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ABC World News Tonight

Sour Endings, Sweet Sales

Lemony Snicket Is Latest Hot Author Among Kids

By Michele Norris and Jody Hassett

W A S H I N G T O N, Dec. 30 Hundreds of young, adoring fans have been queuing up across the country recently to meet the latest sensation of the middle school crowd.

He's not a celebrity athlete or a pop star. He's an author who goes by the pen name Lemony Snicket.

Mr. Snicket's books, eight so far, chronicle a series of unfortunate events. Absolutely awful things keep happening to three wealthy orphans as they try to escape the evil Count Olaf, who wants to steal their inheritance.

"I really thought these books would be noble failures," says Mr. Snicket, whose real name is Daniel Handler. "I never thought that any publishing house it its right mind would let this sort of misery go on."

Playground Buzz

This is a case where misery sells. Three of the eight books are on the New York Times bestseller list for children. Not bad for a book whose popularity spread largely by word of mouth.

"Children move in packs and they share information among themselves," says Susan Rich, an editor at the Harper Collins publishing house.

In the publishing world, it's known as playground buzz children flocking to a book without the help of slick marketing. The fact that the books aren't saccharine sweet is also part of the attraction.

"It's no cuddly bunny story and it is so tragic that it's funny," says Charlotte Bush, 11.

"You need some book that, like, shows that the bad guys can win sometimes," according to Brett Banker, 11.

"I think these books reflect the fact that the world doesn't go the way we want it to go always," Handler explains. "Things can be just around the corner. We don't know what's going to happen next."

In Lemony Snicket's fictional world, there are no happy endings. But there are clever children who triumph despite hardship.