A monster hit?
There is nothing publishing loves so much as a bandwagon, be it nostalgia or misery memoirs, paranormal romance or celebrity autobiographies: something unexpectedly takes off, and everyone wants a part of it.
The latest trend might still be in its infancy, but it’s picking up steam fast: the “literary monster mash-up”, as identified—and spawned by—small US publisher Quirk Books.
It all started because editorial director Jason Rekulak had a hankering to publish a “new and improved” version of a literary classic. “I made a list of classic novels and a second list of
elements that could enhance these novels—pirates, robots, ninjas, monkeys and so forth,” he told Publishers Weekly. “When I drew a line between Pride and Prejudice and zombies, I knew I had my title and it was easy to envision how the book would work.”
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, interspersing Jane Austen’s text with “all-new scenes of bone-crunching zombie action", was published in April and became an immediate online hit, film rights were fought over and, according to Quirk’s publicist, it has now sold over 50,000 copies in the UK and 600,000 in the US.
Hmm, that was out of the blue, says the books world, sensing a wagon to clamber aboard. Grand Central in the US took the “who’s got the biggest cheque book” approach, luring PP&Z (co)author Seth Grahame-Smith for a reported half a million dollars to write the story
of Abraham Lincoln, vampire hunter. UK publishers weren’t slow to follow suit: this October Hodder publishes Queen Victoria: Demon Hunter, as reported in The Bookseller, in which the Queen protects her empire from werewolves and their ilk, while Orion has I am Scrooge: A Zombie Story for Christmas lined up for the same month.
Quirk, meanwhile, has moved beyond vampires and zombies, announcing this week that it would be interspersing Sense and Sensibility with sea monsters: “'The family of Dashwood had been settled in Sussex since before the Alteration, when the waters of the world grew cold and hateful to the sons of man, and darkness moved on the face of the deep,” Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters begins. “The Dashwood estate was large, and their residence was at Norland Park, in the dead centre of their property, set back from the shoreline several hundred yards and ringed by torches.” Colonel Brandon suffers from “a cruel affliction . . . he bore a set of long, squishy tentacles protruding grotesquely from his
face, writhing this way and that, like hideous living facial hair of slime green . . . Otherwise, he was very pleasant.” Mr Willoughby meets Marianne when he saves her from a giant octopus attack.
Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters has another great cover, a fun marketing campaign – I enjoyed this YouTube clip- and is, like the rest of the books publishers have lined up, geared to appeal to the people who bought PP&Z.
Carolyn Mays told Victoria Gallagher, on acquiring the Queen Victoria title, that she’d
been "proactively" seeking to publish a book in this genre as she believed it was a "growing area".
I have to say I’m not entirely convinced this new trend is going to make it. PP&Z was a novelty – I’ve read it (well, most of it), it’s funny, and Grahame-Smith has done a marvellous job of seamlessly weaving zombie killing into Austen’s prose (you wouldn’t think it was
possible, but it works). But is this an area that can really grow?
We’ll know come the autumn, and my fingers are crossed (mainly because I’m keen to see what Rekulak, who’d mentioned monkeys, might do next). But surely, you’ve seen one monster mash-up, you’ve seen them all, I’d have thought. PP&Z worked precisely because of its novelty value: published by a tiny press, it was taken to the hearts of geeks everywhere (myself included), but will those geeks really want to build a library
of similar titles?
It remains to be seen whether the literary monster mash-up will be a flash in the pan . . . or could it become the "quirky history", or "mis-mem" of 2010?