The story begins with a dream. It wasn't the Great American Dream Stephenie Meyer, then a 29-year-old Mormon housewife living in Arizona, wasn't sitting at home trying to figure out how to be the next mega-best-selling author. It was a different kind of dream.
On the morning of June 2, 2003, Meyer woke up with the fading afterimage of a vision in her head, of a young woman and a vampire, talking, in a meadow. She didn't want to forget it, so she wrote it down. Then she kept on writing. Sometimes you have the dream, and sometimes the dream has you.
Everybody knows where the story ends up. Meyer has sold 45 million books in the U.S. and 40 million more worldwide. Altogether her books have spent 235 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list, 136 of them at No. 1. The movie version of Twilight, which came out a year ago, made $350 million. New Moon opens on Nov. 20; the third installment, Eclipse, arrives in theaters next June.
But what happened between the beginning and the end? How did the dream become the Global Franchise Megabrand? That's the part that not everybody knows.
The woman who would publish meyer, Megan Tingley, was handed the manuscript in November 2003, right before she got on a cross-country flight to California. She wasn't expecting great things. She'd never heard of Meyer. Nobody had. She wasn't a vampire fan either.
But she spent the entire flight riveted by that 600-page bundle of paper. "I kept thinking, Well, she can't possibly sustain this," Tingley remembers. "The whole book is going to fall apart. She's a first-time writer. I was with a colleague, and he was trying to sleep, and I kept pulling him awake and reading passages to him."
Even though it was an early draft back then Bella and her undead boyfriend Edward actually got married at the end by the time she got off the plane, Tingley was desperate to buy it. But it was a Friday, and everyone was gone for the day. "So I just left a bunch of insane messages back at Little, Brown and with the agent and said, 'Call me Monday. We have to talk!'" she says. "I pre-empted it on Monday from a street in San Francisco on my cell phone."
Once Tingley bought the book, she had to figure out what to do with it. For example, she had to give it a cover. "Should it be horror?" she asked herself. "Or should we play up the romance? But if we play up the romance, we lose the boys. A lot of the female readers found it very erotic, but it's a YA book, and it's very chaste. It's about yearning. How do you capture that?" One day the art director suggested hands. Just hands you could show the veins, which would be nice and vampy and they could be holding something. Something that would suggest yearning. Temptation. An apple. Bingo.
Little, Brown published Twilight on Oct. 5, 2005. It printed 75,000 copies, a generous but not stupendous number. "All the signs were there, but at the beginning they were modest," Tingley says. "The sales kept getting a little higher each week. It wasn't a gigantic phenomenon overnight I think people think that now, but it wasn't." Lori Joffs, a stay-at-home mom in Nashville, read it three months later. Like Meyer, she's a Mormon, but she'd put off starting the book because she didn't think a Mormon writer could do vampires. "I read all night, closed the book, took a deep breath and opened it back up to reread several chapters," she says. Joffs went looking online for other people who felt the same way, but she didn't find many. So she put up her own website, the Twilight Lexicon, which now attracts more than 50,000 visitors a day.
New Moon was published on Sept. 6, 2006, less than a year after Twilight. Little, Brown printed 100,000 copies, a modest increase, but the company quickly realized something had changed. Advance copies were popping up on eBay for hundreds of dollars. Meyer's readings were turning into mob scenes. "We were outside Philly at a suburban Barnes & Noble," Tingley says. "The kids had been cutting school to get these tickets and waiting in line forever. When Stephenie came out, these girls next to me started trembling and crying and grabbing each other. It was crazy ... it was like the newsreels of the Beatles or Elvis." When Eclipse came out a year later, the publisher printed a million copies.