NEW YORK (CNN/Money) -
We're all used to some Madonna-style "shock-and-awe." Next week, the controversial and provocative singer turned material mom steps forward as a first-time writer of children's books.
"The English Roses" -- the first title in Madonna's five-book series published by privately held Callaway Editions -- comes out Monday in what is expected to be a headline-grabbing release.
However, publishing industry insiders aren't waging any bets -- yet -- on her latest venture, even though they agree it's welcome publicity for the children's book market.
|Madonna's controversial kiss with Britney Spears at the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards.
"Anything she does is big, bold and spirited and we're very excited about the book," said Emily Glassman, spokeswoman for the No. 1 online book retailer Amazon.com (AMZN: Research, Estimates), which last week gave its customers access to an exclusive audio message about the book recorded by Madonna.
"The pre-order sales indicate it will get a very strong reception," said Glassman. "It's already in our Top 50 list of most ordered books." The retailer is selling the book for $13.97, a 30 percent discount.
Desperately seeking publicity
What the illustrated storybook series is about is a tightly guarded secret. Even the picture of the book cover on Amazon.com is not the final version.
After all, what's Madonna without the hype? Remember her smooches last week with pop stars Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera at the MTV Video Music Awards?
Nevertheless, the material girl is poised to make publishing history. "The English Roses" comes out in more than 100 countries, in more than 30 language editions.
|"Have you heard of the English Roses? Here is what they are not: A box of chocolates. A football team. Flowers growing in the garden. What they are is this...To be revealed September 15, 2003." (From: Callaway Editions)
"Madonna's book is a big question mark," said Diane Roback, senior children's books editor with Publisher's Weekly. "Just being a celebrity doesn't guarantee success."
Stuart Applebaum, a spokesman for Random House, agreed.
"Celebrity authors are a constant in the publishing world. Later this year we have books from Simon Cowell from 'American Idol' fame and Sting's collection of life stories," said Applebaum.
Random House recently scored another big celebrity win with a $1 million book deal with former prisoner of war Jessica Lynch.
"Children's books is a tough market because it has the most discernible buyer," added Applebaum. "It's the parent and not the kids buying the book, and adults are very selective about what they buy for their children. That's why there's a higher mortality rate with new books in this sector than with adult books."
At the same time, both Roback and Applebaum say there are big advantages to publishers from celebrity writers. "There's the instant name recognition, broader appeal among consumers and the possibility for broader marketing strategies," Applebaum said.
Something to cherish
Analysts say the $26 billion book industry is struggling to grow as the recent economic downturn forced consumers to curtail discretionary purchases, including books. U.S. book sales last year rose about 5 percent over the previous year.
However, sales of children's books year-to-date have outpaced adult book sales, driven largely by the release of the fifth Harry Potter book in June. According to the Association of American Publishers, the category is up 67 percent overall, compared with an increase of 33.9 percent for the adult mass market.
"We're seeing a pickup and we're cautiously optimistic about the return on the part of the retail customer," said Applebaum.
Said Roback, "Fall is a big season every year for new children's releases. The Harry Potter book in the summer certainly has spawned lots of sales of children's books. (Actress) Jamie Lee Curtis' new book in her children's series is doing well. All the publicity from Madonna's book will put even more spotlight on this sector."
But Roger Sutton, editor-in-chief of trade publication Horn Book Magazine, is irritated by all the Madonna talk.
"No one thought she was a writer," he said. "I think it's arrogant for publishers to think that maybe she's not a writer, but she can write a children's book. I think all the other great books for kids will get ignored in the process."
Callaway Editions did not return calls for comment.