We're about to get caught up in "The Hunger Games" movie mania, but why were the books so successful?
First, it was a great concept: teens threatened by the Establishment (which teen doesn't feel that way?) with the threat pushed to the limit, namely death (did you like melodrama when you were a teen?).
The Games have an element of reality TV, which is very big with teens. In fact, Susan Collins, the author, told Publisher's Weekly the idea came to her when she was channel surfing and noticed contestants competing on a reality show and then coverage of the war in Iraq. They "began to blur in a very unsettling way."
She put both a boy and a girl at the center of the story, which increased the appeal of the book for notoriously reading-shy boys, as did the high level of action and violence.
There was also the marketing. In the Whiskey and Gunpowder newsletter, Jeffrey Tucker wrote, "The marketing guru behind the push -- and don't kid yourself, for everything needs marketing -- is Tim Palen. He began his work three years ago. He used social media to the max. He had video and smartphone app games created. He tweeted constantly. He made puzzles based on finding pieces within Twitter. He worked on amazing posters and pushes of every sort. Not one day went by when he and his staff weren't pushing some button."
The fact that it was banned (on the basis of being too violent) from some school libraries probably only helped.
Tucker warns,"But here's another thing to know about this. There is no point in marketing -- and it certainly doesn't work over the long haul -- if the essential product isn't good. You have to have both: good selling technique and something good to sell. Only then does the magic happen."
That applies to these books as well. Most critics felt the books were well written and they have found the holy grail of YA books: crossover, meaning adults read them as well.
There we have what is about as close as we probably ever will get to a formula for success for Young Adult or other novels:
1. A concept that resonates with the readers by integrating or referencing some things they know about, introducing them to something new (in this case, the post-Apocalyptic world), and having a theme that appeals emotionally to the target audience.
2. Good writing.
3. Clever, consistent, unrelenting marketing.
Easy to specify, hard to do. Did anybody promise you it would be easy? (If they did, they were selling something.)
(You'll find friendly guidance to take you from idea through to publication in my book, "Your Writing Coach." If you want to find out what the greatest writers of all time, including Dickens, Chekhov and Austen, said about how to write, get my newest book, "Your Creative Writing Masterclass." Both are published by Nichoals Brealey and avialable from Amazon and other book sellers.)