Firstly, can you tell us the history behind The Red Harlequin?
The Red Harlequin is a YA/MG transmedia brand based on a book series, being developed across a number of platforms with the ultimate goal of creating a film franchise. It started as a book concept I came up with a few years ago, at the height of world events such as Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring, when I was searching for a way to express my indignation for the highly corrupt and deeply unjust systems around us – and get young people to think about the issues. As in many places today, The Red Harlequin portrays a world divided by politics, social inequality, power struggles and injustice. The novel’s protagonist is Asheva, an aspirational male teenage hero living in a complex, imaginary world divided by warring Chrome Nations, where everyone must live hidden behind a mask; it is a highly personal story about diversity, freedom and basic rights, and the revolt against an iron-fisted, corrupt ruling class of tyrants.
What categories are being developed?
The first pillar of the brand is publishing. There will be approximately ten books in the series (two are completed and the third is due this year). The first four books cover the initial story of Asheva’s rise from a young boy of the Back Chrome Nation, to leader and unifier of all nations. A further six novels will cover backstories of individual characters, Chrome nation histories, and so on.
The second pillar, essential to the brand’s young demographic, is music. We are producing a completely unique, Hip Hop album based on the themes and mood of the brand for release initially on digital jukeboxes and social media. The first song, Behind the Mask, has been finished; a music video for this song and an album demo is currently in production. We are discussing with several music and label managers to bring it to market with the idea of making localised versions of the songs wherever books are sold.
And finally, we are approaching film and gaming companies this year as the obvious next step, as well as publishers of graphic novels, given the highly visual impact of the series.
How has the brand performed since 2013?
The books were self-published digitally for the first time in 2013, and launched internationally at Bologna Book Fair just this year. In 2013 the first book of the series, Of Masks and Chromes, reached No. 47 on Kindle's Juvenile Fantasy/Coming of Age Bestsellers list, and this year it shot to No. 12 on WATTPAD’s Adventure/Fantasy list within two weeks. Given that WATTPAD has 15 million unique monthly users, we were thrilled with that result – and even more so with the reviews from some of the 60,000 readers to date, which clearly show that The Red Harlequin is deeply resonating with its audience.
The book also did incredibly well at the Bologna Book Fair and we will be announcing first publishing deals in Europe and North America shortly.
Do you have any special marketing initiatives or promotional activity planned for 2014?
The two major initiatives for 2014 are first of all to complete the video in order to launch it together with the first song, Behind the Mask. The song and video will be distributed on digital jukeboxes and on social media outlets. And secondly, we are starting construction on a fan-oriented website with features that would be transferable and applicable to other platforms (RPGs, board games, apparel), such as providing user personality tests that would align user with a specific Chrome Nation.
What has the reaction from the market been like to the brand?
At Bologna and London Book Fairs, editors were clearly very excited by the long-term vision and potential of the brand, with one Northern European publisher (of Harry Potter) saying: “I really think this could be the next big thing.” (So do we!) This view was repeated by editors in the UK, US, Canada, Spain, Germany, France, and Italy, among others. The music industry has also been totally inspired by not only the music itself, but especially the originality of the concept and the unique, cross-platform opportunities it offers; we are planning a joint trip to LA this summer to present to a number of international labels. What the reaction from the music industry has confirmed is that there is very little comparison to this idea in the market and it offers a brand new way to connect with a YA/MG audience.
And finally, the most important reaction we have had is from the readers themselves. The comments on WATTPAD have been overwhelmingly and consistently positive, enthusiastic and asking for more.
What would you most like to achieve with the brand by the end of 2014?
We expect to have key publishing deals closed in the Americas, the UK and the top European markets. Also, increased awareness of the property in digital communities and platforms aimed at teens; initial visibility with cutting edge/specialist licensees looking for something new and different within both the teen licensing landscape and transmedia; and a feature film partner.
Is there anything else you’d like us to know?
With over 20 years of experience in developing kids businesses, Lisa Hryniewicz at Koko Media is managing all rights to The Red Harlequin. Lisa is one of many people who became a huge fan the minute she read the first chapter of The Red Harlequin.