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*


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?


  • 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.


  • 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?


  • 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.


  • 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?


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


  • 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.


  • Puck by Aimee Carter.

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


  • 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.


  • 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?


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


  • 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?


  • 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.


  • 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?


  • Funny!


  • 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.