A number of authors who have made sizable splashes in the adult marketplace have cast their creative nets somewhat wider—their children's books are headlining the fall lists of several major houses. Recently released or due out in the coming months are titles by such acclaimed and bestselling writers as Neil Gaiman, Carl Hiaasen, Michael Chabon, Clive Barker and Isabel Allende. In conversations with some of these authors, their publishers and a handful of booksellers, PW inquired about this phenomenon of authors crossing over to the other side—and learned about the inspirations as well as the expectations for these book projects.
Not surprisingly, the children in their own lives provided the incentive for most of these writers to pen a book for young readers. Horror novelist Neil Gaiman, whose most recent bestseller for adults is American Gods, appears to have another hit on his hands in Coraline, released by HarperCollins in July with a 150,000-copy first printing. The publisher has already returned to press for this chilling fantasy aimed at readers eight and up, about a girl who walks through a door in her apartment to find herself in another world with "Other Parents" who cater to her every whim—until she wants to return to her former life. The book features art by Dave McKean, who is also the illustrator of Gaiman's The Wolves in the Walls, a picture book due out from HarperCollins in fall 2003. In addition, the author has a contract with the publisher for another children's novel (Gaiman's first book for children, The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish, was published by White Wolf in 1997).
Gaiman explains that he started Coraline about 10 years ago, when his daughter was just starting school. "I wanted to write something that Holly would read when she was nine or 10," he remarked, "so I began writing this on my own time, between writing a monthly comic and a TV show. But I was so busy that the concept of 'my own time' ran out, and a few years ago I suddenly realized that Holly was already 12 and if I didn't get a move on, this would never get written in time for her to read it."
On the basis of several chapters, Gaiman landed a contract with HarperCollins and was then determined to finish the novel, religiously writing several lines each night before bedtime. Fittingly, he has adopted a parental attitude toward his first novel for youngsters: "With Coraline, I feel much as one does about one's children. Perhaps because of the long writing process, as she goes out into the world, I feel proud of her rather than proud of what I did. Looking at the success of my adult books, I am apt to say, 'I'm quite clever.' But looking at Coraline, I think, 'she's very clever.' "
Kids near and dear to Carl Hiaasen, a columnist for the Miami Herald whose popular adult novels include Sick Puppy and Basket Case, also motivated him to try his hand at writing for children. "I have a stepson and nieces and nephews in the 10-to-14 age group," he explained, "and I thought it might be nice to be able to give them a novel with my name on it without corrupting them, since before now I'd cringed at the thought of having them read what I'd written." Though he cleaned up his language and tamed his plot (he noted that in the past, his mother has "recoiled in horror at what her little boy had written"), Hiaasen gave Hoot his trademark Florida setting and environmental theme. Due from Knopf this month, this tale centers on two boys who band together to sabotage a restaurant chain's attempts to develop land inhabited by endangered owls.
Hiaasen remarked, "It was more fun than I expected to reach back into my own childhood to write Hoot. At first it was a bit of a struggle, but once I remembered how to view the world through 11-year-old eyes, it started to come to me more easily." Nancy Siscoe, executive editor at Knopf and Crown Books for Young Readers, praised Hiaasen for changing writing gears so smoothly, noting that "he found the perfect voice and tone for this age group. He nailed it from the start."
Siscoe reported that advance orders for Hoot are "huge" and that the book's 100,000-copy first printing (already bolstered by a pre-publication 50,000-copy second printing) "is going straight out the door." The author is under contract to write one more children's book for Knopf, though Siscoe commented, "We hope he will continue well beyond that."
Isabel Allende, author of The House of Spirits and Of Love and Shadows, makes her children's book debut in November with City of the Beasts, the first volume of a trilogy starring a boy who accompanies his eccentric grandmother on an expedition to find a dangerous beast in the Amazon rain forest. Allende's inspiration for the book came out of her experiences reading to her grandchildren and working with children in her California community, according to her editor, Katherine Brown Tegen, editorial director at-large at HarperCollins Children's Books. "Isabel also likes to challenge herself and to try different things," she commented. "Among the things on her list of new things she wanted to do was to write a children's book, and it seemed the timing was right." A first printing of 100,000 copies is on order for the title, which will be released simultaneously in a Spanish-language edition (a first for Allende) from HarperCollins's Rayo imprint.
Reading to his own three children also inspired Michael Chabon, Pulitzer Prize—winning author of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, to write his inaugural children's novel, Summerland. This October release from Hyperion/ Miramax Books features cover art by William Joyce. Jonathan Burnham, president and editor-in-chief of Miramax Books, noted that the author created the character of his plucky heroine with his daughter in mind.
Burnham also points to another motivating factor for Chabon's writing of this baseball adventure, set in a magical land populated by legendary beings, monsters and mythical creatures. "Michael grew up loving children's books that emanated from Britain—books by C.S. Lewis and Tolkien and Edith Nesbit," he explained. "He was puzzled that there was no American tradition of writing about fairies and magic in the same way that British authors have established, based on the rich layer of Gaelic mythology. So he sought to provide this missing link, and in Summerland, he connects strands of American folklore, Native American lore and American baseball." The publisher plans a 250,000-copy first printing of Summerland and has contracted with Chabon to write two sequels; a movie based on the novel is currently in development.
Clive Barker also creates a novel fantasy world in Abarat, his second children's book (the first was the one million-copy seller The Thief of Always), which launches a four-book series published by HarperCollins's Joanna Cotler imprint. Due in October, the novel contains 100 of Barker's own paintings and centers on a girl from Chickentown, U.S.A., who crosses an inter-dimensional divide to explore an alternate world. Cotler said the seeds of this project were sown a dozen years ago, when she met Barker at a BEA dinner. "We instantly connected, and agreed that someday we would publish something together," she recalled. "About five years ago, he called me and told me that something was percolating inside of him that was very different from anything he's ever done. Though usually the story precedes the art, in this case, the book initially came to him in pictures and the paintings came pouring out. He then realized that he was creating a whole new world—and that this was a story for kids." A 200,000-copy first printing will launch Abarat, rights to which have been sold to publishers in 13 countries. Disney purchased movie and multimedia rights to the series for $8 million.
Will They Cross Over?
It appears that every publisher's dream—to issue a book that finds an eager audience in both the adult and children's marketplace—may well come true for the houses releasing these five titles. Virtually every publisher or bookseller PW spoke to remarked on the strong crossover potential of these novels and, understandably, marketing plans across the board call for capitalizing on the author's strong name recognition in the adult market.
Gaiman put this publishing phenomenon in historical perspective, commenting that more than a decade ago, he showed the first few chapters of Coraline to an editor friend who had worked in British publishing for 20 years. "He read it and told me that it was unpublishable," Gaiman recalled. "He said that it was beautifully written but it wouldn't work because it was obviously aimed at both adults and children, and anything targeted for both worlds couldn't be published successfully. Now the novels of J.K. Rowling, Philip Pullman and Lemony Snicket, which are read by children and adults, have entirely changed the landscape. I feel very fortunate that now Coraline is not only publishable, it's bestseller-able."
HarperCollins editor Clarissa Hutton, who worked with executive publishing director Elise Howard on the editing of Coraline, noted that the book has already proven itself in both markets, crediting very positive reviews for attracting the attention of librarians and teachers, as well as adult readers. "Neil has an extremely loyal adult readership," she said, "and though Coraline features a young character, the story has many of the same elements that make his adult literature so popular. It seemed that the first wave of purchasers were his adult fans, but now it is attracting children as well." Chris Saad, owner of Chris' Corner: Books for Kids & Teens in Philadelphia, remarked that the bulk of her sales of Coraline so far has been to adults "who are buying the novel for themselves rather than for their children."
Diane Cain, director of trade marketing at Random House Children's Books, explained that the marketing and advertising campaigns for Hoot are designed to reach both markets. "We are running ads in newspapers and in People, which is rare for a children's book," she noted. "By reaching adult readers, we hope his fans will pick it up for themselves and then share it with their kids." She added that the house is receiving "excited feedback" from adult and young readers and that her department has shipped 1,700 12-copy floor displays to retailers.
Hiaasen will make limited appearances in bookstores to promote Hoot. Leslie Reiner, who, as co-owner of Inkwood Books in Tampa, Fla. (Hiaasen's home state), has hosted the author during his tours for previous books, expects that his name recognition among parents will certainly boost sales of Hoot in her store. In her words, "We find that parents of readers in this age group are still the primary buyers of books for their kids, rather than the kids themselves, and Carl Hiaasen has such a strong following among adults here that I'm sure parents will be inclined to buy it." She added that author name recognition will also help sell these novels in hardcover, even though most trade sales of middle grade and young adult novels are in paperback.
Tegen at HarperCollins predicted, City of the Beasts will "most definitely" appeal to Allende's adult audience, and added that the company is cross-marketing the title, placing ads in such publications as the New York Times Book Review and offering retailers a floor display that contains copies of City of the Beasts as well as an earlier adult novel, Portrait in Sepia. In fact, the publisher omitted its children's logo from the new novel and did not include an age-level designation. A reading group guide to City of the Beasts—clearly aimed at adults—is also available. On her six-city tour this fall, Allende will conduct events in both English and Spanish.
When asked about the potential crossover appeal of Clive Barker's Abarat, Cotler responded, "Though this is absolutely a children's book, his adult fan base is so strong and so devoted to the way he writes that they will definitely reach for this book." The pre-publication response from booksellers has been very positive, she reported, and apparently many have passed on the galleys to young readers, since the publisher has already received a number of letters from enthusiastic kids. HarperCollins has created a 12-copy floor display for retailers and is sending Barker on a five-city media tour.
A floor display, promotional poster and a national print ad campaign are components of Hyperion/Miramax's marketing plans for Summerland. The Berkeley, Calif.— based author will embark on a 12-city tour beginning late this month. On his itinerary is a stop at Readers' Books in Sonoma, where Kathleen Caldwell is events coordinator and children's buyer. She is a fan of Chabon's work, calling him "an amazing writer with a fresh voice." Her enthusiasm extends to his latest book: "As an adult I loved it, and I know my 11-year-old nephew will love it, too. I expect that it will sell well to both age groups," she predicted. Though Caldwell, like most booksellers queried, plans to display this and the other novels in both the adult and children's sections, when Chabon visits the store, she will promote his appearance as an adult event.
Publishers and booksellers alike were hesitant to label this profusion of adult authors entering the children's market a "trend." At HarperCollins Children's Books—publisher of three of the five books profiled—Diane Naughton, v-p of marketing, commented, "We certainly had no master plan to land these three titles on the same list, but we are very much looking to tie our successful adult authors into the children's market if the author writes in a genre that could translate itself into a children's book." Noting that all of these novels except Hoot falls into the fantasy niche, Lisa Dugan, children's buyer at Koen Book Distributors, mused on the effect of Harry Potter's rampant sales success on both editors and authors: "They've got to be thinking, whether consciously or subconsciously, how well the Harry Potter books sold across all markets, and it has to be very enticing to think about publishing books that will sell across as many channels as possible."
At A Children's Place Bookstore in Portland, Ore., owner Diane Smith-Hill also suggested that J.K. Rowling's sagas, as well as Lemony Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events novels, may well have inspired publishers to explore new cross-marketing angles and to encourage adult authors' ventures into younger markets. "We've found that we do better with any book that appeals to parents or older siblings as well as to kids who are the targeted audience," she said. She also remarked that, although she will stock books by well-known adult authors and those by celebrities, given their name recognition, she will not handsell a book based solely on an author's reputation: "I hope that the big names will pull people into the store, but I will not recommend any book unless I think it is truly worthy. I am going to call it as it is," she emphasized.
Though reluctant to predict a continuing pattern of adult authors writing for kids, Caldwell at Readers' Books spots as a definite trend the increasing incidence of adults purchasing young adult fiction for themselves. "This may be partly the Harry Potter effect," she observed, "but the YA market has just taken off for us, with so many adults reading it. Our store's YA sales are now higher than our sales of fiction for younger readers, and we sell as many YA books to adults for their own reading as we do to young adults themselves. I think these authors are really pushing the envelope and perhaps taking more risks than they ever did, and it is paying off. They are reaching new readers. This is an exciting time to be selling these kinds of books, and I am very grateful to have so many to sell."
Trend or not, given that Gaiman, Hiaasen, Allende, Barker and Chabon all have multiple book contracts with their children's publisher, retailers will have a fresh crop of these quick-to-crossover novels to sell in subsequent seasons. And here's a guaranteed bonus for authors, publishers and booksellers alike: if young readers get hooked on the work of these writers, they'll be more than likely to tap into the rich cache of their adult books in the future.
Now Hear This
No one knows an author's work better than the author. And, frequently, no one can read an author's work aloud as effectively as the author. Audiobook listeners are discovering that Michael Chabon and Neil Gaiman are two authors who can read as well as they write: both give assured, entertaining performances on the audiobook versions of Summerland (HighBridge Audio, Sept.) and Coraline (HarperChildren's Audio, June), respectively, marking the first time that either has recorded his own material.
But, as both authors agree, creating a recording that sounds effortless is far from an effortless endeavor. "It was hard work! Really hard," said Chabon. "I chose to read it the way that I read to my kids, giving a different voice to each character. That's tough enough to do over one chapter, or part of a chapter, but over a whole book, it's really demanding. The director was actually a lot more forgiving than my kids, though, when I would slip and use the wrong voice."
"You rapidly learn all the unusual things you have to be aware of in the studio," Gaiman said. "I would be moving right along and then someone would say, 'We're going to have to say that again; your stomach rumbled.' " The recording experience proved very different from the live readings Gaiman often does at his appearances. (He recently read Coraline in its entirety to approximately 700 fans at Cody's Books in Berkeley, Calif.) "When you read in front of a group you have a sort of rhythm, backwards and forward, bouncing off the audience," he explained. "In the studio, you don't have that, you're on your own. You have to sort of imagine an audience and hope that what you're doing is going to work."
When an audiobook does work, it can quickly win loyal fans. Chabon is among those hooked on the medium for its unique entertainment value. "Audiobooks are, for me, primarily the secret to easing the pain of a long car trip," he commented. Though the audio version of Summerland is just out of the starting gate, Coraline already boasts 10,000 copies in print, an impressive number for the genre. "I love audiobooks, but it's so hard to get people to listen to them," Gaiman lamented. "It was a strange idea I had, to release the audio a full three months ahead of the book. I thought it might reach some people who wouldn't think of picking it up otherwise," he noted. The audiobook of Coraline did arrive in stores ahead of its print counterpart, but only by a few weeks. HarperCollins moved up the publication date of the print book from September to July after strong advance demand.
Now that they've taken the narrating plunge, what do Gaiman and Chabon think of the finished products? "It's very uncomfortable for me to hear myself," Gaiman said. "It's kind of like when you phone home and a day later you listen to your message and it sounds like a horrible parody of your voice." Chabon is still waiting for some important feedback: "My eight-year-old daughter in particular is a great fan of audiobooks, so her judgment will be definitive."
As for future recording sessions, Gaiman would like to eventually create a CD that includes The Wolves in the Walls, his forthcoming children's book from HarperCollins, as well as his first picture book, The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish, and some original music. "Whenever I'm the best person to read something, I would love to," he said. "[Recording Coraline] was enormously fun."
Chabon, however, may take some coaxing. "Maybe in a couple of years I'll have recovered from the ordeal," he joked. Fans are surely hoping that we hear from both of these authors again sooner rather than later. —Shannon Maughan