New Adult: A Genre is Born

“Mixing romance with the life-changing experiences of early adulthood – college life, first jobs, independence, self-discovery and finding love – theses authors are defining the new genre of New Adult. New Adult fiction blazed onto the scene a few years ago and rapidly captured the hearts and minds of readers. YA readers love the contemporary settings and frank discussions of sometimes taboo topics, while older romance fans love the raw emotions.” – Publisher’s Weekly Promo Email for this Webcast

I’m getting back to the original roots of this blog – when I shared notes from workshops and conferences – and will be sharing some notes today! The following are my scribblings from the Publishers Weekly Webcast on Sept 17th, 2014.

**Disclaimer: None of these notes are direct quotes from the authors. Please listen the Publisher’s weekly archive of this webcast to hear exactly what the authors said.**

New Adult Authors

MODERATOR, Rose Fox (Reviews editor for Publisher’s Weekly) started off the cast by asking each author to introduce themselves and their books.

Cora Carmack is the author of the Loosing It Series and the Rusk University Series. She writes lighthearted and funny books about real people struggling with realistic problems. Her 18-25 year-old characters ask: who am I, and what do I want to do with my life. She has eight New Adult titles under her belt, and her series are companion novels so you can read them out of order.

Molly McAdams has three New Adult titles and writes the Taking Chances and Forgiving Lies Series. She likes to focus on the serious side of New Adult, and doesn’t shy away from difficult topics. For example her new title Sharing You explores what it means to be “the other woman” and involved with a married man. She considers herself an emotional writer, and wants to look at the things that have been swept under the rug.

Nichole Chase writes the Royals Series, which she calls happy fluffy romances. She has three New Adult titles and her latest book is her first foray into darker subject matter. She also writes Young Adult.

J.Lynn is a prolific writer who has published young adult, new adult, and adult books. She also writes under the name Jennifer L. Armentrout. She writes about secrets, which are a common thread in her New Adult work, and likes exploring how keeping secrets can shape your future. She has four New Adult titles, as well as some paranormal New Adult coming out.

Sophie Jordan writes the Ivy Chronicles Series, which was inspired by a news article about college Key Clubs that she and her agent were joking about, only to discover it was the great premise for a series. She has three New Adult titles in her repertoire, but also writes Young Adult and Adult Historical Romance.

Jay Crownover writes about all the stuff that got her into trouble when she was a new adult. Her books focus on counter culture: tattoos, metal, rock n’ roll, etc. With nine New Adult titles, she loves exploring opposites attract stories, and writes the Marked Men Series.

MODERATOR: New Adult has only existed for a few years. Can we define what New Adult is and what it isn’t?

Wait for youJ. Lynn: New Adult is not a market. New Adult means the characters are between 18 and 25 years in age. Sometimes the love interests are outside of that age range. New Adult is all about firsts without a safety net. It’s first love, first lust, first home, first job, etc. It’s not having your parents to fall back on. Instead these characters are becoming independent for the first time. It’s not sexed up Young Adult. It goes far beyond that. It’s also not a marketing ploy to attract 18 to 25 year-old readers. Our readers range from 15 to 75!

“New Adult is all about firsts without a safety net.”

Sophie: YA is read by adults, but YA teen readers don’t jump from young adult to adult books. New Adult has pulled from both the YA and adult readership and created a bridge between the two. YA is the first kiss or first love. New Adult is the first time that really matters. These are relationships that could last the rest of the character’s lives. In YA these romantic relationships have less weight.

MODERATOR: How has self-publishing been a part of your path as a New Adult author?

All lined upCora: My first book was self-published and then picked up by a traditional publisher. And now, I’m about to return to self-publishing with a New Adult paranormal series. I’ve decided to go indy because I’m ready for new sub-genres in New Adult. However, publishers are nervous to see anything in New Adult that’s outside of the current contemporary setting. It’s a shelving issue. Booksellers and librarians don’t know what to do with New Adult. The genre is just staring to find a mainstream audience. Going for digital self-publishing with this new series allows me to experiment. I can play with pricing, release dates, re-branding, etc. It creates a lot of great flexibility, and I only have to be worried about myself, rather than a whole company.

“When you self-publish as an individual you can front failure better than a publisher can.”

J.Lynn: My first New Adult book Wait for You was also self-published. Many of us on this panel actually self-published first. I am also working on a New Adult paranormal project that will be self-published. There’s a belief out there that paranormal is dead. But readers are still buying it. When you self-publish as an individual you can front failure better than a publisher can. Our readers are out there asking what’s next in New Adult. Is it paranormal, horror, New Adult without romance? But just because they’re asking for it doesn’t guarantee that they will buy it. Self-publishing allows us to experiment with lower risk.

RoyalNichole: My first New Adult book was paranormal and self-published. I think paranormal is something the market still wants to read. People who love the paranormal genre are still out there. They’re still reading it. I like paranormal because of the creativity it allows and how my imagination can run wild.

Jay: I always wanted to write what I wanted to read. I like exploring more grit, life hardships, and what it means to try to find your place. Not everyone’s journey is to the “sweeter places.” I like stories with a steel backbone.

MODERATOR: How has digital publishing and novellas influenced New Adult?

Molly: People like digital publishing and how they can get books quick. With a novella the publishing process is faster, and the product is cheaper for the reader. Novellas really are full-length novels that are branded as a novella. But they’re quick reads. My readers say they often read one book a day.

Taking ChancesJ.Lynn: New Adult is a digital phenomenon. The genre really took off in 2011 and 2012 with the explosion of e-readers. Books are priced at $3.99, which is considered the “impulse buy price.” And readers like the immediate download. The low price point allows readers to dip their toes in the water. There’s less risk that they’ve invested in something they won’t like. Often New Adult books are under 100,000 words, but I’ve seen them as high as 140,000 words.

“$3.99 is the juicy spot in e-book pricing.”

Cora: $3.99 is the juicy spot in e-book pricing. It means the reader will read it right after they buy it. Whereas a book purchased for $0.99 often languishes on their e-reader. A $3.99 purchase has more weight. It’s still under $5, but feels like enough of an investment to read the book. New Adult writers are really prolific, which has to do with the initial demand and boom of the genre. But there’s a lot of competition out there now, both from self-published books and trade publications. Pricing is a big deal where there’s so much content out there. I’ve heard some people say online that they won’t buy a book that’s over $2.99, and they’re waiting for my books to go on sale. But we’re constantly exploring what works.

Sophie: One of my favorite reviews said: “Great book. Don’t let the $2.99 price tag scare you.”

MODERATOR: Where should librarians shelve New Adult books? Some are afraid to put it with YA because of the sexy content, but others are afraid it will get lost in the adult section. Any advice?

jay cCora: Some libraries are doing New Adult displays. But they’re not committing to a whole section because they don’t know if there’s a readership for it. In bookstores you often see New Adult shelved in the romance section. It’s interesting, I went into Books-a-Million, which has a New Adult shelf, and noticed that a huge percentage of the books are bestsellers. There were more bestsellers in the New Adult section than any other part of the store. Libraries should give New Adult a chance, there is a readership!

J.Lynn: The label “New Adult” is also what can confuse readers. Anyone who isn’t on blogs or twitter may have never heard of this term. Books-a-Million relabeled their New Adult sections as “Summer Love” in the summer, and “Fall into Love” in the autumn. This is helping the mainstream readership learn what New Adult is.

MODERATOR: Is this a woman’s genre? Is there room for male reader and writers? What about diversity?

wildSophie: Right now the New Adult audience is a lot like the romance demographic. It is women of all ages. Some books are written in a guy’s POV, but most are in the female perspective. My Young Adult books have a higher percentage of male readers than my New Adult books do. But the YA books also explore other issues in them, where my New Adult is romance focused. It’s also about packaging and titles. A cover with a sexy guy kissing a girl is designed to only attract female readers.

Jay: I have more dude readers than most. I have a lot of college-age guys who email me and let me know they read my books. Fifty Shades has changed what is acceptable. Everyone bought Fifty Shades and read it on the bus or the subway.

“Reader purchasing habits speak for themselves. The power is really in the readers and librarians hands.”

J. Lynn: In terms of diversity, reader purchasing habits speak for themselves. The power is really in the readers and librarians hands. But yes, we do need awareness that these books exist. It’s taken a long time for diversity to make it into Young Adult books, I hope it doesn’t take as long to make its way to New Adult.

Molly: Readers do want mixed races in their New Adult books. I’ve had a lot of positive response to having an Asian character in one of my novellas.

Cora: Diversity is about getting the books into the readers hands, and then it comes down to buying power. We can say all day that New Adult has room for new subgenres (dystopian, sci-fi, etc.), and those books do exist. In fact, New Adult gets a lot of flak for being only romance. But those sub-genres are out there right now. But I can’t control what readers buy.

Moderator: I guess the genre really is what you make it! Thank you all for participating in this panel.

Learn more about this webcast, upcoming talks, and look through the archives here: Publisher’s Weekly Webcasts

Highlights from the 2014 SCBWI Summer Conference

Guest post by Lianna McSwain

Hi All! SCBWI-LA was a massive event. There were over 1,200 attendees and close to 100 professionals from the field. The conference took place over three days and included so much information I filled a notebook almost completely with notes, which I am happy to share with you. These notes cover only those events I was able to go to. It’s like a cupful of information that I collected from the fire hose.

I wish I could have been everywhere!

2014-Summer-banner-2

Friday

Meg Rosoff:

Meg Rosoff

After Lin Oliver and Stephen Mooser kicked off the conference by charming everyone with their wit and loveliness, we sat back and had our minds blown by Meg Rosoff.

Her talk dissected several academic complaints that fairy tales are harmful because they give children unrealistic perceptions of the world. The academics charged that stories such as Goldilocks and the Three Bears are dangerous because they fail to teach that bears live in dens not cottages, that they eat ant pupae not porridge and that they are more inclined to disembowel and eat small children than they are to be suitable playmates for them.

Meg Rosoff responded that fairy tales are dangerous, but not in the ways the academics say. She reminded us that fairy tales are subversive. They upend cultural norms and allow us access to our most repressed thoughts and fears.

Fairy Tales take the dark matter of our unconscious minds and put them into our hands.

She assigned us the task of going out into the world and writing those stories we’ve been told we can’t or shouldn’t write. She asked us to write subversive.


Editor’s Panel:

Lin Oliver

There were seven editors on the Friday morning editor’s panel: Alessandra Balzer (Balzer+Bray), Mary Lee Donovan (Candlewick), Allyn Johnston (Beach Lane Books), Wendy Loggia (Delacorte), Lucia Monfried (Dial), Dinah Stevenson (Clarion), and Julie Strauss-Gabel (Dutton).

Lin Oliver moderated the panel and asked the editors to begin by naming things they’d like to see more of.

Nearly everyone called for more work with voice.

The editors also called for work that was authentic, original and that surprised them.

Julie Strauss-Gabel asked that the writers take the time to get to know the editors, so that when submitting a work, the writer would know whether the work would be a good fit for that editor. Julie stated that she only publishes 9 or 10 works per year, and she needs to fall in love with them.

The other editors agreed that they too were hoping for works that the writers or agents saw as being a good fit for them. Wendy Loggia said that when an agent says to her, “you’re the best editor for this book” she feels a need to put that manuscript on the top of the pile.

Lin Oliver jumped in and recommended that writers consult the fabulous SCBWI resource called “Edited By.” This is a list of current editors and the ten books that they believe best represent the kind of work they like to publish. This list is included as a chapter in the Market Section of The Book. If you are not familiar with The Book, it is a pdf compilation of the most current information about the state of children’s book publishing available to all members of SCBWI for free, download here.

The editors agreed that while they understand that multiple submissions are the norm these days, they really all frown on submitting a manuscript to multiple editors within the same house.

Finally, Mary Lee Donovan looked for writing competence. Dinah Stevenson wanted a story with a definite beginning, middle and end and nothing over 100K words. Wendy Loggia requested that manuscripts have page numbers. Julie Straus Gable wanted stories that weren’t boring. Allyn Johnston requested stories that were readable out loud.

The editors also agreed that respectful communication goes a long way.

Judy Schachner:

Skippy

Judy let us into her mental art studio, and confirmed what I suspected all along—Ms. Schachner is a wellspring of genius! She showed us photos of her collage books. When she is creating a character and a story, she spends weeks and weeks pulling photos and compiling them into a workbook in a non-logical jumbled up way. She collages photos on top of drawings, loosely, with her editor’s eye turned off. When she has finished the book, she goes through and looks for juxtapositions that catch her eye. From this rich source material, she makes her story. I was very impressed by the amount of work she put into the generative stage, the stage before she began writing the story. Also, Judy is amazing at accents. She can slip into from a Tennessee drawl, to an Irish brogue, and then to Antonio Banderas. I’m in awe!

Saturday

Aaron Becker:

Aaron led us in a two part sing a long of “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey. Imagine half the auditorium singing the bass line, and the other half singing the tenor line while Aaron Becker sang the melody on stage. He said we sang better than the editors and agents did at his last presentation. We all sat down feeling very smug. They don’t call us writers ‘the talent’ for nothing. 😉

I didn’t realize how much I liked Aaron’s wordless picture book Journey, until I saw it projected onto a large screen, and I could immerse myself into his gorgeous artwork. Journey was the only book I bought at this conference. Aaron’s story was very inspiring, as his first book was published later in life. His story exemplifies a quote I heard earlier from Erin Murphy:

“The path to success is filled with many waiting periods that feel like failure.”

Aaron Becker


Maggie Stiefvater:

Maggie

Maggie Steifvater stomped on stage looking like a punk rock cheerleader—all tight pants, boots, and leather bracelets covering up a shock wave of energy and enthusiasm.

Maggie talked about being a thief. She steals people’s souls. She freely admits to meeting people and finding their essence. Then she puts that essence into her characters. It’s easy, she said, “just find that one thing that makes them uniquely who they are.” If someone is wearing a plaid shirt, Maggie says, that detail is useless until you know why they are wearing a plaid shirt. When you know why, you can change the details, you can know how they will act in the future. Steal their soul, she said.

Sunday

Deborah Halverson:

Deborah Halverson

Deborah started the Market Report by reminding us that the watchword for 2013 had been ‘dip’. She meant that 2012 had been higher than normal because of the Hunger Games, Divergent and the new Wimpy Kid book, so the sales of 2013 were a return to sales slightly higher than 2011, but not as high as the blockbuster 2012.

She stated that for 2014, the dip is gone. All trade publications are up. Sales of print and ebooks are up 31%.

Picture books in the last two years have been the best ever, specifically those aimed at the youngest markets. Because older kids are moving to chapter books sooner, there is a demand for heavily illustrated chapter books. There is not a lot of demand for digital picture books.

Non-fiction picture books are on the rise, though Deborah stated that they should be considered an extra opportunity rather than a driving force behind higher sales numbers. Writers should be aware that there seems to be a backlash against the common core, so non-fiction picture books need to have entertainment value apart from their ability to fill the common core niche. (A text’s compliance with Common Core requirements should be that extra hook that pleases the editor who would have bought the book anyway.) Non-fiction books that have a strong character driven narrative still sell well, and longer texts are still acceptable.

Chapter Book sales continue to grow because of titles such as The Magic Tree House, Geronimo Stilton, and Dragonbreath. These highly illustrated hybrid books help readers find their footing. Single title Chapter Books struggle for shelf space in the midst of many series which dominate the market niche.

Middle Grade is finally on the upswing. There seems to be a lot of excitement surrounding recent middle grade titles, both series and stand alone titles. Editors are eager to find the right the combination of voice and humor, which have to be spot on. There is a call for more adventure fantasy, and light humor. There is also a place for historical fiction as long as it sounds contemporary.

Young Adult sales are starting to slow down a little, except for within the field of realistic contemporary fiction. Editors are excited about stories that focus on normal kids within normal school settings. Editors are also eager to see YA thrillers and mystery stories including some speculative fiction with a thriller twist. Historical YA is still a hard sell, and paranormal titles are tricky.

Overall, the field is looking up and editors are optimistic that the market will continue to be strong.

linda sue parkLinda Sue Park:

Linda is gracious and calm but she writes like a ninja. Here is her advice for writing lean, clean prose. She says:

Take each block of text and treat it as if it were a prose poem.

Give each clause its own line so you can see which words are working and which ones are cluttering up the flow. Eliminate all clutter.

bruce_covilleBruce Coville:

Bruce advised creating a Bible for each series with detailed character studies, historical background, and the rules of the world. The more detailed the Bible, the more potential a story has for becoming a series.

At this point we were all exhausted, staggering around under the weight of our books, looking bleary-eyed for the exit.

It was a great conference.
Lianna McSwainLianna McSwain lives in Northern California with her husband and her two extraordinarily charming children. After a career in economic development and fundraising, she finally returned to her true love, writing. Lianna is completing an MFA in writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts, specializing in YA and Middle Grade. When she is not writing, she is reading and eating chocolate. Or playing music and taking improv classes. Or hiking with friends.  She rarely does housework willingly. Sometimes she just sits there, thinking.

Agent and Query Letter Boot Camp

Stephen King Query Letter

I sent my query letters out this month. It’s been a long haul of research, drafting the query, revising, throwing it away, and re-drafting again. Then comes the agent research, reading blogs, making a list, sending out the queries, and the dreaded waiting. Yes, it’s been a process. It feels a little bit like writing a whole new novel!

If you’re in the agent/query stage of your journey, I thought I’d share some fabulous blog posts and websites that have been helpful in this joyful querying campaign!

Why You Need An Agent:

Finding the Perfect Match – Researching Agents:

  • Literary Rambles: This is hands down the best site for researching kidlit agents. Use the list in the left-hand sidebar. This website has collected quotes, submission policies, and a plethora of amazing info on each person listed!
  • Query Tracker: A free database of literary agents.
  • Publisher’s Marketplace: Another great database to research agents and their deals.

Tips and Trick on How to Write and Amazing Query Letter:

When You Get “The Call”:

How to Deal with Waiting…and Waiting…and Waiting:

ellen-dory-finding-nemo-2__oPtDealing with Rejection:

Never give up! In the words of Dory from Finding Nemo: “Just keep swimming.”

Keep on writing!

Building the Next Generation of YA Stars

I’ve been writing a lot lately about craft and bravery in writing. If you’re in that head space and need to stay there, skip this post, this one is gonna be about…

*cue dramatic music*

THE MARKET!

I recently listened to Publisher’s Weekly’s webinar Building the Next Generation of YA Stars. It was moderated by John A. Sellers, the children’s review editor at Publisher’s Weekly, and featured guests Emily Meehan (Disney-Hyperion Editorial Director) and Natashya Wilson (Harlequin Teen Executive Editor). They discussed trends, how they market their authors, and what new and established authors can do to get in the game and stay on top.

Andrew Rich Photo

These are my notes on the topics they discussed:

How are you working to keep established authors on top?

Natashya:

  • Every book is unique and evaluated on how it will best reach an author’s established audience and a new audience.
  • We partner with an author to reach out to fans, help them build a brand, stress the importance of a website, and keep audiences aware of what is coming out.
  • We do a lot of social networking – cover reveals, trailers, etc.
  • We start to create buzz 6-9 months before a book comes out.
  • The best established brands have a very interactive approach with their audience.

Emily:

  • Ditto.
  • We also have been using short stories and novellas to keep readers in contact with an author’s work when they reader is waiting for the next book.
  • Cover reveals, trailers, chapter teasers!
  • Group bookstore and festival events have also been a great way to draw readers together and introduce them to authors they may not know.

How do you market a debut author who doesn’t have an established audience?

Emily:

  • Because they don’t have an established audience you focus on the content and the book itself.
  • Blog tours work well.
  • We’ve also done some creative marketing with Q&A’s from the book’s editor, author, and even the characters in the book.

Natashya:

  • It’s all about the content and teasing out what the book is about.
  • This process is about establishing the author’s brand.
  • We try to connect authors with reviewers in traditional publications and the YA blog-o-sphere.
  • We try to create multi-forum events with new and established authors, and use the draw of the established author to introduce the readership to the debut author.

What is it about the YA readership that allows you to be more adventurous in your marketing?

Emily & Natashya:

  • Teens are young and creative and we need to be creative so they respond to it.
  • Teens are looking for the exciting next thing. They give us the freedom to experiment and they are receptive to what we try.
  • Get the teens invested and they will drive the campaign themselves. For example: We had teens vote on what cities they wanted an author tour to stop in.
  • We like to try crowd-sourced initiatives and throw the marketing back to the fans. The more interactive it can be the more they like it. For example: Unlocking content with “Likes.” (i.e. X-number of “Likes” unlocks the new cover of the book, etc.)
  • We also like to do cross-publisher events if an author is published with another house. Then both houses benefit.
  • Word of mouth is always your best marketing tool.

Are in-person library or bookstore events still relevant?

Emily & Natashya:

  • Festivals are really important.
  • Traditional events still have their place. Booksellers and librarians are big readers and have direct contact to the market. They will help promote your book and create buzz.
  • We can’t send all our authors on book tours, but we’ve found that Skype visits have been another great way to contact an audience when on a budget.

How has technology changed the marketing game?

Emily:

  • “Sometimes I feel like Twitter is my second job.”
  • Online marketing is really important!
  • We’ve been doing a lotof chat initiatives.

Natashya:

  • The internet is pervasive!
  • It’s a great way to test out new ideas.
  • The internet gives you a huge reach without a huge investment.
  • It causes readers to look for you, and it lets the reader take charge of the content they want to be exposed to.

Tell us about some of the books you’ve got coming out this year that you’re excited about:

Emily & Natashya:

Vanessa PaxtonContemporary Fiction:

  • Contemporary YA is on the rise!
  • There’s a hot trend of “tough stuff” and issue-driven romance.
  • Nantucket Blue by Leila Howland.
  • Dare To You by Katie McGarry (the companion novel to Pushing the Limits).
  • Heartbeat by Elizabeth Scott.

Costume Dramas & Historical Fiction:

  • Costume Dramas are all the rage (thanks to Downton Abby).
  • Cinders & Sapphires by Leila Rasheed .
  • Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein (the companion novel to Code Name Verity).

Science Fiction:

  • All Are Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill.
  • Project Paper Doll by Stacey Kade.

Fantasy & Paranormal:

  • Ink by Amanda Sun (urban dark fantasy set in Japan).
  • Iron Traitor by Julie Kagawa.

Dystopian:

  • Puck by Aimee Carter.

What do you think about this “New Adult” Trend?

Natashya:

  • It points to a huge hole in the market.
  • People love it and it’s here. We are definitely acquiring it.
  • It’s about the transition from high school to becoming independent.
  • Lots of edgy authentic stories.

Emily:

  • There are several definitions out there of what “new adult” is. We tend to label books in a way that a reader doesn’t.
  • Older YA has naturally fallen into what might be considered “new adult,” and it’s been doing it all along. Only now we are labeling it.
  • It’s about concentrating on a good story and not salacious content.

Is the market overloaded with Dystopian and Paranormal books?

Emily & Natashya:

  • There’s a lot to choose from in these catagories. Both publishers and readers are becoming more selective of what they want in this area.
  • There’s more competition in this part of the market.
  • Dystopian is still selling well and people are still talking about it.

Are there taboo topics in YA?

Emily & Natashya:

  • No. It’s all about how a story is executed. It’s got to be authentic.
  • The question is about how the story is presented or handled. Is the taboo topic important to the story?
  • Authors are showing us what the “rules” are. They’re blending genres and themes all the time.

How do you find new authors?

Emily:

  • I can’t accept unsolicited manuscripts. Agent submissions only.

Natashya:

  • We also only accept agent submissions. This is because of the sheer volume of submissions.
  • However, we are looking actively online for authors and may contact you.
  • We’ve found some authors through Yahoo Chats or meetings at conferences.

Do you have anything to say about diversity in YA?

Natashya:

  • There’s no limits.
  • We are open to anything, but it has to be a great story. What’s in the market now reflects the best written work. We want a great story from the POV of someone we care about.

Emily:

  • We try for diversity, always.
  • We want content to represent many points of view and stories that resonate with as many readers as possible.

What is on your submissions wish list?

Emily:

  • Funny!

Natashya:

  • Something that feels unique and makes me sit up and read the whole thing.
  • Something that’s not too similar to what we’ve already published.

An archive of this webinar is available at: Publisher’s Weekly Webcasts

Emily Meehan is the Editorial Director at Disney-Hyperion. She has worked in almost every aspect of trade publishing for children: picture books, middle grade, young adult, original paperback series, and in most every genre, from general interest fiction to nonfiction, to fantasy, romance, religious, and historical.

Natashya Wilson is the Executive Editor at Harlequin TEEN. She began working at Harlequin Books in 1996, when she became an editorial assistant for the Harlequin American Romance and Intrigue series. She worked as an associate editor for McGraw-Hill and Rosen Publishing Group, where she edited children’s nonfiction books. She returned to Harlequin in 2004 and later became the senior editor for Harlequin TEEN.

Photos by Andrew Rich and Vanessa Paxton.

Secrets of a Children’s Bookseller: Adults Buying for Kids They Don’t Know

When you work in the children’s department of a book store it’s a little different than if you worked in any other section of the store. Most other sections of the store consist of adults buying for adults (and usually themselves). The children’s section, on the other hand, is full of adults buying for kids. And frankly, adults often have no clue what they should buy for their kid. The majority of my interactions with customers in the kids department start like this: “I’m looking for a gift for a _____ year-old (insert age). What do you suggest?”

That’s right the kids department is all about recommendations and hand selling!

I’m always armed with a series of questions to help find out what would be a good book for the customer: Is the child a boy or a girl? Do they like fantasy stories or ones that are more realistic? What other books have they read and liked? What extra curricular activities does the child participate in? Etc. Etc.

But during the holidays something really interesting happened. I came across a whole plethora of customers who didn’t know anything about the child they were buying for. It was a grandchild they hadn’t seen in two years, or their boss’s son, or they just didn’t know the answers to my questions. This is a very unique opportunity for me as a bookseller. First off it’s a challenge, a little like finding a needle in a haystack. But it also means I get to suggest the books that I think are awesome!

That’s right, I get to sell the books I love!

But here’s the catch 22 with this scenario. I only know the books I know. There are hundreds of books on our shelves and as much as you’d like to think I’ve read every single one of them, I have not!

So here’s a little bit about how I find out about books (so that when your book is published you can make sure booksellers know about your book!):

  • I read as much as I can. Picture books are easiest (because they only take a few minutes – I read a lot of them on my breaks).
  • I also read advanced reader copies (ARCs). Share your ARCs with your local bookstore, we try to read as many as we can and we do pass them around the department. (But also tell us why your book is awesome. We get lots of ARCs, usually from publishers, and we can’t read all of them. But I am ALWAYS influenced by authors who come in personally and share a book. I always want to sell books by someone I’ve met personally. It makes me more invested in the sale.).
  • Publicity helps – NPR interviews, Newspaper Reviews, Internet Buzz, Twitter Talk, and Blogs! Anything that’s peaked my interest I can use to peak a customer’s interest.
  • Author visits and signings. Hearing an author pitch a book always makes it easier for me to pitch a book to a customer. Plus, I can talk about all the fun facts you shared during your author visit.

It’s amazing the power booksellers have. For example, I’ve pulled books off the shelf, said less than four words about them, and had customers snatch them from my hands and head for the registers. Those customers weren’t even interested in knowing what the book was about. All they really cared about was the fact that I said it was good. This always surprises me, but it’s true that many adults don’t know the kids they’re buying for and only want validation that a book is worth-wild.

Yes, the “moral” of this blog-post is to befriend your local bookseller! We want to share your spectacular book, so do your part to point it out to us so we know about it and can recommend it when the opportunity comes!

Secrets of a Children’s Bookseller: Adult Nostalgia and Book Buying Trends

Do you remember your favorite book from childhood? It could be Ferdinand the Bull by Munro Leaf, or maybe it’s Miss Rumphius  by Barbara Cooney (that’s mine!). Thinking about that book probably makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. You LOVED it! So, of course your son, daughter, granddaughter, grandson will love it too!

This holiday season I found a large percentage of customers making gift purchases based on these exact emotions. They’d ask for that treasured book (be it out of print or not) with hopes of sharing the feeling they had as a child. On Christmas Eve, I walked into our classics section and found it plucked bare. Little House on the Prairie, The Chronicles of Narnia, Charlotte’s Web, The Secret Garden, Anne of Green Gables – all had been purchased, wrapped, and now sat under trees with bright shinny bows.

I think there are two ways to look at this trend. On one side, these books DO stand up against the test of time. They’re classics, timeless, and just plain good! But on the other side of this discussion, I think some might argue that not all classics appeal to today’s kids. Some are slightly outdated and harder for today’s audience to relate to. In this second case, I think adults are buying classic books because they feel nostalgic about them. They hope their kids (or grandkids) will love the book as much as they did, and it’s that hope that gets them to take it home and put it under the tree. Ultimately, this comes down to why someone buys a gift (or any product). In this case its about the feelings and memories the gift-giver has about a book. There’s a ton of great new books on the shelves these days, but sometimes that can’t compete with the joy of sharing a loved classic.

This leads us (as writers) back to the age-old point that books need an emotional punch. Books we loved as kids stay with us because we are connected to them emotionally and something in them has resonated over the years. Look back at your favorite classic and see if it still holds up today. Why? Why not? What about the book makes it timeless? What makes it memorable and worth sharing?