One of the few things that can provoke a hint of annoyance from author Stephenie Meyer is calling her the next J.K. Rowling. While the press might be eager to crown the Phoenix homemaker—cum—international bestseller the next YA fantasy wunderkind, Meyer would demur that she will never be as big as the creator of Harry Potter.

Maybe not. But she’s certainly on her way.

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers signed Meyer to a three-book deal in December 2003, after her manuscript, a fast-paced vampire tale involving a teenager falling for the kind but undead heartthrob in her class, was discovered in a slush pile at Writers House. Now the first two volumes of Meyer’s trilogy—Twilight (published in August 2005) and New Moon (August 2006)—boast 1.6 million copies in print, in hardcover and paper. Earlier this month, LBYR, spurred by those figures, decided to up the announced first printing of the author’s third book in the series, Eclipse, to one million copies; the laydown date is August 7.

And, with Meyer’s success overseas—Twilight has been sold in 28 countries and appeared (along with New Moon) on adult bestseller lists in Italy, Spain and Germany—the house’s plans for its newest franchise are only getting bigger.

Meyer, who says she never thought about becoming an author, has a Cinderella publishing backstory that certainly rivals Rowling’s (a former single mum with a fledgling idea for a story about a kid at a magical boarding school). According to Meyer, the seed for Twilight began with a dream that she had jotted down back in 2003. “I never really thought of it as a novel,” she said. “It wasn’t until I finished it completely that I realized it was long enough that you could call it a book.”

Admitting to being initially very “shy” about the work, Meyer said her sister—one of the few people she showed the finished manuscript to—encouraged her to try to get it published. After nine rejection letters from New York agencies—she’d sent the work to 10—Meyer got a message from an intern at Writers House who said she’d read Twilight, loved it and was passing it along to agent Jodi Reamer.

A Worldwide Hit

LBYR, which bought world rights, moved quickly on the international front. Even before the Bologna fair in 2004 (and before her book was out in the States), Meyer had been signed by two foreign publishers. By Bologna 2005, foreign rights had sold in 11 countries. And the internal feeling at the house was that Meyer could do big things abroad.

“We felt the books had universal appeal,” said LBYR publisher Megan Tingley. “Once we had world rights, we met immediately about how to position the book overseas.”

Director of subsidiary rights Stephanie Voros said the house tried not to sell the book off piecemeal, and in certain key territories—Germany, Spain and the U.K.—she closed three-book deals. Voros added that the publisher was selective about which foreign houses the books were sold to. “We didn’t always go with the highest bid. A lot of other factors came into play,” she said, explaining that marketing plans and level of commitment were also key.

LBYR has assigned Meyer her own publicist, publicity director Elizabeth Eulberg, to coordinate her domestic and international outreach. And Meyer, who Voros said is being marketed in numerous overseas outlets as an adult author, is also being tapped by Little, Brown’s adult division; in 2008 it will release The Host, a standalone SF novel. (A movie is also a possibility, as Twilight is under option by Summit Entertainment.)

Eulberg, who is handling Meyer’s 15-city U.S. tour next month, as well as working with her Canadian and U.K. publishers to organize events, is hard-pressed to cite one thing that has made the author such a fast-rising literary star. Instead, she credits Meyer’s success, in part, to an unusually friendly disposition and an openness with fans. In fact, Meyer, who initially put her personal e-mail address on her Web site before taking it down after being deluged with e-mails, has drawn up to 1,000 attendees at some events. Eulberg, who said she’s never seen a comparable reaction, noted that Meyer’s fans “feel she’s a friend.”

Finally, Meyer’s success, according to the LBYR team, comes down to the basics: really good writing. As Tingley said, “Maybe it sounds trite, but I’ve been in this business for 20 years and it’s rare when you read something and just know.... These books have every element of a totally satisfying blockbuster.”