Zondervan, the evangelical Christian unit of HarperCollins, has announced its entrée into the YA market. The house plans to publish 10 titles per year, with the first books coming this spring. Established authors Melody Carlson, Bryan Davis and Bill Myers will launch the line.
Alicia Mey, v-p of marketing for Zonderkidz, cited a 2006 study by the Barna Group showing that among the 24 million teenagers in the U.S., 81% have attended church for a period of at least two months, 50% attend weekly, 75% discuss matters of faith with their peers, and one third participate in a Christian club on campus. “So there is a huge interest in spirituality among teens,” she said.
She also cited “a booming general trade youth market,” with teens estimated to spend $170 billion a year on entertainment, including books. There have been significant increases in sales of YA books over the past several years, according to the Children’s Book Council Sales Survey, ranging from more than 13% in 2001 to more than 34% in 2005. “Our own research at the Youth Specialties conventions in 2006--where 12,000 Christian teenagers attended--showed us that 40% read two to three books a month, 23% read four or more books a month,” said Mey.
The books will span a variety of genres, including chick lit, fantasy, adventure and supernatural. Chick lit in particular draws plenty of interest from teen girls. “But a lot of what’s out there from secular publishers is stuff that Christian parents and the teens themselves would find offensive--too edgy and raw. We wanted to offer an alternative,” Mey added.
Though publicity materials for the new line made it sound evangelistic, Mey said this would not be agenda-driven fiction. “The first and foremost purpose is to offer a great read in this format as well as good Christian content. Some of the readers will already be Christians, and they are looking for that.”
Mey said that five authors in the category account for more than 70% of sales, “and we’ve signed up three of them.” In May, Bryan Davis is launching a new suspense series called Echoes from the Edge with Beyond the Reflection’s Edge; Carlson is launching the Carter House Girls series with Mixed Bags and Stealing Bradford.
Zondervan will do “the best of traditional marketing, but 75% of our spending will be for online promotion, because we know these kids are online,” Mey said. There will be a dedicated “micro-site” on zondervan.com, and they will use blogs, MySpace, GodTube and YouTube to drive traffic to the site. There will be special merchandising in Christian stores, “because they will offer all of the books,” she said, and B&N and Borders will carry the best-known authors.