NEW YORK (Reuters) - Described in publishing circles as America's answer to Harry Potter, the teen-age vampires of "Twilight" may reach a wider audience when the movie of the book comes out on Friday with the publisher hoping for a surge in book sales.
Publishing industry veterans say the huge popularity of author Stephenie Meyers' "Twilight" series is reminiscent of the early success of J.K. Rowling, whose "Harry Potter" books about teen-age wizards are the holy grail of publishing.
Both have sold in unusually high numbers, attracted a huge audience of young fans with cult-like fascination for the books and have plots revolving around magical elements.
With a modest $36 million budget the "Twilight" film could easily recoup its money in the first weekend due to the book's huge popularity among teen-agers, especially girls.
The built-in fan base has helped create huge buzz for the movie and publisher Little, Brown Books for Young Readers has brought out two tie-in editions of "Twilight."
"I think it will definitely bring a bigger audience," said Elizabeth Eulberg, publicist for the "Twilight" books. "We just hope the people who haven't read the books who see the movie will read them."
Eulberg said sales had spiked in recent weeks and worldwide sales of the four books in the series now top 25 million, in 37 languages including Vietnamese, Chinese, Croatian and Latvian.
The four books -- "Twilight," "New Moon," "Eclipse" and "Breaking Dawn" -- have held the top four spots on USA Today's bestseller list, which unlike some lists ranks young adult books alongside adult fiction, for the past two weeks.
"For the past three years we've been steadily getting more fans, so when 'Breaking Dawn' came out (in August) it sold 1.3 million copies on the first day in the U.S.," Eulberg said.
Set in the U.S. Pacific Northwest, "Twilight" follows the romance between a girl named Isabella "Bella" Swan who is a social outsider and an immortal vampire named Edward Cullen.
Their star-crossed love affair is complicated by the fact that other vampires are out to suck Swan's blood, not to mention that Edward has a strong urge to kill her himself.
Meyer, a Mormon mother who lives in Arizona, says on her Web site that the idea for the book came to her in a vivid dream in the summer of 2003. Within six months, much to her surprise, she had written "Twilight" and signed a six-figure book deal.
The United States accounts for 20 million of the sales but "Breaking Dawn" debuted at the top of best seller lists in France, Italy, Ireland, Spain and Britain, Eulberg said.
Elayne Rapping, a professor at Buffalo University specializing in pop culture, said books were extremely important in drawing people to movies, especially teenagers, and it often works the other way around too.
"This is an age group where people's social communities are the most important thing in deciding what cultural products they're going to be consuming," she said. "Everybody wants to read the same books."
The five "Harry Potter" movies have raked in more than $1.4 billion in the United States and Canada, and the publicity surrounding them stoked already stellar book sales.
Other epic fantasy films that boosted book sales were "Narnia" and the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, both decades-old classics that engaged a whole new generation with the films.
A less encouraging parallel is "The Golden Compass," a big-budget Hollywood production starring Nicole Kidman that was based on Philip Pullman's fantasy trilogy of books. They were a huge phenomenon in Britain but the film did not translate into U.S. success for the books.
At least "Twilight" starts out with a base in the bigger market. "Once something becomes a hit in America, at this point it is a global phenomenon," said Rapping.
Much depends on the quality of the film and early reviews have been mixed, according to the Web site Rotten Tomatoes ( www.rottentomatoes.com ), which collates reviews.
Time Magazine said while "Twilight" was no masterpiece, it "rekindles the warmth of great Hollywood romances."
Variety said it "should satiate the pre-converted but will bewilder and underwhelm viewers who haven't devoured Stephenie Meyer's bestselling juvie chick-lit franchise."
Editing by Michelle Nichols and Cynthia Osterman