Young Adult Literature: Still Thriving

At the end of June I attended the Independent Writers of Southern California (IWOSC) panel event Young Adult Literature: Still Thriving. The event was moderated by IWOSC member Gary Young, and featured panelists: Jen Jones Donatelli (Team Cheer Series), Ann Stampler (Where It Began), Amy Goldman Koss (The Girls, Poison Ivy, Side Effects), Lauren Strasnick (Nothing Like You, Her and Me and You), and Jen Rofe (Agent at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency, who represents children’s literature and is also Lauren Strasnick’s agent.)

The following are my notes from the event:

Moderator Question: According to the LA Times, the average teen watches two hours of TV per night and reads only seven minutes per day. Why then is teen literature so popular?

  • The adults are reading it!
  • “The average person has only one testicle…so it’s probably the same average.”

Moderator Question: Why do you think adults are reading YA?

  • The quality has gone up and lots of adults are reading YA. It’s just good literature.
  • Coming of age stories now bridge both late teen to early twenties, which it didn’t before.
  • YA is more story focused. Adult books tend to meander.
  • There’s a lot of great experimentation happening in YA and that’s exciting for both reader and writer.

Moderator Question: Who Do You Write For? Yourself? Your Reader?

  • Lauren writes for herself. She doesn’t have a teen in mind.
  • Others write with the audience in mind.
  • You have to be honest to a kid and his/her world. You can’t write what you want a kid to be.

Moderator Question: What do you think about Harry Potter and its influence on the Market?

  • One author said it was irrelevant.
  • Jen Rofe jumped in to say that it is essential! That the market is what it is today because of Harry Potter and Twilight, etc. These books created a new readership and pays for other children’s books to be published. You don’t have to like these books. But you should respect their influence.

Some comments about the publishing industry:

  • Target used to pick books for their shelves based on the covers. They wanted books that matched the color schemes of the displays they were creating.
  • Scholastic has a branch that reviews books for their book clubs. This is how you get into a book club. You want to get into the club! Your sales will increase.

Moderator Question: How much swearing and edgy content can be in YA books?

  • If you want to be in a book club then you should curb your swearing. Librarians also don’t like swearing.
  • Cursing can be unnecessary. Check and see if you really need it.
  • Kids are grappling with big issues today: sex, drug, etc.  If it is part of your character’s world then keep it.
  • Drug use (in most YA books) comes with consequences. It isn’t there unless it’s a big part of the story.
  • Powerlessness is a gigantic part of kids lives.

Moderator Question: What actually constitutes a YA book (for those unfamiliar with the market)?

  • YA books have protagonists that are 15 to 17 years old.
  • They are written from the point of view of the teen.
  • There are Adult books out there with teen protagonists, like The Lovely Bones, but they aren’t YA because the story isn’t just about teens or it is written from the POV of an adult looking at a teen, or back on his/her life.
  • YA books tend to be around 75,000 words.  But stay under 100,000 words. (Lauren’s books, however, are short. They tend to be around 30-40 thousand words.

Moderator Question: How do you see e-publishing and self-publishing affecting the YA market?

  • Self publishing and e-books haven’t taken off in the kids market like it has in the adult market.
  • If you want to self publish then you need to sell LOTS of books for a major publisher to take notice. Lots of books is 10,000 copies or more!
  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid was a self-published book that sold around 20-50 thousand copies, and that’s why it was picked up.
  • There is a community of people who exist to help you publish the best book you can (editors, marketers, etc.). You miss out on this community by self-publishing your book.
  • However, publishers don’t do as much marketing for you anymore. So if you are willing to market, market, market your own book. Then maybe self-publishing is a good route.
  • Any book needs good editing! If you are self publishing don’t forget how important editing is.
  • Self-publishing means less time writing.

Moderator Question: If you have a book-series idea, should you write multiple books?

  • No. Put everything into that first book! You want that one to sell. Then you will see about the possibility of more.
  • Leave holes in the first book that could grow into other books.

Moderator Question: Jen Rofe, what are you looking for in terms of clients?

  • She primarily represents middle grade and picture books.
  • She only has 4 or 5 YA clients, and really does a limited amount of YA.
  • She has a low threshold for teen angst.

Moderator Question: How successful do you think book trailers are?

  • They can help. It depends on the quality, etc.
  • Lauren said she made one, but she’s not sure it actually helped in book sales. (Ingrid’s Side note: I may only be one person, but I personally bought Lauren’s book because I saw the book trailer). Check it out for yourself: Nothing Like You Book Trailer
  • Check out the book trailer for The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer it’s fantastic.

Moderator Question: What is your opinion on self-promotion and contacting your audience through the internet?

  • Jen Rofe is big on her authors self-promoting their work.
  • Try and connect with bloggers. This is a great way to get press. In fact, think about having teens create a blog–tour for you. (There are groups of teen bloggers who do this).
  • Some of the authors on the panel really like blogging and using the internet. It’s a great way to connect with their audience and fans. But you have to make a personal connection with them.
  • One author made a twitter account for their protagonist.
  • Check out the author Melissa Walker – she has amazing self-promotion.
  • Beware of being inauthentic. No one like someone who is always always always promoting. Be a real human being online!
  • Reach out to High School newspapers and see about doing an interview. This is a great way to promote directly to the source!
  • There is a difference between promotion and commotion.
  • You only get a certain number of ARC’s (advance reader copies) to promote with. So think about who you send them to.

Panelist Bios:

JENNIFER ROFÉ, ANDREA BROWN LITERARY AGENCY. As a literary agent, Jennifer handles children’s fiction projects, from picture books to young adult. Middle grade is her soft spot; she’s open to all genres in this category, especially the tender or hilarious. For YA, Jennifer is drawn to contemporary works, dramatic or funny romance, and urban fantasy/light sci-fi. For picture books, early readers, and chapter books, she’s interested in character-driven projects and smart, exceptional writing. Jennifer’s clients include Kathryn Fitzmaurice, Barry Wolverton, Nick James, Samantha Vamos, Meg Medina, and Crystal Allen. Jennifer is co-author of the picture book Piggies in the Pumpkin Patch.

LAUREN STRASNICK is a graduate of the California Institute of the Arts MFA Writing Program. Her debut novel, Nothing Like You (Simon Pulse/S&S, 2009), was an RWA RITA award finalist in two categories, Best First Book and YA Romance. Her second novel, Her and Me and You (Simon Pulse/S&S, 2010), was an ALA Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers. Then You Were Gone (Simon Pulse/S&S), Lauren’s third book, will be out in January 2013.

AMY GOLDMAN KOSS Amy teaches writing and has written 14 teen novels including The Girls, Poison Ivy, Side Effects, and The Not-So-Great Depression, as well as a few picture books and many LA Times Op-Ed pieces. She lives in Glendale, California, with her pets, family, and phobias, where she can usually be found hunched over, scowling at the computer.

ANN STAMPLER This March saw the release of Ann Redisch Stampler’s fifth picture book, The Wooden Sword (Albert Whitman, 2012), and her debut young adult novel, Where It Began (Simon & Schuster/Simon Pulse, 2012), a story set in contemporary Los Angeles. Her picture books, primarily Eastern European folk tales, have been Sydney Taylor honor and notable books, a National Jewish Book Award finalist and winner, an Aesop Accolade winner, Bank Street Best books, and PJ Library selections.  Ann’s next YA novel will be published by Simon Pulse in the summer of 2013, and her new PB by Kar-Ben in the spring. Ann has two adult children, and writes in the Hollywood Hills, where she lives with her husband and their dog.

JEN JONES DONATELLI is an author and journalist based in Los Angeles. To date, she has authored more than 50 middle-grade non-fiction books for tweens and teens for publishers including Enslow Publishing and Capstone Press. In addition, her fiction series Team Cheer is being released in trade paperback this July, with four more books to follow later this year. Along with writing books, Jen is also a seasoned freelance writer and regularly contributes to print and online publications including LA Confidential, Natural Health, San Francisco, Variety, MSN, E!Online, Thrillist and many more.

Secrets of a Children’s Bookseller: Hot YA and Holes in the Market

Continuing my review of popular children’s books this holiday season, today I’m gonna talk about YA. I’ll cover the individual titles that were really popular and mention a few common request that I had a hard time fulfilling (that’s right – holes in the market that need to be filled!!).

Hot YA Titles this Holiday Season:

  • Legend by Marie Lu (this is a debut novel and it’s doing really well!)
  • Blood Red Road by Moira Young
  • The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
  • The Clockwork Prince by Cassandra Clare
  • The Hunger Games by Susan Collins
  • Apothecary by Maile Meloy
  • Inheretance by Christopher Paolini

Holes in the Market:

The following are common requests that I had a hard time fulfilling for customers (please write these books so we can sell them!!).

  • Sport books for girls. Usually this is for a customer who has a daughter who isn’t into romance themed books. This reader plays sports herself and wants to see strong female characters!
  • Dance books for girls. I did have Bunheads (Sophie Flack) and Audition (Stasia Ward Kehoe) on our shelves to recommend. However, some customers wanted dance books without too much romance, or dance books that were not about ballet.
  • Books with Latino protagonists (this goes for both girl and boy books). We need more!! Please write them!