Shannon Hale and Mattel Live Happily 'Ever After'
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers and Mattel are following up their successful partnership for Monster High – which has exceeded two million copies in print across two book series – with a second book-and-doll franchise, called Ever After High. The first book in the new series, The Storybook of Legends, will be written by Newbery Honor author Shannon Hale, and will debut this October with a 300,000-copy first printing.
When Andrew Smith, LBYR’s v-p and deputy publisher, and Erin Stein, editorial director for brand, licensed, and media tie-in publishing, first saw the property, in a top-secret meeting in Mattel’s offices, “immediately dozens of ideas were spinning in our heads,” said Stein, who added, “It was such a rewarding experience working with Mattel [on Monster High]. They are so open to working with us, and our authors, on developing and creating the books. How could we resist publishing this? It was a no-brainer.”
Ever After High is about a boarding school where the sons and daughters of famous fairy-tale characters learn the skills they need to fulfill their destinies. The first book serves as an origin story, as best friends Apple White, daughter of Snow White, and Raven Queen, daughter of the Evil Queen, face the moment when they must choose whether to follow their destinies, or change them. “The theme of rewriting your destiny is a really empowering message for girls,” Stein said. “And it lends itself to fun storytelling. There are so many shades of gray to play with there.”
Newbery Honor recipient Hale, whose seven books for young readers include Princess Academy and The Goose Girl, was a clear choice as the author of The Storybook of Legends, Stein said, pointing to Hale’s ability to draw readers into a reimagined fairy tale and make it believable. “We thought, there’s only one person who could do this, and that’s Shannon Hale.”
Hale also expressed enthusiasm about the property. “The term ‘reluctant reader’ is usually used about boys, but there are a lot of girls out there who are reluctant readers as well,” she said. “There are so many distractions. They just need that extra hook to bring them in.” Mattel’s dolls and other resources can serve as that hook, Hale believes, adding, “There’s still that little girl in me who loves the dolls and the clothes and things.”
The working relationship with Mattel and Little, Brown went very smoothly, according to Hale, who had never done a work-for-hire project. Mattel gave her a 200-page story bible with details about plots, environments, and characters, but “there was a lot of room for extra creation,” Hale said. “[Mattel] made very few notes on my draft, and if I found inconsistencies in their world-building, they changed it.”
At BEA, where Hale attended a launch event and spent time in Little, Brown’s booth, booksellers and librarians were enthusiastic about Ever After High, resulting in the publisher upping the initial print run by 50,000 copies.
“Shannon is a great role model for girls,” says Anne Holman, who knows the author and is general manager of The King’s English, a bookstore in Hale’s hometown of Salt Lake City. “I know [the book] will be smart and appropriate. And she has a killer sense of humor.”
The King’s English, a literary bookstore, normally does not sell media tie-ins in its children’s room. “This is something new for us,” Holman said. “Since the story tags back to fairy tales, it’s something we can carry in our store. And I like the ‘royal versus rebel’ theme. It’s not just good versus evil. We all have choices.”
Although there are some similarities between Ever After High and Monster High – which features the high school-aged children of famous monsters – the two franchises are distinct. “This has a different tone and a different feel,” said Stein. Monster High was introduced as a YA series before moving into the middle grades, for example, while Ever After High is launching with a middle-grade reader. The format is a bit different as well, with the first title being released in a paper-over-board edition (retailing for $14.99), with a deluxe look inspired by a book that is featured prominently in the story.
Mattel launched EverAfterHigh.com last week, complete with a virtual world, videos, wallpapers, and character blogs. Hale wrote six original digital short stories that will be released for free during the summer (first on EverAfterHigh.com and then through Little, Brown’s e-tailers), each introducing a different character as he or she packs for school. An e-book edition of The Storybook of Legends will launch simultaneously with the hardcover.
Other LBYR and Mattel marketing activities surrounding the launch will include cross-promotions, print and online advertising, floor displays, an author tour, and Comic-Con promotions. More books will follow in subsequent seasons, and Mattel and its licensees will launch a full line of Ever After High products.