Turning Classics Into Bestsellers?

Mr Darcy, Vampyre

Mr Darcy, Vampyre

Having published our first children’s book just before Christmas, I had more reason than normal to look closely at what is being promoted for children through bookshops and equally what is best selling. I have to confess as I wandered through the bookshops that I guiltily pondered how easier it might be to get publicity and the attention of older children if our book only contained a vampire.

Now don’t get me wrong our book was based on the wonderful folk tales collected by Douglas Hyde over a hundred years ago and the pure joy I got from those stories was the driving reason we decided to publish. The book was also a storybook and our intention was never to aim for a teenage market but when you see the sales that Stephanie Meyer is driving through the charts and the publicity vampire books generate you think, well, what if? What if one of those original stories had contained a vampire wouldn’t it make a nice addition to your sales pitch.

Again we got great coverage and support for our title, helped by the very well received illustrations that Paul Bolger contributed to the book, but it got me thinking on a larger scale. What if I was trying to make a book appeal to teenagers how easier it would be if the book contained a minimum quota of one vampire. The more I thought about it the more logical it seemed. A classics list recently placed a sticker on its books saying ‘does not contain zombies’ but how effective would a sticker be that said ‘contains a minimum of one vampire.’

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens is surely a struggle for the average teen living on a diet of love lorn teenage vampires. All a clever publisher need do is change Mrs. Havisham into a vampire. She, with curtains always drawn, is a prime candidate. With a little stretch we could have her die with a wooden stake through her heart, hardly acceptable in the original but a very valid end for a vampire. Sacrilege I hear you cry but the change required is so small, would we not be happy with teenagers reading 90% of the original text, to allow us get a sticker on the front saying ‘contains a minimum of one vampire.’

There are no end of books that could benefit from such a sticker, creating countless appeal for teenagers. Instead of shooting a rabid dog Atticus, in To Kill a Mockingbird, could hammer a stake through the heart of a marauding vampire and instead say ‘I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man driving a stake through a marauding vampire’s heart. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what.’ A whole new generation would open up to that key message, again only the slightest change is required.

Another great benefit would be that key works of literature would find themselves drifting to the front of bookshops. When the inevitable ‘vamp lit’ sections are put into action, beside their forerunner the ‘misery lit’ section, literature will find itself in a key position with their now readily recognisable vampire stickers.

Please feel free to post your suggestions of how to turn a serious work of fiction into a vampire book with only the slightest of change. I will send a free copy of Ancient Folk Tales of Ireland to the most original. The judge’s decision will be final and we accept no responsibility if any publisher is crazy enough to follow any of the suggestions above or any of those posted by you.

Colm Ennis is Publisher at Hawk Hill Publishing Limited and a former head of buying at Hughes & Hughes one of of Ireland’s largest booksellers.