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Teen-Lit Queen Takes Up Book Packaging

To her fans, she is Lauren Oliver, the writer behind such bestsellers as Delirium and Before I Fall. To book publishers, she’s also gaining a reputation under her real name, Laura Schechter. That’s because of Paper Lantern Lit, a book-development company she formed last year with former Harper Collins (NWS) editor Lexa Hillyer.

The duo have so far sold 20 young adult novels and struck a deal with Fox 2000 Pictures that gives the production studio first dibs on optioning their titles for films. It’s a remarkable feat in the fierce world of book packaging, where players generate ideas for stories and hire people to write them in the hope of finding the next big hit. While Paper Lantern has yet to match the firepower of Alloy Entertainment, the force behind such hit book series as The Vampire Diaries and Gossip Girl, its co-founders say they’re aiming for a different niche. “We’re trying to build distinct voices,” says Schechter, 29, who describes the company as a “literary incubator” for honing new talent.

Schechter and Hillyer come up with ideas—or “sparks,” as they like to call them—and sell the finished product to publishers. The writers, whom they find through friends or sites such as Craigslist, get a flat fee and bonuses based on sales. The publisher’s book deal is with Paper Lantern, which guarantees that the work will be done on time. Jen Klonsky, editorial director at publisher Simon Pulse (CBS), says the duo’s experience was a factor in her decision to buy Fury, a seductive, Greek myth-inspired thriller, as part of a three-book deal. “When you’re working with a debut author, you don’t know how well they’ll integrate revisions,” says Klonsky.

Fury author Deirdre Fulton, who wrote under the pen name Elizabeth Miles, says she wouldn’t even have considered writing fiction if her childhood friend Schechter hadn’t suggested it. “It was a chance to take on a new challenge,” says Fulton, who is a reporter for an alternative newspaper in Portland, Me. She worked closely with Hillyer, 31, submitting a chapter or two every week. While Fulton doesn’t know how much money Simon Pulse paid for the trilogy, she’s “considered trying to renegotiate” her contract for future books if it becomes a bestseller.

Developing “Raw Talent”

Hillyer says one of her goals in becoming an entrepreneur is to nurture new names in young adult fiction. “We cook up story ideas that are juicy, relevant, heartfelt, universal, and represent our ideals,” she says. But their primary focus is on finding the right talent and working with them every week to produce results. “These aren’t just ghostwriters,” she says, “but a writer is just raw talent. You need a great idea and great plotting, too.”

The biggest draw for Paper Lantern is clearly Schechter, or rather, the selling power of Lauren Oliver. Fox 2000 president Elizabeth Gabler has optioned the rights to Oliver’s first two books: Before I Fall, in which a teen relives the last day of her life again and again, and Delirium, a dystopian novel in which love is considered a disease and is cured through a surgical procedure when one turns 18. Schechter is “a wonderful writer with a voice that’s contemporary and edgy but also very emotional,” Gabler says, though she passed on Paper Lantern’s first two titles, Fury and The Butterfly Clues, a dark mystery that involves a young hoarder, because she didn’t think they would work as well for a mass audience.

Given Lauren Oliver’s growing brand, some might wonder why Paper Lantern hasn’t chosen to use it on projects in which Schechter is involved, as bestselling author James Patterson likes to do. Schechter says she wants to keep the roles of author and editor/entrepreneur separate. “Writing is something I need to do,” says Schechter, whose father, Harold Schechter, is a true-crime writer specializing in deviant characters. “This is a different form of creativity.” Says her father: “I think she went with Lauren Oliver because she didn’t want people to Google her name and see books on psychopathic sex killers there.”

Brady is a senior editor for Bloomberg Businessweek in New York.

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