The continuing prevalence of pale,sexy vampires (and the rise of related comic sub-genres), the growth ofteen-focused dystopian fiction and the transformation of the children'spublishing niche into a big advance—along with big financial pressure—publishing category, were just some of the topics covered by a panel of agentsat Publishers Weekly's "Beyond Twilight: What's Hot in the Teen Market inPublishing and Hollywood."
Held at the Random House officesin Manhattan, the panel was co-moderated by PW's children's editor DianeRoback and news editor and deals columnist Rachel Deahl. The well-attendedevent ranged freely across the YA and children's book and film market,touching on the growth of middle-grade fiction, paranormal genres, the use ofpublic domain works (like Alice in Wonderland and Sherlock Holmes) and theobvious and not so obvious ways that Hollywood studios and book publishers have an impact on the category. But the panel quickly got to the overriding theme of the morningsession—are book publishers only interested in signing the next Twilight-like megaseller in a teen marketplace thatseems perpetually fixated on vampires?
Rebecca Sherman, an agent atWriters House, conceded that, yes, indeed more vampire lit is coming—but it'svampire lit with "a spin." Sherman pointed to forthcoming properties like Blood Thirsty, a title that features "a pale scrawny kid and arumor that he's a vampire that makes him very popular with the girls." Shermanpointed to the growth of comic subgenres, including the forthcoming novel Fat Vampire by Adam Rex and more mashups that include comic riffson werewolfs and zombies.
Claire Lundberg, a literary scout for MGM andUnited Artists, acknowledged that the film studios continue to see "a lot ofparanormal; a lot of vampires, angels, zombies and a fair amount of werewolvesare still getting optioned. I'm tired of it but I'm not sure the kids are."
Of course both industries areinterested in what's popular—what will sell to teens—and Stephen Barbara, anagent with Foundry Literary + Media, said that maintream YA titles were notbeing completely edged out by paranormal blockbusters. But he also made theobvious point that "it's easier to sell a big book with a hook thancoming-of-age realism." Barbara also emphasized the country's demographics, saying"there's a huge number of teen readers," and pointed to their enthusiasm. "It'san age group that is not afraid to love a book." Barbara said he expects to seemore "big across the board, multi-platform franchises."
Indeed, in light of the impact ofblockbuster series like Harry Potter and Twilight, the discussion focused onthe growth of the children's blockbusterbook and the attendant big advances and multi-book deals. At his agency, Barbara said, "I used to be the guyover in the corner doing the little kids' books deals." No longer. Laterin the discussion he acknowledged what that means: "less freedom and more peoplepaying attention to us like the adult side, and more pressure to succeed."
While book publishers and moviestudios have a symbiotic relationship in creating megaselling franchises,Lundberg noted that the two industries have very different needs. Studios are leery of series publishing: "they're risky if the first book doesn't do well," she said,while Sherman emphasized, "We don't push series but it's nice to sign more thanone book if you're offering a substantial advance. It's hard to put everythingon one book." Lundberg noted the difficulty of getting studios to payattention to book publishing numbers that seem small to Hollywood. "100,000copies—a thrill for publishers—just isn't impressive to a movie studio." Sowhile Hollywood offers "possibilities," said Sherman, the potential for filmsshould not be the criterion by which a book is judged. "Hollywood is fickle,"said Lundberg without surprising anyone in the audience.
The discussion alsotouched on the rise of dystopian novels like The Hunger Games and The Road and the role that blockbuster films like Avatar and a forthcoming Hunger Games filmadaptation will have on the popularity of the genre among teen readers. Noting thedepressing plot of The Hunger Games, Lundberg said the industry was "not sure how the film will do. Kidskilling kids? It's a Hollywood non-starter," causing a librarian in the audience to respond,"But my teens like depressing," to general laughter.
Pointing to the popularity ofgraphic books like the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series and The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Sherman predicted a greater impact of "illustrated books for older readers that were not graphicnovels," while Lundberg pointed to the continuing influence of graphic novelson forthcoming films—noting in particular the manga/pop culture mashup ScottPilgrim vs. the World, and the superhero/adventure sendup Kick-Ass, both beingreleased this summer.
Indeed the discussion finally drewout Susan Katz, president and publisher of HarperCollins Children's Books, whowas in the audience and who addressed a few topics, including big advances (they are "nopredictor of success, some of our lowest advances have gone to our biggestsuccesses") and digital publishing for teens ("We go where our readers go. If they readon their phones we go there").
And she also spoke to the pressureto publish books similar to whatever blockbuster title is dominating the bestseller lists. "Be it HarryPotter or Twilight, and many other books will be written around them," Katzsaid. "We don't ask for these trends. What really happens is that someonewrites something fantastic that hits a nerve, and word-of-mouth buildsmomentum."