Can We Read It? Yes, We Can!" In addition, retailers were offered a 44-copy floor display that converts to a tabletop stand, a counter display, carton packs and promotional door hangers. Van Straaten said 13,000 displays have been shipped so far.
Since September (also when the show began airing on CBS), it's obvious that a good number of Bob viewers have become Bob readers. To date, sales of the Bob titles have surpassed two million copies, and there are a total of 2.6 million copies in print. "The books are extremely popular," said Brick. "It's a cute show, and when the shows work, the books fly off the shelves. TV can be on our side, sometimes." Davis of Dragonwings has experienced some of that demand. "We didn't initially carry the Bob the Builder books," she admitted. "But we've gotten several requests, so we've ordered them."
Still Wild About Harry
Booksellers and fans of the phenomenal force known as Harry Potter are probably not surprised that the Warner Bros. feature film adaptation of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone raked in a record-breaking $90.3 million during its opening weekend (Nov. 16—18) and as of November 26 it had earned approximately $190 million. But booksellers are surprised at the sales of Rowling's books spurred by the movie hype. To date, worldwide sales of Rowling's four novels (in hardcover and paperback) have topped 120 million copies; stateside, the in-print figure for the books has surpassed 50 million copies. "Sales of the novels have increased significantly over the past couple of months [inspired by the buzz about the film]," said Brick of R.J. Julia. "I was very surprised, but glad. We thought everyone had already bought the Harry Potter books, but that's not the case. I think we're going to see a whole new crop of readers because of the movie. It's obvious that Harry Potter rules. Everything we have is flying out the door."
Hearn of Children's Book World added, "We've sold some of the pop-ups and the activity books as well as the poster book and the calendar. But the books that are really moving are the originals and her [Rowling's] biography, Conversations with J.K. Rowling." Those new to Harry's world can add to their holiday wish lists Scholastic's four-volume hardcover boxed set, released this month; a paperback boxed set of the first three titles will be issued in January.
Scholastic is still banking on some tie-in action, however, with its release of two pop-ups in August, six coloring/activity books with printings of 250,000 copies each and a postcard book featuring a first printing of 225,000 copies in September. The company's first movie-related title, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone Poster Book, released on July 31, has one million copies in print. But some booksellers have been conservative in their purchases of ancillary Harry items/titles. "The pop-ups [from Scholastic] have been a very hard sell," said Davis. "The books seem well-made and intricate enough, but they don't have enough meat for the kids who have read the novels; that's what we've been running into." Peters at Annie Bloom's noted, "The few Harry Potter tie-ins we've carried haven't done great things so far. I don't know if the movie will change that or not. There are just so many ancillary titles and non-book items being sold everywhere, it's turned into a merchandise craze well beyond the books."
With filming for the second Warner Bros. feature begun on November 19 and Rowling's fifth novel, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, reported to be coming sometime in 2002, all bets are that the craze is far from over.