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May 17th, 2011

The Epic Post On Trends (YA & MG)

As I said in my last blog post, writers seem to care deeply about two things: Money and Trends.  I was kind of half joking, except my post on money ended up with about 3,000 hits in 36 hours, so…. I guess you guys really like to talk about money. As more than one person pointed out, the post focused heavily on the initial advance and not other avenues for getting paid in publishing, and so I’ll definitely do a follow up—my intention was to focus on the initial deal, because, well, writers focus on the initial deal.

But this post is about the other half of That Thing You Want to Know. It’s a post on trends. More specifically, trends within the kidlit-o-sphere, which is where I specialize. So, sorry if you write adult fic, this post is not for you. ;-)

Last week, I visited with editors at pretty much every major publisher—MacMillan, Houghton-Mifflin, Harper Collins, Penguin, Random House, and Scholastic, plus some who more recently moved into the YA/MG/PB game, like Sourcebooks, Harlequin Teen, K Teen, etc. In all, I had 37 meetings.

It’s pretty common for agents outside of NYC to do trips like this, and it’s always fun to see what kind of patterns emerge by the end of the first day, and by the end of the week.  The basic gist of the meeting is that we talk about an editor’s imprint—what kind of program it is (literary? Commercial?), what sort of books they publish, what has been a big seller or award winner for them, etc. We talk about what they are dying to see cross their desks, what they see far too much of, and any very specific interests.

So, here’s a catchall summary of the state of publishing when it comes to PB, MG, and YA. Full disclosure—I don’t rep PB, but Kristin, my cohort here at D4EO Lit does, and many MG/YA editors edit those as well, so we did talk of picture books. However, my run down on that front is pretty brief.

 

PICTURE BOOKS:

Most editors weren’t interested in the sweet, I LOVE MY MOMMY kind of books. They want fun hooks, possibly with humor, and really vibrant, ground-breaking art. They want books that are fun to read aloud. One editor referenced SHARK VS TRAIN as a good example.  

 

MIDDLE GRADE:

Just like last year, editors are really short on MG and feel this market is primed to boom in the way YA has… but that hardly any one is actually, you know, writing it. One editor said only 10% of her subs are MG, and the rest is YA, when in fact she’s most into MG of the two. Part of the problem is that as we heard over and over, MG is just a really hard voice to nail.

Things that are working well in MG? Magical realism, humor, big hooks, distinctive voices. There’s definitely plenty of room for those really amazing coming of age stories too. (One editor even said they’d love a boy coming of age—and I know we typically think GIRL on that front.)

A couple houses have some “Homeward bound” sort of books with animals overcoming the odds to find their way home, so animal books still do really well here.  

Multiple editors really want the next RAMONA. And they would *DEFINITELY* love the next Penderwicks (there was some serious gushing going on over that book.)

Many houses are definitely looking for those really accessible graphic hybrid sort of books—whether that means heavily illustrated chapter books or something really fun in a novel format.

A few editors would love something sort of Coraline or Tim Burton-esque as well, something inventive and stand-out.

Young Adult:

The YA market is definitely competitive—a lot of really amazing material out there, and a lot of really talented writers. That said, it was really refreshing to hear the huge diversity in what is being published, and what editors want to see.

Most editors feel that the buying craze for Dystopians is waning, but new projects still incite bidding wars when they are really, truly original. A couple of editors said point blank that they have not yet bought a dystopian and would be happy to discover a great one, but they do think it needs to be relatively soon.

When it comes to straight-up paranormal romance, it does need to be really fresh and original, with kick-butt writing. The shelves in paranormal romance are crowded, and book buyers (as in, the buyer for the store, not the individual readers) may be a bit weary. But again, kick-ass paranormal romance still sells. I did not have any editors say  “please, no more paranormal romance.” And there’s definitely more coming out soon.

I did hear a lot of editors wanting ghost stories. Not neccessarily paranormal romance ghost stories, but possibly gothic creepy ghost stories.

MANY editors would love a thriller/suspense/horror. Most said more of the psychological kind, not the slasher/guy-with-a-chainsaw kind, but there was room for both, really. If you've written something seriously, insanely scary, you're in luck.

In general, editors love the projects which can’t be easily pigeon-holed into a “dystopian book” or a “paranormal book”, but rather sort of blended genres (and/or “floated above” them). This is a REALLY good place to be, because an editor (and sales force) can adapt their pitching/spin depending on where the market is when your book, you know, actually hits shelves. One editor had a project which they bought because it was a dystopia, but they’re packaging it be more of a fantasy/sci-fi so that readers don’t think of it as “another dystopian.”  So, if your book is a hybrid of sorts, you’ll be in great shape.

Fantasy, in general, is of interest, though few editors want the truly epic LORD OF THE RINGS style fantasy—being accessible to a wide range of readers is important.

We heard all week long: Editors are hedging bets that sci-fi may be the next big wave/trend. Partly this is because we just haven’t seen a lot of it lately and it feels more fresh/stand-out, and partly because dystopian sometimes naturally evolves into the sci-fi  realm, so in many ways, readers are being prepped to move in this direction.

Another thing I heard all day, every day? Realistic/Contemporary YA is a tough sell, but almost every editor really, really wants it to rally and come back in a huge way. Some editors joked that they are going to force it to come back by buying some killer Realistic/Contemp. Successful books like ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS By Stephanie Perkins and PERFECT CHEMISTRY by Simone Elkeles make everyone very hopeful that this trend continues. The more contemps that break out, the more likely this trend can actually pan out. So if you’re a contemp lover, get thee to the bookstore. If the readers don’t buy it, the editors can’t buy it.

Retellings are still hot, but it’s best if its not something like a straight-up contemporary version of an oft-used tale, like Cinderella. More inventive retellings, or retellings of the more obscure fairy tales/poems/etc are a plus. Also, apparently Edgar Allen Poe is the new black. Just sayin—I think three editors have something Poe-esque coming down the pipeline.  One editor mentioned A CURSE AS DARK AS GOLD as being one of her favorite retellings.

When it comes to historical (both MG and YA), the market is tough, but if it has a hook, that helps. If you’re writing something Luxe-esque, rejoice, because editors are definitely looking for the modern, scandalous, steamy kind of historical (and so am I!) I was also surprised that a few editors are really liking recent historical stuff—anything from the 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s,70s, etc. The key with most editors is that setting and a sense of place is super important here. Research should shine through in the details, so that the atmosphere pops.

 

Boy YA is still tough, and needs to appeal to girls in at least some regard, or it may get shot down at acquisitions.

 

Random Thing #1: One of my favorite questions for editors is—“What book from another publisher do you wish was yours?

By the end of the week, I would have bet $5 that every time I asked that the answer would be CHIME by Frannie Billingsly. It’s now on my must-read list because I have to know why they are all in love with this book!

Other books I heard more than once:

Jellicoe Road

Graceling

Boyfriend List

White Cat

 

Random #2: There are definitely more editors working on graphic novels than there were last year.

Random #3: Characters of other races, religions, etc, are high on the priority list, as most eds want to see more diversity. One thing, though, is that in many cases they want a book about a character who happens to be black, or jewish, or in a wheel chair, not a book about a character’s identity as it relates to those specific things.

Random #4: Romance in YA (or the stirrings of romance in MG) always helps with girl appeal!

 

Okay, so that’s my run-down. If you have specific questions on certain kinds of books, feel free to ask away, and I can let you know if those books were anything that came up in meetings that I didn’t recap here.


ETA: Here's LAST YEAR'S trend watch, if you'd like to compare....

and REMEMBER WHAT I SAY ABOUT TRENDS -- and whether it's smart to chase them.
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