In past years, there’s been some doom and gloom expressed over the decline of reading and the “literacy” of the American population. Books don’t matter, they say. They have no real relevance in today’s world. Really? No so, according to Paul R. La Monica, CNN/Money senior writer. Fact: “Since the first book was published in the U.S., shares of Scholastic have outperformed the Dow, S&P 500 and Nasdaq.”
Books matter. They matter in ways you haven’t considered—or want to consider. Books have an impact on the bottom line, particularly if the company is a publishing company.
No one can doubt the impact the Harry Potter series has had on the Scholastic bottom line. You would think with all the hoopla the emergence of a new Potter book or movie generates, Scholastic would have nothing to worry about. Think again. La Monica reports that Scholastic shares have dropped 17 percent year-to-date.
Aren’t we in the midst of the new release of the movie “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban?” Yes, we are, Grasshopper, but as with most things, timing is everything. The movie is out and, should there be a small clutch of children or a pack of adults lurking among the shadows who have never experienced the Potter-frenzy, perhaps there will be a new reader or two picked up. But what about the legion of fans who go to the movie, the horde of legendary Potter book fanatics who press their noses against bookstore windows and wait in line until midnight for the new release of the next Potter book? What about them? Who will feed their avid appetites?
Not J.K. Rowling. While her first three books came out in quick order, the three-year gap between numbers four and five doesn’t promise a new release positioned to take advantage of the recycled Potter craze this summer. While few writers like to think about the marketing and publicity extension of their work, publishers can’t be that queasy. They must consider the bottom line if they want their company to be around for the next publishing cycle or attend next year’s BookExpo extravaganza. Scholastic is not a one-trick book company, either. Their successful programs have included Clifford the Big Red Dog, Goosebumps, and many others. Yet, they cannot ever relax. Nor can they pin their hopes on one author, one book—or one series.
Even now Scholastic is busy at work preparing the world for what they hope will be the next big Potter-like book franchise. During the Chicago annual Book Expo last week, Scholastic unleashed the launch of P.B. Kerr’s Children of the Lamp series. According to Scholastic, the first book released is Children of the Lamp: The Akhenaten Adventure. The book introduces the story of John and Philippa Gaunt, twelve-year-old twins who develop an extraordinary gift for making other people’s wishes magically come true. Earlier this year, WriteNews.com noted that DreamWorks has already bought up the film rights, and Scholastic is executing a $250,000 marketing plan in the US and the United Kingdom. They should. Scholastic has a lot riding on this new venture, including the need to recapture the seven-figure advance paid to the author as a result of the auction. The trilogy is scheduled for 04, 05 and 06 releases. Writers might consider whether we’ll be seeing renewed interest in archeology, ancient Egypt, Djinns, Babylon, and maybe even the North Pole.
All this is very nice for author Kerr and Scholastic, you might say, but what does that have to do with me? Well, aside from shedding some light on the financial aspects of the book industry, it reinforces the need for today’s writers to become industry-savvy. Sitting in a garret, writing a book in longhand, pleading poverty and sneaking looks above to see if the great claw of good fortune, as Sue Grafton called it, is pushing the clouds aside and extending down to pluck you from your happy writer’s chair into the spotlight of publishing fame simply isn’t a very good game plan. That’s not to say it might not happen, some where, some time, but trust me it’s not something to go to the bank on. Whatever you’re writing, should you decide to publish—whether through vanity, self-publishing, small press, or traditional—the two age-old questions of marketing will rise: Who is the book intended for? How will the book get into their hands? How you answer those questions will, in large part, determine your book’s success . . . and yours.
As for those of you who hoped to be the next J.K. Rowling, sorry, it seems the position has been filled. Whether the Potter-generated cycle will continue with the new series will be, as always, up to the readers. Scary, isn’t it? Hordes of eight-year-olds hold the fate of hundreds of writers in their sweaty, little hands, for increased sales translates into high interest for the fantasy writers and continued good news for a genre that was once considered dead. In the meantime, keep at work on the writing at hand and do the very best you can; but don’t forget to pick up some industry-savvy along the way, so you’re ready for the next great pluck when the claw once more surveys the literary landscape. Books matter.