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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Twilight Phenomenon

Money totals are rolling in for “New Moon”. The Twilight series is a blockbuster mega-hit. So how did Stephanie Meyers do it? I’ve been watching the phenomenon trying to figure it out. I did the same with the Harry Potter craze. Neither series is particularly well-written. I can list dozens of similar books that are much better plotted and crafted, but none of them were mega-hits. (No, this is not a ‘rip on Harry Potter and Twilight” post.)

Why even care, unless I’m just jealous of their success? I admit I am jealous, I’d love my books to hit that level of sale—which is the main reason I’m trying to understand how they did it. Neither woman had published anything previously. Neither woman had what the pros consider necessary to success. Yet they managed to do something very few SF/F/Horror authors ever have. Even Stephen King took years to build his empire.

As far as I can tell, J.K. Rowling and Stephanie Meyers have two things going for them: really good marketing people and characters that resonate. Teen angst is a universal theme, wanting to fit in and belong is also universal. Harry Potter reaches both male and female audiences, drawing them into the teen drama of Hogwarts University where boyfriend/girlfriend issues take center stage just as often as saving the world from evil. Twilight pulls girls into a world of teen heartache. Edward is the epitome of forbidden love.

Neither series caught my interest for long. But I’m not the target market. I’m not a tween to teen looking for stories that resonate with my own inner anxieties and insecurities. As a writer, though, understanding how they became so successful can’t be anything but helpful in my own career. Perhaps more authors should care about their characters and stories and less about making a statement. I don’t think J.K. Rowling or Stephanie Meyers set out to make political or religious statements. They were telling stories.

And doing it very successfully.