Countdown to Clues

Pictured above: Me at the New York Historical Society with my friend Ben.

I’m excited about the launch of 39 Clues on Tuesday! All the media attention has been pretty incredible, what with the New York Times, AP News, Publisher’s Weekly, and USA Today, plus forthcoming articles in the Daily Telegraph Australia, the Times of London, Time Magazine, and many more. Whoopi Goldberg even gave the book a recommendation. Thanks, Whoopi! This Sunday I’m off to New York to prepare for a Monday morning appearance on the Today Show.

Biggest concern as usual: Will kids like the book? It sounds obvious, but I still worry about this every time I publish a novel, though my sons have given it the thumbs up, as have the other young readers who got early looks at the story. I’m also glad to hear that booksellers and librarians have enjoyed the ARC.

Most curious about: the online game. I haven’t seen the final version yet, and I’m anxious to try it!

Fingers crossed for: A sudden surge in school book reports about Benjamin Franklin, who is the main historical figure in The Maze of Bones. Even as a longtime history teacher, I learned stuff from researching this book that really surprised me! Ben was a fascinating guy, and kids will discover some of his cooler secrets in the book.

Fondest wish: That no one else tries to call the series “the next Harry Potter,” or even worse, “a replacement for Harry Potter.” I know, I know, Scholastic published Harry Potter, so from a business point of view comparisons are inevitable, but I can’t say this often enough: there is no such thing as a ‘next Harry Potter.’ Certainly there is no replacement. Aside from the fact that the content of 39 Clues is nothing like Harry Potter, we all know phenomena like HP cannot be manufactured. They happen grassroots, word-of-mouth, because of readers. To their credit, no one at Scholastic ever said to me, “We want this to be our next Harry Potter.” Sure, they are pushing the series with all their marketing might, but be assured, if I do hear anyone promoting 39 Clues as a Harry Potter ‘replacement,’ I will rap his or her knuckles with my ‘prim schoolteacher‘ ruler! The best a writer can do is write the most interesting book he or she can, and hope people like it. If kids enjoy the series, then I will be happy.

The biggest challenge for 39 Clues: As I see it, this has nothing to do with replacing/upstaging Potter. It has to do with the multimedia platform, and how this will play out with kids. Again, I give Scholastic credit for taking a huge risk. As the author of book one and the general story arc, I had very little involvement with the online game or the cards. My big concern was making sure the books worked as books — to make sure you can read the series, even if you never go online or never pick up a trading card, and have a fun, satisfying experience. However, I do hope a lot of kids will be interested in becoming part of the story by making their own Cahill identities through the game, and this might even bring some reluctant readers (like my sons) into the books.

Is it such a stretch that multimedia can be used to interest kids in books? Is this selling out our principles? I’m not so sure. I think about my conversations with librarians, who are our greatest champions of books. Invariably, when I talk to librarians about my own books, the first question I get asked isn’t about the books at all. They want to know: “When is the movie?” If you subscribe to the electronic edition of School Library Journal as I do, more often than not the lead story is about a movie tie-in to a book. Why? Simple. Librarians are pragmatic. They know that movie versions always increase interest in the books, and while we all know the movie is never as good as the book, if a movie version attract kids to reading, then it serves a positive purpose. Can an online game do the same thing? We’ll find out while we wait for Mr. Spielberg and Jeff Nathanson to do the movie version!

In the meantime, happy reading, and I’ll hope to see some of you on the road in September as I do my tour!

Rick Riordan