Wizards of the Coast: A Publishing Fantasy

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It didn't take long for the Renton, Washington's Wizards of the Coast to make its mark in the gaming and role-playing business. In 1990, Peter Adkison and six friends founded the company in Adkison's basement. Within three years, with the release of the first trading card game, Magic: The Gathering, Wizards of the Coast had created an entirely new genre of games. Some 15 years after its founding, the company's humble beginnings are now but ancient lore. Today, it is a global leader in hobby gaming and a publisher of hundreds of bestselling titles in the fantasy and multi-genre speculative fiction categories.

Wizards of the Coasts' book publishing department traces its roots back two decades to the education department at TSR, publisher of the first Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) basic role-playing set. When Wizards of the Coast acquired TSR in 1997, the book division, which published series inspired by the vivid fantasy worlds in D&D, came with it. Mary Elizabeth Allen, Wizards of the Coast's brand manager for novels, told BTW that the fantasy category has taken off over the past five years, in part, "due to the success of the Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings movies -- and The Chronicles of Narnia," she said.

Once considered the domain of nerds and geeks, fantasy literature has definitely gone mainstream. "You now serve a larger [audience] base," said Allen. "A generation grew up with action and adventure ... Tolkien's books in the '50s, Star Wars, and Star Trek. [Fantasy's] all about adventure and putting yourself in some place more exciting and spectacular."

For Wizards of the Coast, role-playing games work hand-in-hand with fantasy fiction -- its games have inspired most of its bestselling fantasy titles. Dungeons & Dragons inspired the bestselling "share-world" fantasy series of Dragonlance, Forgotten Realms, and Eberron, the cornerstones of its publishing line.

"These titles creep higher and higher on the New York Times bestseller list," Allen said. "R.A. Salvatore's [The Two Swords] debuted at number four on the Times list." At present, Wizards of the Coast, which is distributed by Random House, produces over 60 books a year, featuring such well-known authors as Salvatore, Margaret Weis, Tracy Hickman, Troy Denning, and Elaine Cunningham.

In 1999, Wizards of the Coast was acquired by Hasbro, Inc., and today its iconic brands include popular licensed properties, such as MLB Showdown, a full-range of Star Wars-licensed collectible games, and the popular Duel Masters television show and line of anime-themed products.

Moving forward, Allen said, the company is expanding its publishing line to include a new, adult speculative fiction imprint that includes works by as-of-yet unpublished authors. "We've [been successful] with fantasy, and now we want to do it with speculative fiction," she said. "We're broadening our scope."

Perhaps because of this independent-minded approach to publishing, Wizards of the Coast, which has been a Book Sense Publishing Partner for about three years now, finds it important to stay connected with independent booksellers. "It's really interesting," Allen said. "I was at BookExpo America three years ago ... and a bookseller from Vermont came up to me and said, 'I was so excited to open my White Box and see stuff from you!'

"We knew that [prior to becoming a Publishing Partner] we weren't reaching independents as we should.... We also find a lot of support from independents for our author tours."

To further reach independents and their customers, in October 2005 Wizards of the Coast sponsored four limited edition Book Sense gift cards featuring art from the Dungeons & Dragons series. The designs include Eberron, Efreeti, Wizard, and the Forgotten Realms (currently sold out).

The cards offer booksellers significant savings since Wizards of the Coast paid for the card, the presenter, and the transaction fee. Complete details and ordering information for the remaining three designs are available on BookWeb. --David Grogan