Yesterday was a huge day for Veronica Roth and us Initiates. Allegiant, the final book in the Divergent trilogy was released! The Chicago Tribune featured Veronica Roth in an article.
“I’ve been feeling really weird,” she said, watching commuter traffic crawl west along I-88, sipping at her cup. “There are all these people who are going to read ‘Allegiant,’ right? And they expect something of me. They will want this series to end well. They have high expectations. Yet I have this feeling of impending doom. Or is it —” she raised an eyebrow — “impending awesome? There are a million copies of this book going out!”
Actually, the first printing is 2 million.
Veronica Roth is the next YA superstar, a Barrington native whose first book hit big within a few months of her graduation from Northwestern University. Already established as a brand name within YA reading circles, she awaits that moment when she becomes a household name. Which looks like it could be any minute now …
Mention her work to fans, booksellers and publishers, it doesn’t take long before you’re also discussing “The Hunger Games,” “Twilight” and Harry Potter. “The kind of success Veronica has is unimaginable to most YA authors, who basically eke out $30,000 or so a year,” said Robert McDonald, head of the children’s department at the Book Stall in Winnetka. “Having her as a friend of this store is like having J.K. Rowling in your corner.” Said Katherine Tegen, whose eponymous imprint at HarperCollins signed Roth in 2010: “I have such a strong gut feeling about Veronica. I mean, I was one of those people who could have (published) Harry Potter but management wouldn’t let me spend large sums on it. And I’ve been haunted by that — until ‘Divergent.'”
A week before “Allegiant” was released, pre-orders alone put it at No. 3 on Amazon’s best-seller list; a few days before it was released, it was No. 1, the most pre-ordered title ever at HarperCollins, adult or young adult. Then there’s “Divergent” and “Insurgent,” which together have sold 5 million copies and been firmly entrenched at the top of the New York Times’ young-adult best-seller list for months. And, of course — because it wouldn’t be a successful young-adult series without a Hollywood movie attached — “Divergent,” the first of a planned series of adaptations starring It Girl Shailene Woodley, wrapped production in July. The film, which shot around Chicago in the spring and summer, opens March 20, 2014.
John Green, himself a wildly successful young-adult author (and resident of Indianapolis), has been Roth’s frequent sparring partner on the Times best-seller list — his blockbuster novel, “The Fault in Our Stars,” is even becoming a movie starring Shailene Woodley. On the phone from Amsterdam, where that film is currently in production, Green said: “I think Veronica is handling herself as well as she can, considering everything. At 25, I couldn’t remember to pay rent. And the truth is, no one tells you that this kind of success will be intimidating. But it is. It’s a massive amount of pressure, and not just from fans, but from people whose jobs are on the line because of what you write. There is pressure from publishers to grow the YA space, which has been one of the few bright spots in the publishing world for the past decade. You start to realize you could disappoint millions of people — you could not understand what it feels like until you experience it.”
“I’m going to throw up.”
Last April, Roth and her husband, Chicago photographer Nelson Fitch — with her agent, Joanna Volpe, in tow — were gassing their 1994 Mercedes on the way to the West Side set of “Divergent” when Roth became very anxious. The film rights sold in 2010, soon after the book rights, and Roth didn’t want anything to do with the creative end of the film, not the screenplay and not the casting. She said she’s a writer, not a filmmaker. And yet, here was a film based on writing she did at Northwestern. Still, brand-wise, it doesn’t always matter if the author had anything to do with adapting the material — failure and success reflect equally. She should at least visit the set.
When she arrived, there was a director’s chair with her name on it. As she looked across the set — a giant fighting arena with white squares on the floor matched by white overhead lights — she became misty-eyed.
“It’s like walking into my brain,” she marveled.
Roth is also the biggest star of the first generation of YA authors to have grown up during the Golden Age of YA, immersed equally in contemporary stars like Rowling and Meyer and forerunners like C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, seeing YA movies, attending YA midnight-release parties. She said she owns a Harry Potter wand, still re-reads Rowling’s series every year; she does not get how anyone has not read all the books. She was 11 when she read the first Harry Potter — the same age Harry was in that first book. At 25, her apartment, ordinary and post-collegiate (she’s moving soon to a larger place in Ravenswood), still bears the marks of a YA childhood: Beside a shelf dedicated to Flannery O’Connor, her favorite adult writer, are shelves lined with children’s books and the international editions of her own books.
A copy of “Allegiant” sits on a table strapped shut with a red belt.
“So I can open it at midnight (Monday) with everyone else,” she explained cheerfully.
Success came ridiculously fast: During winter break of her senior year, Roth worked on “Divergent” for 10 hours a day, 40 days straight, “until my fingers were sore and I couldn’t sleep.” March, 2010: She attended a writer’s conference in Indiana and met Volpe, who said Roth’s “Divergent” pitch read like a book report, but the book itself was “unputdownable.” Volpe signed Roth as a client at the moment publishers needed the next Meyer, the next Rowling. Volpe pitched the book as part of a trilogy. “Basically, we found ourselves competing against 12 other (publishing) houses for it,” Tegen said. “I got approval from my CEO and we made an offer the next day — but even before we signed Veronica, she was already building an audience on her blog.” April: The book was sold. May: Roth was in Manhattan discussing plans.
“We all read publishing news and go to (online) YA forums,” said Kate Hart, a YA author and friend of Roth’s. “We knew the marketing push the book would get, but the level of success was a shock.” Before it was even released in 2011, “Divergent” had become a word-of-mouth hit thanks to the early copies of the book that HarperCollins circulated among key YA audiences. A year later, “Insurgent” repeated its success. Indeed, the series has been so popular that Roth recently received a kind of backhanded compliment: A thousand or so copies of “Allegiant” leaked out early from a Canadian warehouse, a situation slightly alleviated, Green said, “by the heartening sight of her fans posting pictures of those early packages on their Tumblr pages, the boxes marked ‘Do Not Open until October 22.’ I told Veronica: ‘Just trust your readers.'”
To read the full 4 page article head over to the Chicago Tribune.
Allegiant is now in stores, be sure to pick it up.