YouTube’s ‘Sunshine Girl’ Comes to Print

in Books, Harvey Weinstein, New York Times, Paige McKenzie, Perseus, Sunshine Girl, Television, The Weinstein Company, tv, web series, YouTube

 Nearly five years ago, a chirpy, animated 16-year-old named Paige McKenzie uploaded a 68-second video to YouTube. “Hey everybody, so, I know this is a little strange,” she says, then confides that her house is haunted and she aims to capture the ghost on camera.
More than 130 million views later, Ms. McKenzie’s mockumentary web series, “The Haunting of Sunshine Girl,” has become a full-time job. Each week, Ms. McKenzie spends 80 hours shooting, acting in and editing the show, and frenetically trading messages with viewers.
“Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat, Tumblr, Google Plus, YouTube, Meerkat, the occasional smoke signals, you know,” she says when asked how she interacts with her audience. “The interaction is key. I’m accessible. My life is on YouTube.”
Now, there’s a nonvirtual place her fans can find her: bookstores. In an odd inversion of the usual page-to-screen adaptation process, Ms. McKenzie is extending her brand into print by turning her YouTube show into a series of young adult novels. The story follows the same arc as the early web episodes, as its teenage heroine and narrator, Sunshine Griffith, investigates the mystery behind a spirit haunting her house and tries to rescue her mother from demonic possession. The first book, “The Haunting of Sunshine Girl,” comes out this week from Weinstein Books, with endorsements from horror heavyweights like R. L. Stine and the filmmaker Wes Craven.

 Mercedes Rose, left, and her daughter, Paige McKenzie, star in the series “The Haunting of Sunshine Girl.” Credit Leah Nash for The New York Times
“Sunshine Girl,” written with a collaborator, is the latest literary adaptation to emerge from YouTube as publishers and agents trawl the site in a race to land the biggest web video stars. In the past few months, publishers have released a flurry of reverse engineered titles, including “The Pointless Book,” by Alfie Deyes; “Girl Online,” by Zoe Sugg; and “Grace’s Guide,” by Grace Helbig.
Some publishers are so bullish about leveraging online audiences into print sales that they have created entire imprints dedicated to YouTube, including Awesomeness Ink and Keywords Press, which is releasing nine books this year by web personalities like Connor Franta, Shane Dawson and Justine Ezarik.
The results have been spotty. “Epic Meal Time,” a cookbook based on a YouTube show with more than 6.7 million subscribers, has sold just 2,192 paperback copies since Gallery Books published it last spring, according to Nielsen, which tracks 85 percent of sales.
“I’m holding my breath,” said Jennifer Bergstrom, vice president and publisher of Gallery Books, which will publish a book by the YouTube comedian Miranda Sings this July. “The concept of people watching videos and wanting to buy the book, I question whether that’s going to be a natural progression.”
With “The Haunting of Sunshine Girl,” Ms. McKenzie and her publisher hope to avoid similar pitfalls. Rather than banking on a social media brush fire to ignite her fan base, Weinstein Books is running parallel marketing campaigns, one aimed at Ms. McKenzie’s YouTube audience, the other targeting potential readers who have not heard of her. Author and publisher have posted a book trailer on Ms. McKenzie’s YouTube channel and sent galleys to influential video bloggers, but they are also courting booksellers, librarians and readers of young adult and paranormal fiction. Ms. McKenzie sent letters written in the voice of Sunshine to book buyers at Barnes & Noble stores. Weinstein printed 2,000 galleys of the first book and made it available digitally for reviewers on the website Goodreads.
“While she has a tremendous fan base we can market to directly, we didn’t know if the people who love Sunshine and watched her grow up are readers and book buyers,” said Georgina Levitt, the publishing director of Weinstein Books. “We didn’t want people to feel like this was a derivative work of a successful YouTube channel.”
If everything goes according to Ms. McKenzie’s carefully drawn blueprint, the book will establish a multimedia franchise. A television show — based on the novel based on the YouTube show — is in production at the Weinstein Company, and Ms. McKenzie’s contract locks her in as the star.
Harvey Weinstein, co-chairman of the Weinstein Company, said he is confident the company has a crossover hit, citing strong results from an informal focus group: “I have four daughters, and three of them are into ‘Sunshine Girl,’ ” Mr. Weinstein said, calling the story “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” for a new generation.
“Sunshine Girl” was never just a teenager messing around with a hand-held camera, despite the spontaneous, home video-feel of the show.
“None of this was by accident,” said Mercedes Rose, Ms. McKenzie’s mother, co-star and business partner. “We always thought the numbers would get so large that Hollywood would have to pay attention.”
The project started in 2010 when a film producer, Nick Hagen, contacted Ms. Rose, an actress and voice-over artist, about collaborating on a YouTube show. He chose the haunted house theme partly because the subject proved popular when he did a reverse keyword search to see what people were looking for on YouTube.
“At the time, the No. 2 search subject was ‘ghost,’ and No. 1 was ‘Lil Wayne,’ and you can’t do a whole channel on Lil Wayne,” Ms. McKenzie said.
Ms. Rose, her daughter and Mr. Hagen formed a production company, Coat Tale Productions. They quickly learned some tricks for luring in viewers, like posting warnings on the videos that say “Don’t Watch!” Rumors swirled, helpfully, that the ghostly apparitions were real. Nearly a year later, the videos passed five million views. The show now brings in around $6,000 a month in advertising.
Ms. McKenzie, who is now 20 and lives outside of Portland, Ore., says Sunshine’s character is “99.8 percent” based on her. She spent much of her adolescence in front of the camera. When she was harassed at school, she spoke about it on camera as Sunshine. She griped on the show about her wheat allergy and her frizzy hair. “I pretty much grew up on YouTube,” she said. “This is my full-time job. This is my life.”
In 2013, the literary agent Mollie Glick saw a feature on Ms. McKenzie in Seventeen magazine, and asked her if she was interested in writing a novel based on her show. Ms. Glick paired Ms. McKenzie with a young adult novelist, Alyssa B. Sheinmel, who wrote three sample chapters and an outline. A book deal quickly followed. Last spring, Weinstein bought a partial manuscript at auction — in a low-six-figure, two-book deal — and separately optioned screen rights. The company plans to expand the Sunshine series, and recently bought a third book.
“When we saw the enthusiasm building from booksellers, we reached out to the agent to get a third book going,” said David Steinberger, president and chief executive of the Perseus Books Group, which includes Weinstein Books.
As Ms. McKenzie prepares to meet many of her fans in the flesh for the first time on an 11-city book tour, she seems comfortable as the face of a new franchise. But she is also careful not to take too much credit. When asked about her writing process, she readily acknowledges that Ms. Sheinmel did the bulk of the writing.
“I can’t do this by myself, are you crazy?” Ms. McKenzie said. “I’ve never written a book. I don’t know how to do that.”

Two of our Clients Make March 2015 Best YA Book List

in Books, Harvey Weinstein, Lauren Oliver, Paige McKenzie, Paper Lantern Lit, Sunshine Girl

March, with its celebration of St. Patrick’s Day, is known as the luckiest month of the year. And if you’re a young adult reader, you’re definitely going to feel lucky. This month is so chock full of exciting new young adult titles that it physically pained me to have to narrow it down to a hefty 17. (I know, my job is so hard.) Hope you invested in some speed reading classes, because you’re going to need them to tear through all of these books.

Titans in the YA space, such as Lauren Oliver, David Levithan, and Andrew Smith, all have new books for you, when really it would be a big month if even one of them did. Debut authors that killed it in 2014, such as Emery Lord and Sally Green, are back with hugely anticipated second novels, and let’s just say they aren’t suffering from the sophomore slump. There are sequels you desperately need to get your hands on because you’re still dying over a cliffhanger ending. And there are debut YA authors whose names are already echoing through the publishing world, like Tommy Wallach and David Arnold.

Whether you’re into ghost stories, magical realism, historical fiction, or the scripts to an epic musical production (seriously), you’re going to be lucky enough to find what you want, or desperately need, in March.

Vanishing Girls by Lauren Oliver (HarperCollins; Mar 10)

 After the success of Before I Fall, the Delirum trilogy, and last year’s Panic, any Lauren Oliver book is an event. And Vanishing Girls can stand up to the hype. And I couldn’t be happier to say the following sentence: In this book, the amazing author is focusing on the bond of sisterhood. Nick and Dara were tied at the hip before an accident pulled them apart. Dara’s supermodel-stunning face is scarred, and the two can barely speak to each other. Then, Dara disappears around the same time as young girl, and Nick makes it her mission to find out what happened to her. Rumor has it, if you loved We Were Liars, you’re going to love Vanishing Girls, so instead of clear words I’m going to say AHH!!

The Haunting of Sunshine Girl by Paige McKenzie (Weinstein Books; Mar 24)

You’ve probably heard the names Paige McKenzie and The Haunting of Sunshine Girl before, so you’re giddy far before I can even explain this to you. You see, McKenzie has a YouTube series called “The Haunting of Sunshine Girl” (with more than 100 million views, thank you very much) about a teenage girl named Sunshine who finds that she is living in a haunted house. Moreover, she has to save her mother from the evil ghosts who haunt her. The story is super-entertaining, and it has the backing of horror icons R.L. Stine and Wes Craven, so it’s no slouch in the scary department either.

Congratulations to our client Sean McFate on his book “Modern Mercenary”

in Books, Modern Mercenaries, Oxford University Press, Sean McFate, The Economist, Uncategorized

Return of the hired gun

How private armies will remake modern warfare

The Modern Mercenary: Private Armies and What They Mean for World Order. By Sean McFate.Oxford University Press; 248 pages; $29.95 and £19.99. Buy from;

IN THE pirate-infested waters off the coast of Somalia around 180 private military contractors from 35 countries work to protect international shipping. They cost as little as a tenth of the official protection provided by the governments of France, Holland and Spain. Yet they can deploy lethal force and have proved very effective; they have even formed an industry group, the Security Association for the Maritime Industry, to represent their interests.

As Sean McFate shows in a fascinating and disturbing book, “The Modern Mercenary”, the provision of private armies to the world’s conflict zones has boomed in the past 25 years. The market for these firms could evolve from a monopsony, in which the dominant buyer has been the American government, into something more open and competitive. As it does so, he argues, these armies may turn from a force that is mostly for peace into a threat.

The end of the cold war provided the opening for private armies. In 1994 Executive Outcomes, founded by a group drawn from various South African special forces units, offered to help stop the genocide in Rwanda. The United Nations turned the company down. Although it later found work in Angola, Kenya and elsewhere, it closed after the South African government outlawed mercenaries in 1998. The market really took off when America, under George W. Bush, wanted support for its occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq. One firm, Blackwater, stood out, but the work gained a unfavourable reputation and the company has since changed its name twice, first to Xe and now Academi.

The growing faith in free markets and privatisation, ushered in by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, and the increasing political need to hide the human cost of war by reducing deaths in the standing army, have encouraged the use of private soldiers. So did the belief that they were often more effective and efficient. (Erik Prince, Blackwater’s founder, liked to describe his firm as the FedEx of the American national security apparatus.)

Mr McFate writes with an insider’s knowledge, having worked for DynCorp, another private military company, on assignments that he says included foiling a plot to assassinate the president of Burundi. On another occasion, he says, he was approached by a famous actress turned humanitarian who, with various human- rights groups, wanted to hire Blackwater to set up safe havens in Sudan to protect civilians fleeing the janjaweed militia. In the end, though, they decided that the risks of an illegal action of this kind outweighed the benefits.

With American demand for private military operators falling as it scales back its overseas operations, Mr McFate expects demand to grow from other customers, including humanitarian organisations and less idealistic groups. He is alarmed by the prospect, not least because he feels that in a truly free market mercenary armies might be encouraged to seek profits by starting new wars.

The author fears that the world is entering an era of “neomedievalism” in which the state loses its monopoly of legal force and instead other wealthy groups or individuals fund private military adventures. Africa, in particular, looks ripe for this, he says. He believes America has missed the opportunity to regulate this market properly, but thinks there is still a chance for the United Nations to do so by making private military companies an important part of its peacekeeping operations, something it so far declines to do.

In the end, though, Mr McFate tends to overstate his case. Private armies may indeed play a role in failed and failing states, but it is unlikely that modern mercenaries will become more important than the standing armies of NATO or China soon. The author’s conclusion that “international relations in the 21st century will have more in common with the 12th century than with the 20th” sounds like an exaggeration. Yet the worrying trends he describes make this book a powerful call to arms to those who do not want a world awash with mercenaries.