Is Dystopia Really The New Vampire? Editor-Writer David Levithan Weighs In

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Earlier today, Scholastic let us reveal the cover of the upcoming movie tie-in edition of The Hunger Games. From the moment Suzanne Collins’ book hit shelves, we’ve been hearing about its movie adaptation. And on the occasion of Dystopian Week, we thought it would be interesting to hear from someone in the publishing world about how all this movie buzz and “dystopia is the new vampires” talk affects what makes it to print. So we got on the phone with David Levithan, who’s not just an editor at Scholastic; he’s also one half of the writing team behind Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, another successful book-to-movie story.

First off, Levithan told us something that may come as a surprise to some of us who follow the movie biz: Not that many young adult novels in the market have been optioned for movies.

“I would guess that it is in the 5 percent range, but that is purely anecdotal. It is certainly not many,” he said. And what’s more interesting, book editors aren’t necessarily hunting for the books that will make them big bucks on the big screen.

“If an agent [pitching a book] says, ‘We have a movie deal,’ it’s in the back of our mind, but when we’re reading a book, I don’t think we think about that at all,” he explained. “We all know it is a total crap shoot, and some of the most amazing books we’ve published have never been turned into movies. … We would never publish a book just for that, but certainly that is an interesting coefficient when we’re looking overall at the life that the book is going to have.”

We also wondered how much news that a book has been optioned helps its sales. “Optioning doesn’t really give much of a bump at all,” he said. “It’s something we can tell the booksellers. … But when the movie is actually in production and we know when it’s coming out, that’s really when it helps.

Hunger Games is hard to quantify because it was obviously very successful before the movie started shooting,” Levithan added. “Certainly it is reaching a much wider, much more diverse audience now. We are seeing what ultimately happened with Twilight in that it is the 45-year-old male stockbrokers on the subway who you see reading it. It is not just teenagers or just women. It is getting out to audiences who would not have known about it if not for the movie.”

Levithan had another myth to dispel for us: Just because something like dystopian fiction is a trend doesn’t necessarily mean publishers want to put out a million books in the genre.

“Dystopian is something we’re very aware of, but that we’re also extremely selective about, partially because we have The Hunger Games,” he said of Scholastic. “Also because I don’t think it’s as much of a genre as some of the other genres are. People read vampire novels and say, ‘Oh I want to read another vampire novel.’ People read fantasy and they’re like, ‘Oh I love fantasy.’ I don’t know that people are necessarily finishing Hunger Games and immediately wanting to read another dystopian tale. Partially because it’s depressing.”

Scholastic has been putting out dystopians, Jeff Hirsch’s The Eleventh Plague, for example, but “the bar is higher.”

From what Levithan and his peers have gathered, trendy genres aren’t what matters to readers. “They do not want to read the same thing over and over again,” he said. “If they’re reading The Hunger Games, the thing that they most want to read next is not something that is identical to The Hunger Games, it’s something where the author had as singular a vision as Suzanne Collins but it doesn’t necessarily have to be the same genre. It could be a mystery, it could be a romance, it could be a cowboy novel.”

Well, thanks for ruining the whole point of Dystopian Week, dude. Just kidding — we do feel like all these book recommendations should come with a warning: Do NOT read two dark tales of the future in a row. Throw in something light-hearted and funny (like, say, Levithan and Rachel Cohn’s Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares) in between. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself storing canned goods in a bunker.

More from Dystopian Week:
Your Dystopian Survival Guide
Dystopia Is the New Supernatural
Exclusive: First Look At The Hunger Games Movie Tie-In Books!
Shatter Me Author Takes Things “To Extremes” For Dystopian Week
Watch Out, Katniss, Legend’s Formiddable Dystopian Heroes Are On Your Heels
‘Shatter Me’ Author Tahereh Mafi Talks ‘X-Men’ Comparisons
How Will Delirium’s Love Cure Translate To The Screen? Dystopian Week Begins!
5 Questions With ‘Divergent’ Writer Veronica Roth
Marie Lu Imagines A Teenage, Dystopian ‘Les Miserables’ In ‘Legend’
‘Delirium’ Author Lauren Oliver Talks Sequel ‘Pandemonium’

[Photos: Scholastic, Getty Images]