Hollywood, Silicon Valley Inspire New Teen E-Book Publisher

Teenagers who founded their own start-ups could find themselves featured in titles from Backlit, a new young adult e-book publisher based in Santa Monica. While bestselling YA series like Gossip Girl have centered around the Manhattan elite, Backlit is a product of Silicon Valley and Hollywood–with a first-look agreement from Happy Madison producer Jack Giarraputo–even if its books are set in lands as far away as ancient Greece.

The publisher of Backlit is Panio Gianopoulos, a former Bloomsbury editor who worked on memoirs by Chelsea Handler and Anthony Bourdain, then left New York to get his MBA at Stanford. He also spent time at BCG as a consultant focusing on the entertainment industry. “Right now Silicon Valley is unexplored as a creative base,” he told me.

Backlit’s first series are Borrowing Abby Grace (“Sent to repair the lives and loves of teenagers on the edge of disaster, smart and sassy Abby Grace has everything going for her, except one thing: a body”) and The Start-Up (“When a college freshman’s breakthrough software program catapults her into the limelight, she and her twin brother must navigate a treacherous world of money, power, and envy: Silicon Valley”).

Each of the books in those series–or, as Backlit calls them, “episodes”–are around 30,000 words and sell for $2.99; new “episodes” will be released about once a month. The first two episodes of each series are available now in the Kindle and Nook stores.

Next up are two longer series: The Dig, set in ancient Greece, and Young Americans, set in colonial America. Those “episodes” will be about 70,000 words each and will retail for around $7.99. All of the books are being heavily promoted on Facebook and Twitter.

The books are written by a variety of authors using pen names, under work-for-hire agreements. The author of The Start-Up lives and works in Silicon Valley and “needed anonymity,” said marketing head Adrian Sexton.

Backlit has a first-look film and TV deal with Happy Madison’s Jack Giarraputo, who is also acting as the company’s strategic partner, creative advisor and lead investor. And the company is looking to TV as an inspiration for how to promote its books. Readers can win “walk-on appearances” in upcoming books, and can submit their start-ups for inclusion in The Start-Up. Backlit is launching a microsite around Doreye, the name of the fictional company founded by the main character of The Start-Up. Teenagers can submit their companies there; if they pass “certain promotional tests,” they may be featured in upcoming books.

Backlit is also launching the Backlit Mentors program, which will commission new YA authors to write “episodes” in their series. “A great way to trend content interest is to find some way to give back,” Sexton said. “Think of CBS (NYSE: CBS) Cares or NFL Cares. We felt nobody was doing it smartly in digital publishing. This is a way to bring YA writers into a system that brings them the professionalism of Hollywood, and lets them come up with some ideas, brainstorm and write episodes themselves.”