The summer of 2005 is shaping up to be the summer of blockbuster children's books. In addition to the new Harry Potter, there's another formidable fantasy force brewing: Eldest by Christopher Paolini, with a national laydown of August 23 and a first printing of one million copies. It's the second volume in the Inheritance Trilogy, the highly anticipated follow-up to 2003's Eragon, which has sold more than 1.5 million copies to date.
To tout Eldest's arrival,Random House Children's Books has developed a marketing campaign that includes laydown event kits for booksellers, a national consumer sweepstakes and a 15-city author tour.
"We think it will be the next biggest children's book of the year, after Harry Potter," said Beth Bingham, public relations manager for Borders. Many independents are high on Eldest, too. "We've had kids who have been asking for it for almost a year now," said Alison Morris, children's book buyer for Wellesley Booksmith in Wellesley, Mass.
But just what has caused Paolini's titles to jump to the front of the pack of fantasy titles that have followed in Harry's footsteps? "I think a big part of the success of Eragon was the interesting backstory," said Nancy Hinkel, publishing director for Knopf and Crown Books for Young Readers. "The fact that Christopher was so young when he wrote the first book, and that it was self-published, piqued interest in Eragon and got people excited about reading it. Then they saw that it held up as a story on its own." As the tale goes, a 15-year-old home-schooled Paolini penned Eragonfor fun, and his family had it published themselves prior to Random House's discovery and acquisition of the title.
At Barnes & Noble, children's book buyer Joe Monti said that Eragonhas been their bestselling teen fiction title for two years running. "There has been a tremendous groundswell of word of mouth amongst the readers. This is akin to the surge for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stonein 1999 nearly a year after it was released; it's just that the market is responding faster now." B&N has enough faith in Eldest that it plans to use the Friday night Potter parties to begin promoting the title, and will include a discount coupon for it with books being picked up that night.
Morris isn't so sure that the Inheritance trilogy will reach the same heights as Harry. "I don't think the phenomenon of adults and children reading it is the same," she said. "The audience for Eragon is predominantly kids, and the adults who are picking it up are true fantasy buffs." But Bingham disagreed, "It took a while for Harry Potter to catch on. The first few books came out quickly and the fan base built up. The fantasy category is still growing and holds a lot of appeal for young people, especially boys, so I could see the same thing happening with Eragon."
Following his U.S. and European tours this fall, Paolini is expected to take a break before beginning work on book three, which has no scheduled publication date.