[A pre-Bologna Book fair overview of what agents, publishers and book buyers are looking for - this first appeared in The Bookseller sometime last week.]
Children’s and YA fiction, while not immune to economic downturns or ancient Mayan end-of-the-world prophecies, are not suffering as much as other areas of publishing. It is, for the most part, seeing a resurgence in sales and the mood ahead of this years Bologna Children’s Book Fair was cautious but high.
Editors are looking for different things each year but there is always the hunt for something that little bit special. And of course, there is the hunt for the next big wave, what will follow on from vampires, paranormal romance and dystopian futures?
The rise and rise of dystopian fiction continues to reach bookshops and the release of the Hunger Games film adaptation shows that it has no sign of slowing. The success of new series, such as Ashes, Divergent and Bumped, the repackaging of older series, Scott Westerfield’s Uglies trilogy, and upcoming releases, including Emma Pass’ Acid will see 2012 laden with dark futures.
Becky Stradwick, Fiction Editorial Director with Random House, highlights that this year editors will be seeking something different. “There are only so much dystopian/end-of-days/post-apocalyptic scenarios a girl can take. I quite fancy a few fairy tales. Something different.”
Publishers have admitted to acquiring to capacity on dystopian fiction, though submissions continue to flood in-trays. While vampire fiction and paranormal romance isn’t as sought after, there is a hunt for something to fill that romance and fantasy void.
Simon and Schuster editor Venetia Gosling says that “YA is still huge for us and we are looking to build our home-grown YA talent, as well as acquiring the best US authors and novels. Romance is normally key, but I’m still looking for my weepie book too – I don’t know if I’m especially hard-hearted, but nothing’s made me cry just yet… so I’m looking for contemporary relationship and real-life stories.”
The hunt for the next big YA feature is well and truly underway with editors looking for a surprise. As Stradwick states, “I would love someone to surprise me, just bowl me over with a brilliantly told story. Preferably one that defies all the recent trends.”
A more likely follow up from dystopian futures and steampunk may be science fiction but very few are willing to hedge their bets in a particular direction just yet. Fiction Editorial Manager with Macmillan Children’s Books, Emma Young is looking for a “beautifully written YA novel which doesn’t (repeat DOESN’T) have to be part of a trilogy.”
Samantha Smith, senior editor at Atom Books, wonders if “there is a trend at all this year?”
Smith says that “the trend so far seems to be more focused on what publishers aren’t looking for: no paranormal and no dystopian. The one positive thing I am seeing is a return to classic teen fiction: those wonderful, girl-meets-boy, coming-of-age love stories where the world isn’t literally ending but it certainly feels like it is.” Emphasising the success of the standalone novel in the last twelve months are bestsellers such as John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars and RJ Palacio’s Wonder.
The Bologna Book Fair is still the home of illustration and with picturebooks continuing to see a renaissance; publishers are, now more than ever, willing to read quirky submissions.
Deirdre McDermott, picturebook publisher with Walker Books is “constantly looking for expressive, amusing art and words. Bold and brave picture books that appeal to adults as much as children.”
With bestsellers like Jon Klassen’s I Want My Hat taking the bestseller charts by storm, the focus is now very much on developing new author/illustrator brands – like Oliver Jeffers, Sharon Rennta and Chris Haughton. There are always exceptions to every rule and the excitement around the announcement of a new book by duo Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler is already building with Scholastic promising to show some of the new book, Superworm, at the fair.
McDermott notes that “international artistic collaboration continues to be very important too. China and Japan are home to extraordinarily talented artists - so I’ll definitely be keeping my eyes peeled in the Asian halls this Bologna.”
As with countless previous years there is a desperate hunt for strong, unisex, adventure for middle readers, to reach 8-12 year olds, that Derek Landy hit.
Greenhouse Literary Agent, Julia Churchill, underlines the search: “the world has plenty of dark YA, and that means I’ve got my eye open for young and fun. That might be really funny series, heart-warming and classic heartland fiction, or 9-12 fantasy adventure for both boys and girls. With every book I seriously consider I ask myself ‘Does the world need it?’. In the case of a lot of the darker YA, the answer is ‘no’ for the time being, but there is a huge hunger for quality debuts at the younger end of the market.”
Editors are especially looking for adventure series with strong characters and
funny and original concepts. Amanda Punter, Publishing Director for Puffin Fiction believes that “the UK is experiencing a resurgence in quality fiction for middle-grade readers after the dominance of YA. We are always on the lookout for strong writing in this area - whether it be a series or stand-alone novels such as Jacqueline Wilson’s upcoming sequel to Five Children and It.
The success of series such as Rainbow Magic and Beast Quest has every publisher seeking to reach the 5-8 market with a large hit. While not every series works the age range is still the weakest category of all children’s fiction with no new brand to tackle the reign of Horrid Henry, Dirty Bertie or Judy Moody.
Children’s buyer for Easons, David O’Callaghan, highlights that “television and cinema are playing a greater role in shaping the tastes of readers. This is set to grow as Gossip Girl, Twilight, Vampire Diaries, Secret Circle and Pretty Little Liars is being joined by movies of The Chaos Walking Trilogy, Ender’s Game, Divergent and The Mortal Instruments series.”
New shows coming from the US, such as Carrie’s Diaries and The Selection, will have continued life on bookshelves and O’Callaghan points out, “as long as these pieces of popular culture are adored on TV they have a huge positive effect on book sales.”
Publishers are certainly taking comfort in safe bets this year with celebrity books, TV tie-ins and the rise of historical fiction following the success of Downton Abbey.
Gosling believes that historical fiction “is going to have a resurgence, not least with the launch of our own Philippa Gregory YA, but also with the success of Downton Abbey and the subsequent wave of nostalgia we’re all being swept up in.”
The release of Cora Harrison’s Debutantes, published by Macmillan, has Emma Young particularly excited. “It’s all about big, ancient houses stuffed with treasures and secrets! This gorgeous new series is set in the roaring 20s - what is not to love about a group of sisters finding a trunk of old Edwardian dresses in the attic and transforming them into trendy flapper frocks, in their quest to win the heart of an eligible bachelor?”
This year, more than ever, digital is on the tip of everyone’s tongue. How will kids, teens and parents tackle the advent of the iPad and the continued growth of digital readers?
Nosy Crow’s Managing Director, Kate Wilson, says that “with more than 19,000 apps in the UK app store alone, creating really stand-out apps is more and more important. In the US in particular, children’s ebook sales are growing, so we’re be exploring opportunities
for “straight” digitisation too, beyond what we do already, which is to publish our fiction simultaneously in ebook and print form.”
Reports from Amazon show that sales in YA ebooks are growing faster than any other genre, without slowing print sales, with teenage readers choosing to read both in print and on screen. While picturebook sales, books bought by adults, are primarily still bought in print.
New YA titles are reaching digital sales of more than 20 per cent this year as well as seeing back catalogue sales rising as readers collect authors in a new format.
Wilson’s Nosy Crow are now only looking at buying world rights on books for 0 to 12 year olds that will work in both in print, ebook or as apps.
With hand-me downs now more likely than ever younger readers are more likely to be using smartphones, tablets and eReaders. The market for readers is expanding too – YA has one of the largest demographics of any publishing genre. Crossing from 10 years and up to readers continuing readers in their late teens and twenties to readers beyond 30 who are as dedicated to series fiction.