Fantasy Fans Get a Nix Fix

Back in 1996, readers first met Sabriel in Australian author Garth Nix's novel of the same name (HarperCollins), and they were swept into an intricately plotted adventure set in a realm of necromancers and the undead. Launched with a modest first printing of 10,000 copies, the book steadily built a loyal audience among readers as well as booksellers and currently boasts a total of 150,000 copies in print (a figure that also includes the paperback edition issued in 1997). In 2001 the sequel to Sabriel was released, and Lirael now has 200,000 copies in print (hardcover and paperback combined). And in January of this year, those eager to continue the fantastic journey with Nix jumped on board for Abhorsen (Harper/Eos), the final volume in the trilogy, which was released with a 35,000-copy printing.

According to Josette Kurey, senior manager of publicity at HarperCollins Children's Books, through its first eight weeks, Abhorsen was selling nearly 3.5 times the rate of Lirael in hardcover. In addition, the paperback editions of Sabriel and Lirael have increased weekly sales by about 70% over roughly the same period. This kind of strong response landed Abhorsen on PW's bestseller list and the New York Times children's bestseller list for three weeks.

Though an interview in USA Today and a print satellite tour that yielded articles in several major regional newspapers boosted Abhorsen's profile, the book's performance and the continued strong sales of Nix's work are largely a result of word of mouth and enthusiastic handselling. "Just look at it this way," said Duane Wilkins, science fiction buyer at University Book Store in Seattle. "If you've read the others, you're already getting this one [Abhorsen] and devouring it. If you haven't—go get yourself a copy of Sabriel. If it's not the best fantasy you've read in years, well, you need a reality check."

Wendy Gratz, children's book buyer for the six-store Joseph-Beth and Davis-Kidd Booksellers chain in Tennessee, Kentucky and Ohio, used equally glowing terms. "This is the very best fantasy series out there for kids and adults," she said. "It is tremendously different from anything else. We sell a ton of this, especially in our Lexington [Ky.] store. Our booksellers love the series, and that also makes it easy to sell."

At the Red Balloon Bookshop in St. Paul, Minn., co-owner Michele Cromer-Poire commented, "Our customers are crazy for Garth Nix. We had plenty of special orders for Abhorsen before its publication. I recommend Nix's books to bright young adults who are looking for something terrific to read, not just for those who only read fantasy."

Some lucky fans may get to meet the author in the near future, too. Kurey said that Nix is planning a brief trip to the States this summer, where he will appear "at a very limited number of accounts."

SpongeBob SalesPants

Who lives in a pineapple under the sea? SpongeBob SquarePants, the square-shaped sea-sponge star of his own popular animated show on Nickelodeon. In fact, SpongeBob SquarePants is the top-ranked show (network or cable) watched by kids ages two to 11, averaging 2.7 million viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research. And with licensing deals ranging from toys and apparel to ocean-blue—colored macaroni-and-cheese dinners, it's no surprise that SpongeBob has also made a splash in the book world.

Back in August 2000, Simon & Schuster/Simon Spotlight launched the first four SpongeBob books, all aimed at the chapter-book set. Since that time, SpongeBob and his pals from the town of Bikini Bottom have been soaking up young fans and also gaining a strong adult following. In February, S&S expanded the line to include novelty plush books, including SpongeBob's Backpack, which sold 120,000 copies in its first month on the shelves.

To date, a total of 24 SpongeBob books have sold more than 3.2 million copies; 15 titles are planned for release this year. That's a lot of Krabby Patties (the tasty burger treat SpongeBob whips up as fry cook at the Krusty Krab).

March is SpongeBob month at Wal-Mart, which means more than 100,000 SpongeBob books will be featured in dedicated endcaps. Borders has also created a March SpongeBob promotion with endcap displays. And Barnes & Noble catches the wave this summer with a planned endcap promotion. S&S is developing a poster and event kit as well as a 38-copy display for bookstores to use this summer.

Tracy van Straaten, director of publicity for Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing, noted that, predictably, mass-market accounts picked up on the series first. "But other accounts are reporting success," she said. "Borders is selling the property very well and created a SpongeBob electronic gift card this past holiday season." She added that sales at Barnes & Noble are increasing as well, but the books are probably performing best in the book club/book fair market.

Lizzie McGuire on Fire

Adolescent girls have traditionally been a strong book-buying bunch. And when one of their pop culture icons appears in print, they can push a title into the sales stratosphere. Disney Press is on its way to such heights with the series of novels based on Disney Channel's hit show Lizzie McGuire; the line consisting of eight titles has a combined 1.5 million copies in print to date.

On TV, Lizzie, played by rising star Hilary Duff, entertainingly deals with parents, a pesky brother, school, boys and all the dramas of a typical girl's life, while her animated alter ego lets viewers in on her innermost thoughts and feelings. So far, her onscreen charm has translated well to the page. The first two Lizzie McGuire books debuted in May 2002, with first printings of 75,000 copies each. The fourth title, The Rise and Fall of the Kate Empire (Nov. 2002) spent four weeks on the New York Times children's bestseller list, and book five, Picture This, appeared on the list as well. The sixth Lizzie book, New Kid in School, is hitting stores right now, and the series' release schedule has recently been bumped up to one novel per month.

Duff's wattage is steadily increasing as well, a factor that could continue to boost book sales. She currently co-stars in the feature film Agent Cody Banks and will bring her signature TV character to the big screen this May in Disney's The Lizzie McGuire Movie, for which Duff also sings on the pop-infused soundtrack. A movie novelization is currently shipping to accounts as well.

"The chains have been very, very supportive," said Jennifer Levine, publicity director for Disney Children's Book Group, noting that both Borders and B&N have featured Lizzie books in in-store promotions. "But the books have been consistent at all distribution levels. The independents are taking them, too."

Also on the Rise

Nothing helps build sales like a bestseller. To that end, publishers are always looking for ways to keep an author's or a series' momentum going. This spring, Random House is releasing three notable projects inspired by major successes of the recent past.

The irrepressible Junie B. Jones, young heroine of Barbara Park's hot early reader series, is barreling through first grade with as much aplomb as she did kindergarten—and she's got the sales to prove it. The 20-book series, which first appeared on the scene in 1992, now has more than 20 million copies in print. Junie's latest adventure is not a new chapter book, but a sideline of sorts called Top-Secret Personal Beeswax: A Journal by Junie B. (and Me!), which went on sale in February with a printing of 400,000 copies. In the book, young readers are encouraged—via blank pages, idea starters, stickers and writings from Junie herself—to jot down their own beeswax.

Judith Haut, executive director of publicity for Random House Children's Books, said that initial sales are strong and that booksellers are enthusiastic about a Junie B. display (Random has shipped more than 2,000 of them to accounts) and Junie B. promotional pens, which are free to consumers with book purchase. Top-Secret debuted at #7 on the Book Sense bestseller list and also made the highest debut ever for the series on the USA Today list, at #21. Junie has a busy summer of sales ahead as well. Barbara Park will be one of the children's breakfast speakers during BookExpo America in May; in June, Random House rolls out its annual "June Is Junie B. Month" promotion.

When it comes to popular teen novels, author Ann Brashares wears the pants. Her first novel, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (Delacorte, 2001), was warmly received and benefited from particularly strong word-of-mouth and handselling support. Next month, the four girls who shared a pair of jeans (as well as love and friendship) in the first book return in Second Summer of the Sisterhood, which will launch with a national print-media blitz (YM, Teen People, CosmoGirl), a 200,000-copy printing and a "Win a Sisterhood Sojourn!" contest featuring a grand prize of plane tickets (to anywhere in the continental U.S.) for the winner and her mother.

And like the well-traveled pants she writes about, Brashares will hit the road, too, for an eight-city cross-country tour beginning April 23. In the meantime, Delacorte has released the trade paperback edition of Traveling Pants with a 200,000-copy printing. The new edition contains a bound-in preview of Second Summer at the back of the book and has already made its debut on the BookSense bestseller list.

When readers last saw Stanley Yelnats, he was laboring in the hot sun and trying to outwit some nasty authority figures in Holes, the 1999 Newbery winner by Louis Sachar (FSG, 1998; Dell/Yearling paperback, 2000). Stanley will soon be back in readers'—and movie-goers'—consciousness when the Disney feature film Holes, starring Sigourney Weaver and Jon Voight, opens April 18. As part of the celebration, Random House will simultaneously release a movie tie-in edition of Holes (125,000-copy printing) featuring movie art on the cover and an eight-page insert of color photos from the film, as well as Stanley Yelnats' Survival Guide to Camp Green Lake (100,000-copy printing), a paperback containing tips on such important skills as digging holes and identifying various desert-dwelling snakes. To date, 3,200 mixed-copy floor displays featuring both books have been shipped to accounts. Though the film itself will provide plenty of exposure for the book, Sachar and the movie's director, Andrew Davis, will team up for a 10-city promotional tour, a joint effort between Disney and Random House.