Harvey Weinstein sees Paige McKenzie’s “The Haunting of Sunshine Girl” (inset) as the next big entertainment sensation.
The publishing house behind “The Haunting of Sunshine Girl,” a debut young-adult novel by YouTube star Paige McKenzie, has upped its first print order to more than 100,000, Media Ink has learned.
The book, based on the popular YouTube show of the same name, hits store shelves March 26 from Weinstein Books, a joint venture of Weinstein Co. and Perseus Books Group.
Harvey Weinstein’s film studio is already said to be actively pitching it as a TV series.
“Harvey has been asking me for the last five years to find the next big young-adult crossover hit — and we think we found it,” said David Steinberger, CEO of Perseus Books.
“The Haunting” was originally picked up at auction in March 2014, hauling in a respectable but not stratospheric advance believed to be in the $300,000 to $400,000 range for two books in an auction conducted by Foundry Media.
The YouTube hit started four years ago when McKenzie was 17. It now has more than 300,000 subscribers.
“We’ve noticed the momentum start to take off in the past few weeks,” Steinberger said, referring to pre-orders picking up from bookstores and big-box retailers alike.
That quest for a crossover YA hit has become the Holy Grail of publishing since J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” novel debuted in 1997 — and went on to sell nearly 450 million copies worldwide while spawning eight Warner Bros. movies that have grossed about $2.4 billion worldwide.
While the latest figures from the Association of American Publishers showed sales of adult fiction and non-fiction books slipped 1.4 percent in the first 11 months of 2014, to $4.3 billion, the Children’s/Young Adult books in the same 11-month period stayed hot, surging 20.7 percent, to $1.7 billion.
“The Haunting” seems reminiscent of 1999’s “The Blair Witch Project,” with its grainy, amateur video feel. Most episodes of “The Haunting,” produced by C
oat Tale Productions and featuring the 21-year-old McKenzie and her actress mom, Mercedes Rose, last only 2 minutes. The producer/director is Nick Hagen and much of the filming for the short segments over the past four years was done in his home.
While the pre-order sales of the book are promising, one industry executive at a rival publishing house is skeptical that Weinstein/Perseus has the juice to pull off a crossover YA hit.
“Every publisher every season claims they have the next ‘Harry Potter’ or John Green’s ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ … The problem with Weinstein Books is they’ve never had a break-out success in the YA category,” the executive said, adding, “I don’t know if booksellers pay as much attention to his book touts as movie people do.”
To help the effort, Weinstein/Perseus has assigned Cindy Eagan — who, when she was an executive editor at Little Brown, edited “Gossip Girl,” the book series that became a successful teen drama on TV — to oversee the project with McKenzie and writer Alyssa Sheinmel.
“The Haunting” book is about Sunshine Griffith, a 16-year-old girl who moves with her single mom, Kat, from sunny Austin, Texas, to the fictional rain-drenched town of Ridgemont, Wash.
Sunshine begins to notice some strange phenomena in the house — starting with mysterious ghostly laughter on her first night there.
To convince her skeptical mom that it is not all the product of an overactive imagination, she begins videotaping in an effort to capture some of the paranormal activity in the house.
Research at the local library reveals that a murder took place in the house.
As she begins studying the specters haunting the house, she begins to realize that she can communicate with them.
“One of the signs that this book is something special is that we have orders from an amazing range of retailers, including not only bookstores, but also Walmart, both in the US and in Canada, price clubs, including Costco and BJ’s, airport stores like Hudson News and supermarkets including Kroger, Fred Meyer from the Pacific Northwest, Meijer in the Midwest and H-E-B in Texas.
“We think it’s going to be a big hit,” said Steinberger.
Agent Mollie Glick at Foundry Media is already hoping for a third book. “My hope is that it becomes a successful franchise,” she said.