A Hit (No Bones About It)
What if Harry Potter had a younger, distant cousin who was just as much fun and almost as magically inclined? Well, Charlie Bone, the star of British author Jenny Nimmo's bestselling series of books from Scholastic/Orchard, fits the bill. Though Charlie and Harry are unrelated, there are similarities in their popularity trajectory, and readers have embraced the newcomer with a Harry-like fervor.
Ten-year-old Charlie Bone is not sure what to think when he discovers that he can hear the thoughts and voices of people in photographs and paintings. But his relatives are thrilled, as they know this talent makes Charlie part of their magical bloodline—and a candidate to attend Bloor's Academy for gifted children. Thus begins Midnight for Charlie Bone, the first in Nimmo's Children of the Red King series.
Midnight for Charlie Bone, released by Orchard in the U.K. in April 2002, made its U.S. debut in March 2003. It was followed by Charlie Bone and the Time Twister in August of that same year. According to Scholastic publicist Clare McMahon, Charlie Bone immediately began getting attention at the company's book fairs, "and the craze has now moved into the trade." To date, in hardcover and paperback book fair editions combined, Midnight boasts 900,000 copies in print, while Time Twister has 725,000 copies.
Riding on this momentum, Charlie Bone and the Invisible Boy, the third book in the series, hit bookstore shelves this May with a 100,000-copy first printing. The pub date was bumped up a month to allow Nimmo time for a national spring tour—her first in the U.S.—and an appearance at BookExpo America. The title has since gone back to press three times, for a total of 650,000 copies in print.
"We certainly sell a lot of them," said Nicole White, children's buyer and manager at Vroman's Bookstore in Pasadena, Calif. "I think the packaging has a lot to do with it. With a $10 price tag for a hardcover, it's affordable and parents can keep up with it. It has captured the younger Harry Potter market, some of those kids who have maybe seen the films and not read the books yet."
Valerie Koehler, owner of Blue Willow Bookshop in Houston, Tex., added, "It's a quick, fun read with great characters. We've had huge kid word-of-mouth on this one, and of course that's something we, as booksellers, love."
The love should keep on coming, too; book four is slated for next summer, and a fifth book is currently planned for spring 2006.
Getting an Edge on Sales
Random House Children's Books is taking another British import to the heights this season. Beyond the Deepwoods: The Edge Chronicles #1and Stormchaser: The Edge Chronicles #2 are the initial titles in a planned 10-book fantasy series by Paul Stuart, illus. by Chris Riddell. Featuring Twig, a human boy who is being raised by Woodtrolls and is searching for his place in the world, the Edge series first received attention upon its U.K. release to positive reviews in 1998. The first two books are off to a strong start Stateside as well, with what Random House describes as a campaign to create an instant bestseller.
June 22 was the official pub date for both Deepwoods and Stormchaser, with a combined first printing of 140,000 copies. Both titles have gone back to press and the latest in-print figures are 105,000 copies and 85,000 copies, respectively. By July 18, Deepwoods was on the New York Times bestseller list, where it has remained, and the book has also earned a slot on the Book Sense bestseller list.
Though it sounds like a summer splash, the buzz building on these books began back around Halloween when Random House mailed 1,000 wooden letter openers to key accounts and reviewers. That was followed by a mailing of 2500 advance copies in November. The books were featured throughout the winter and spring at key trade and library conventions and conferences, and a Web site—www.EdgeChronicles.com—launched in May, featuring an animated map, activities and a contest. The author and illustrator appeared at BEA in early June for a finished book giveaway.
Promotional materials for bookstores have included posters, wall clings and 1,500 floor displays, with an Edgescope Viewfinder giveaway. A consumer contest, for which the grand prize is a trip to the Edge of the Grand Canyon, will wrap up on October 15.
Asked about what will make the books move, Random House Children's v-p of marketing Daisy Kline said, "Definitely price point [$12.95] and the value associated with this packaging [paper over board hardcover]." She added that "solid storytelling" and "fresh interior illustrations" are helping as well.
"We've seen some sales, but we probably won't really see any movement until the fall," said Koehler of Blue Willow. "In the summer, it's hard to introduce something that's not proven, because we have such a slowdown in July and August. Unfortunately, it came in a little late and missed that crucial time when kids are buying books to take to camp and for their summer reading lists."
At Vroman's, White noted, "I think the illustrations are a part of the appeal. It's getting lots of press and is selling itself, essentially."
The third book in the series, Midnight over Sanctaphrax, will be released on September 14. Stuart and Riddell will embark on an eight-city author tour in October. Book four, The Curse of the Gloamglozer, will appear on February 8, 2005, and book five, The Last of the Sky Pirates, on July 12, 2005. After the release of Book 6, Vox, in fall 2005, Random will have caught up to the U.K. schedule; author and illustrator are currently at work on book seven.
Teenagers have always read "up," embracing adult bestsellers. And crossover books that appeal to both adults and a younger audience aren't anything new. But Harcourt, home to the popular novel Life of Pi by Yann Martel, is taking a somewhat different tack to reach both audiences. The company's Harvest imprint released a paperback student edition of the book—a picaresque coming-of-age adventure/survival story—on May 3 with a smaller trim size, redesigned cover and lower price. After a 90,000-copy first printing and three subsequent printings, the in-print total for this edition has reached 197,200 copies.
"We knew anecdotally that this book was being picked up by a young adult audience and by teachers," said Laurie Brown, senior v-p and director of sales and marketing. "To help establish the title on reading lists and for long-term classroom use, we wanted a backpack- and budget-friendly edition."
To bolster the new version, Harcourt's publicity and promotion included creating a teacher's guide, sending mailings to educators and including the teacher's guide in a Kids' BookSense White Box mailing.
For White at Vroman's, the idea makes sense. "We've sold a fair amount," she said. "At $8.99, it's cheaper than the adult paperback [at $14], and it's an attractive package. People are already familiar with it. I think the new edition is reaching the market it's targeting."
And Here's to NPR
The children's book segment on Weekend Edition Saturday, featuring lighthearted banter between host Scott Simon and children's author/commentator Daniel Pinkwater, has proven once again to be a surefire hit with book buyers.
On May 8, the picture book And Here's to You! by David Elliott, illus. by Randy Cecil (Candlewick), got the star treatment. The joyous poem about appreciating all creatures, from bugs to bears, was released in April with a 10,000-copy first printing and has now been back to press twice, for a total of 50,000 copies in print.
The radio publicity immediately catapulted the book onto bestseller lists. "I loved that book," said Ann Teitel, children's book manager at the Dolphin Bookshop in Port Washington, N.Y. "It blew out of here after the NPR segment. I sold out immediately. People came in and called in for it. It was truly amazing."
But as often happens with Pinkwater's picks (for which no advance notice is given), publishers and booksellers are sometimes caught short of stock. "We had a huge initial demand because of the Pinkwater feature," said White. "But because our order of the book shipped so late, interest has fizzled. Now it's been too long between the review and the reprint."
Sales That Slay 'Em
In Dragonology by Ernest Drake, Candlewick has a title that is, well, on fire. Initially published in November 2003 with a first print run of 35,000 copies, the lavish novelty book of all things dragon is in its fifth printing and has an in-print total of 250,000 copies. Gearing up for the holidays, two more printings totaling 150,000 copies are planned in the next two months.
Featured coverage in People magazine and U.S. News & World Report helped the title alight on the New York Times bestseller list for 20 weeks (two weeks at #1), not to mention five months on the Publishers Weekly bestseller list and 23 weeks on Book Sense's list.
"What a fantastic book," said Teitel. "It's not for really little kids, but for the seven-year-old boy who's really into dragons, it's the perfect thing. We've been selling it to 10-, 11-, 12-year-olds, too. And one woman who came in said she had bought the book as a gift for someone and when her 16-year-old son saw it, he wanted one. I love to sell that book. It's always on re-order."
At Blue Willow Koehler added, "I've loved that book since the beginning. We couldn't get it for Christmas last year, but it's been in and out of here since then. We put it in our fantasy section—which is a segue between the kids' and adult sections in our store—and it does well there. I can't wait for the new one, Egyptology [by Emily Sands, due in November]."
Checking in on Chick Lit
Gossip sure has a way of spreading. The same is true for the popularity of the Gossip Girl series by Cecily von Ziegesar, which features the often glamorous, colorful and hormonally charged lives of some teenagers on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. There are five titles in the series from Little, Brown and a total of more than one million copies in print. Book five, I Like It Like That, has spent 12 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list.
Since the series' launch in April 2002, Little, Brown has run ads in Teen People, Delia's catalogues and the New York Times. The outreach seems to be working. At the suggestion of publicist Jennifer Abbots, the company recently organized a panel of teen reviewers called "the hip scouts"—a group of trend-setting teens who like to read and review books. According to Allison Devlin, director of publicity for Little, Brown Children's Books, "It has been rewarding to get their feedback and they are really honest! They love Gossip Girl."
The hip scouts are not alone. "I bought the series when it first came out and it just sat there," said Koehler. "I thought it might just be an East Coast/West Coast kind of thing. But last May, it just started to blow out of here. Every girl was reading it. Since then, we have a hard time keeping it in stock. I have told some moms who come in to buy it for sixth and seventh graders that they might want to look at it first. But I don't have a problem recommending them."
White noted, "The paperback original format makes them irresistible as a pick-up for summer or anytime reading. Girls just eat them up. I continue to sell the first book as strong as the new titles."
Little, Brown has followed up Gossip Girl with something similar in spirit, but highlighting the Left Coast: The A-List, a series by Zoey Dean about a wealthy Manhattan teenager who moves to the tough social terrain of Beverly Hills. The first title, The A-List, was published in September 2003 with a first printing of 75,000 copies. It currently boasts 190,000 copies in print after four trips back to press. Girls on Film, the second entry,was released in April 2004 with 75,000 copies and is now up to 105,000 copies in print. Girls on Film appeared on the New York Times bestseller list for five consecutive weeks, as well as on PW's list. Admittedly, Devlin says, "These books get a lot of mileage as being 'the Gossip Girl for the West Coast.' "
Teitel has done brisk business with both series in her store. "I can't keep them in stock," she said. "We've already got a waiting list for Gossip Girl book six and for book three in the A-List series. It's like Sex and the City for kids, and when you're 14 years old, guess what you're thinking about? It's mind candy, that's what it is."
Fans won't have long to wait; The A-List #3: Blonde Ambition will hit shelves in September and Gossip Girl #6: You're the One That I Want is coming in October.
Another recent YA title spans the popularity of chick lit and Internet chatting. ttyl (an online chat-speak abbreviation for "talk to you later") by Lauren Myracle was published by Abrams on April 1 (no joke) with a first print run of 20,000 copies, and is now up to 75,000 copies in print. The book sports a hot-pink jacket with yellow Internet smiley faces, and its interior design features computer screens that mimic instant messaging pop-up boxes. "It's a terrific package that really speaks to teens," said senior publicist Jason Wells. As one of eight books introduced during the January 2004 launch of Amulet, the company's new imprint for middle grade and YA fiction, ttylgarnered some prime visibility.
Coverage in Teen magazine, on Twist.com and in the San Francisco Chronicle, in addition to a ttyl mouse pad giveaway to booksellers and librarians, helped get the word out. A second phase of the marketing campaign kicked off August 1 and will include a 10-city nationwide author tour that begins this week in San Francisco.
"Word-of-mouth by teenagers themselves has generated the momentum for this book," said Wells. "Instant messaging is part of what teens do, how they make and keep friends, and how they communicate. Sometimes booksellers act as gatekeepers to what kids read. This book is an example of how kids get and want a title while it's taking the booksellers a bit longer to grasp the concept."
For those readers who do get it, Myracle plans to follow up with a spring 2005 book that is promised to have a most provocative title.