Friday, May 05, 2006

TLA Conference Notes, Day 3: Session on Youth Publishing Trends

(Day 3 was April 28, 2006)

Title: "Hot Trends in Youth Publishing."
Presenters: Michael Green, author, Penguin Young Readers Group; Lisa Q Matthews, senior acquisitions and development editor, Peachtree Publishers; Liz Szabla, editorial director, Scholastic Press.

(Note: These are the names listed in the program. However, the panel had a gentleman representing Scholastic, and there was at least one other writer, so it changed, but I was not able to get the names).

I got to this panel by serendipity. I wanted to go to a different panel, but it turned out that it was an hour later. So, this was on, seemed interesting, so why not learn a thing or two while I wait for what I had planned? It was definitely worth it. The session was an open panel discussion, led by a moderator asking questions to the panelists.

Changes in YA readers.
  • They are a visually oriented audience, so stores have to be visual and capture readers quickly. Also, writers need to dive "headforth" into the story. This is not new, but it seems more important these days.
  • Kids are "wired" to multitask. Their constant overscheduling may preclude reading.
  • Kids write more, though it is things like text messaging. Overall though, there is more comprehensive use of words, better exemplified by things like blogs. The "notebook under the pillow" has gone online.
Changes in books (layout, the writing, etc.).
  • Many editors look for voice, also plot, a good story. Voice is the most intangible part of a story. This has remained a constant.
  • Success makes the bar go higher. Look at the market. For instance, there is so much good YA fantasy out that it is harder for a new writer to break in. Publishers now have larger backlists, so need new stuff.
The "line" of YA is going down now to tweens from 10 years old to about 14 years old.

Technology and constructing the book.
  • Trim sizes adjust, nicer trade paperbacks. Hardbacks seem to be going back to having book jackets. This is cyclical overall. Overall as well, kids are flexible in their choice of reading material in terms of book style.
  • Children's lit. has gone to "bottom line" more, thanks in large part to authors like J.K. Rowling.
Book covers.
  • For 6, 7, 8 year olds, cover of a book is a major factor in choosing a book according to research. As a result, editors will work, sometimes aggressively, with authors and artists to create that perfect cover. Covers need to look great. Pretty much all publishers are doing good covers these days; it is very competitive in this regard. Also, covers are shown to salespeople and book group buyers, who do wield quite a bit of power in making decisions on covers. This is a reflection of the market and the more "bottom line" approach.
Finding the next big thing.
  • Publishers may sometimes try to orchestrate this, but a lot is still looking for a good and well-written story. Sometimes, the book may fall within a trend, say fantasy. Sometimes it will not, say an art-based mystery.
  • A lot of novels are going over to graphic novel format.
  • Editors not only read books. They need to live the YA world: what movies are being watched, what are the kids blogging, text messaging and putting on places like MySpace, what activities are they interested in, so on.

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