July 19, 2009 -- Harlequin is feeling like a kid again.The 60-year-old publisher of classic bodice-rippers is rolling out its newest imprint: Harlequin Teen.
"These books specifically focus on teen protagonists, which is not something Harlequin has done a whole lot of," says the publisher's Natashya Wilson.
Add Harlequin to the list of publishers that have fallen hard for teen readers, thanks to the seismic sales of Stephenie Meyer's teen vampire series "Twilight."
"These will be titles specifically developed for readers of 'Twilight,'" says Wilson, as well as fans of other popular young-adult authors including Sarah Dessen (Along for the Ride) and Elizabeth Scott (Living Dead Girl).
Other publishers — including HarperTeen and Razorbill — are already benefiting from the growing hunger for teen romances laced with supernatural and paranormal elements.
For good reason: Sales of adult titles are down, according to the Association of American Publishers, but sales of children's/young-adult hardcovers are up 36.4% through May, the latest figures available.
And more adults are reading YA novels.
Harlequin Teen's first titles reflect a Meyer sensibility:
"My Soul to Take" by Rachel Vincent, July 28. The novel features a girl who can sense when people will die. Vincent's adult paranormal novel, Stray, made USA TODAY's Best-Selling Books list last year.
"Intertwined" by Gina Showalter, Aug. 25. The book stars a teenage boy who has four souls living inside him and who is irresistibly drawn to a vampire princess. Seven of Showalter's adult novels have made USA TODAY's list, including two in her "Lords of the Underworld" series.
In October, Harlequin will add a backlist title to the imprint: "Elphame's Choice" by P.C. Cast, who with daughter Kristin writes the hugely popular 'House of Night" vampire series.
So far, almost 20 titles are planned for 2010. They will be a mix of paranormal, science fiction and contemporary romance.
Romance, according to Business of Consumer Book Publishing, an industry report, is the biggest fiction category in the USA, with more than 8,000 titles published in 2008. Paranormal romances make up a huge portion.
Harlequin's move is a smart one, says Kathleen Adey of Romance Writers of America.
"The teen-romance readers of today are the adult-romance readers of tomorrow. Courting them when they are younger is probably a good thing."