Smallscreen success trickles down to publishers

Now that HBO has greenlighted the new series “Game of Thrones,” it’s not just TV execs who are hoping for the next “True Blood.”

Also keeping their fingers crossed are the folks at Bantam Spectra Books, the Random House imprint that publishes “A Song of Ice and Fire,” the George R.R. Martin book series that inspired the skein.

There’s good reason to get hopes up. On the evidence of not only “True Blood” but other book series-to-smallscreen transfers such as “The Vampire Diaries” and “Dexter,” a link to a larger, high-profile entertainment property has big benefits on the publishing side of the equation.

“I would love it to be a repeat of what happened with ‘True Blood,’?” said Bantam Books publisher Nita Taublib.

Thanks to that HBO vampire skein — which averaged 12.6 million viewers in its second season — Charlaine Harris, the longtime author who pens the ongoing series of Sookie Stackhouse novels on which “True Blood” is based, saw her popularity surge.

Her ninth and most recent novel about psychic vampophile Sookie, “Dead and Gone,” reached No. 1 on the New York Times hardcover

bestseller list after its May 2009 release (just ahead of the start of the show’s second season in June of that year). The October release of a new book in another Harris series, “Grave Secret,” debuted at No. 9.

Understandably, publisher Ace Books is expecting a major sales boom when Sookie’s newest, “Dead in the Family,” lands in bookstores May 4.

And it’s not just “True Blood.”

Showtime serial-killer skein “Dexter,” based on the first of three novels by Jeff Lindsay, has become increasingly popular since its 2006 debut, with its fourth, most recent season seeing a viewership rise of 41% to an average of five million. Also snowballing: sales of that initial book, “Darkly Dreaming Dexter,” which have doubled every year since the series debut, according to publisher Vintage Books. (About 1.5 million Dexter books are in print.)

Since this season’s “Vampire Diaries” turned into a breakout hit for the CW (averaging 4.7 million viewers), about 1 million books from the series have been sold, according to reps for Alloy Entertainment, the company behind both the “Vampire” book titles and the TV show.

Alloy has made a specialty of launching a lit property and parlaying it into smallscreen success. The org also originated “Gossip Girl” (another CW buzz magnet) and “Privileged” and has two more upcoming page-to-tube projects, “Pretty Little Liars” and “Huge,” on the way at ABC Family.

Sometimes, according to Alloy prexy Leslie Morgenstein, it’s book popularity that can kickstart the momentum for TV success.

In the case of “Gossip Girl,” the hit book series was winding down when the TV show bowed in 2007, and the novels already had accumulated a significant following. “We had a hugely successful book property, and it provided a sizable, hungry, dedicated base to launch the show from,” Morgenstein said. Sales of the “Gossip Girl” novels have reached 6 million books across the entire series, according to Alloy.

As with the “Gossip Girl” novels, there already is a hefty fanbase for the books on which “Game of Thrones” is based — an ongoing fantasy series that often reads like historical fiction about the struggles over a contested throne.

There are nearly 4 million copies in print of the four installments written since the series bowed in 1996 with the first book, “A Game of Thrones.” (At least three more are on the way.)

The HBO skein, due to begin production later this year, looks certain to expose the books to a new seg of potential readers. But Bantam publisher Taublib acknowledged they might not get quite as big a boost as the Sookie Stackhouse novels.

While the Sookie books are mostly self-contained and relatively quick reads, the “Ice and Fire” novels are a bigger commitment, weighing in at about 800 pages each and telling one complicated, ongoing story.

Still, when the TV show makes its yet-to-be-skedded debut, the publishing house will certainly play up the books’ link to the series, since it’s a strategy that’s worked.

Because the “Dexter” series is based only on the first Dexter book, star Michael C. Hall’s face appears just on that first cover. But the following two books, though not technically tied to the TV series, still take their art cues from the show. The book covers both include the blurb “The killer character that inspired the hit Showtime series ‘Dexter.’ “

Alloy’s Morgenstein said they’re now consciously timing new “Vampire Diaries” books to series premieres and sweeps, taking advantage of the concurrent marketing attention from the networks. (The next “Diaries” outing will hit bookstores in March, with plenty of time to benefit from the ad push for May sweeps.)

For an author, TV success can not only lead to bigger paydays, but can inspire the writing of a book or two that weren’t part of the plan.

New FX series “Justified,” whose March 16 series preem logged close to 4.2 million viewers, centers on lawman Raylan Givens, a character who has appeared in two Elmore Leonard novels and one novella (“Fire in the Hole,” on which the series pilot is based).

The author is so pleased with how the TV show is turning out, he’s decided to return to the character. He’s at work on a new Raylan Givens novella.

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