The story of the Land of Elyon getting published - 2004

Can a self-published 38-year-old author from Walla Walla be the next J. K. Rowling? Scholastic Books thinks his character, 12-year-old Alexa Daley, and her magical world of Elyon could intrigue young readers as much as Harry Potter and Hogwarts School.

On Friday Scholastic won the competition among publishers to buy the young-adult fantasy trilogy from author Patrick Carman. Carman impressed bookstore owners, agents and publishers by self-publishing and then selling 5,000 copies since November of “The Dark Hills Divide,” the first book in the series. He did so just by visiting schools and talking to kids about writing, publishing, and the characters in his book.

Carman, who confesses he is “in many ways, a big kid myself,” hooks children with his storytelling prowess. In addition to Alexa, an intelligent and resourceful lead character, Carman adds plot elements including secret passages, talking animals, hidden messages, a traitor who must be uncovered, gems with hidden meanings, and a short, but very real chess problem, suitable for surprising a more experienced player, such as a parent or older sibling. Part of the book’s appeal is its limited use of magic. Characters have to do the hard stuff themselves and can’t depend on magic to do it for them, a setup that appeals to children’s experiences in real life.

The tactic has been phenomenally successful as hordes of schoolchildren dragged parents to book signings in Spokane, Tri-Cities, and Walla Walla. Carman drew the largest crowd ever to visit Klindt’s Booksellers in The Dalles at a February book signing. “It was the best autograph party we have ever had here,” said Phillip Klindt, who ran out of books for the signing and had to order more; the store sold 150 copies that night.

Carman said he got the news of the book deal Friday in Spokane. “I rarely take the family on book-selling trips,” he said. “But both my wife and the kids were with me in Spokane on Friday. I was in front of 500 kids, speaking, when the cell phone went off. My 9 year-old grabbed the phone and wanted me to take the call.” Carman did take the call at a break and shared the good news with the Spokane schoolchildren.

Scholastic bought the North American publishing rights as well as Latin American Spanish rights and North American French rights, according to Carman. Carman’s New York agent, Peter Rubic, a former BBC newsman, and author in his own right, said, “In the world of publishing, this is a very comfortable deal. It’s not huge, like a million or more, but Scholastic also talked about putting respectable amounts of money aside, separate from the advance, to help Patrick market the book.” Rubic said he doesn’t like to be over optimistic, but “I have to say the likelihood that when you put Patrick, the response to his book and the fact that Scholastic has come through so thoroughly and enthusiastically, it will make the lists.” Rubie said “four or five” publisher had expressed serious interest in the books. “Very interestingly, I sent a copy to one editor I know at Scholastic, who got back to me and said it wasn’t for them,” Rubie said. “Then a different editor called me couple of days later and asked if it was still available.” Rubie pointed out the average novel doesn’t sell much more than 10,000 copies, and Carman’s ability to sell 5,000 on his own in a few months, plus enthusiastic reports from bookstores at which he had appeared, helped spark publisher’s interest. “What the story goes to show, ” said Rubie, “the key here is distribution and sales. In Patrick’s case, he’s managed to find and connect with his audience.” Rubie said Scholastic plans to bring out a slightly edited version of his first book in hardcover in time for Christmas, with others to follow next year and in 2006.

The Dalles fans will have a chance to see Patrick Carman before the end of the school year. He’s set to visit Chenowith Elementary School and Klindt’sBooksellers sometime in May. Look for the author with the big smile.

Patrick Carman