There is no shortage of media coverage about boom times in the young adult market. Looking beyond the houses responsible for many of the bold-faced headliners at the top of bestseller lists, one finds an enthusiastic group of publishers, some newcomers to YA, whose authors are making impressive contributions and helping to satiate the reading appetites of Twilight- and Hunger Games-frenzied fans.
From these publishers comes word of thriving YA programs, fueled by a bumper crop of talented new writers—many of whom are startlingly young—and a sizzling double-edged crossover market involving more adult authors penning YA novels and more adult readers buying YA fare. Editors claim they are not filling their lists with derivative stories (though vampires and dystopian landscapes are surely in evidence), but are signing up books in an increasingly diverse range of genres. Here's a look at some of these publishers' offerings and observations.
Romantic Themes, Digital Initiatives for Sourcebooks Fire
"From what I've seen, a lot of what's happening in the YA category has filtered down from the adult romance genre," says Leah Hultenschmidt, senior editor of Sourcebooks Fire, which launched last spring. Formerly editorial director at Dorchester Publishing, Hultenschmidt also acquires adult romances for Sourcebooks' Casablanca imprint. "Vampires were big in adult romance 10 years ago," she says. "Twilight reinvigorated them and suddenly vampires were everywhere. After adult romance shifted to demons and then to fallen angels, both then cropped up in YA."
Hultenschmidt anticipates that Fire's list will grow to between 20 and 24 titles a year, and that most books, if not romances per se, "will have an element of boy-girl relationship." She emphasizes the importance of "evocative covers that scream ‘pick-me-up,' " such as the cover of Joy Preble's Haunted (a February 2011 sequel to Dreaming Anastasia).
Given the competition in the crowded YA market, Hultenschmidt observes, "We're all going to have to plan very carefully so this doesn't become a boom-and-bust situation, which happened with chick lit and erotica. Luckily there is greater scope within the YA genre now with so many subjects being covered."
The editor plans to continue to tap into the market in teen-savvy ways, which Fire did in September with iDrakula by Bekka Black. Told through text messages and e-mails, this novel was published in paperback and e-book editions, with a companion app (that has had 20,000 downloads) delivering text messages from characters. "We have to keep it fresh for the teen market," she says. "If we're not constantly innovating, we're going to lose the market."
Harlequin Teen Mines the Crossover Market
Since its debut in August 2009, Harlequin Teen has grown its list gradually and will publish 16 books this year, 18 in 2011, and between 20 and 24 the following year. "We don't want to expand all at once," senior editor Natashya Wilson says. Kimani TRU, Harlequin's multicultural YA fiction line, currently issues between six and eight titles annually.
Wilson observes that the growing crossover adult readership for YA books is "greatly expanding the potential of any book and connecting it to a broader range of readers than ever." Authors on her list who have been successful in both markets, include Gena Showalter, whose Unraveled, the latest in the Intertwined series, reached the New York Times bestseller list in September, and Julie Kagawa, author of the Iron Fey series, which adds The Iron Queen in February.
"It's absolutely wonderful," says Wilson of the spate of young authors now penning books for the YA audience. In February, Harlequin Teen will release Here Lies Bridget by 20-year-old Paige Harbison. This debut novel, described by Wilson as "Mean Girls meets It's a Wonderful Life," has been optioned for film by Galgos Entertainment. Wilson has also signed up Legacy by 17-year-old Cayla Kluver, a historical fantasy due in July 2011.
Five Years of YA at Flux
Flux, an imprint of Llewellyn Worldwide, has had a year worth celebrating. Its 2010 sales represented an increase of 90% over 2009, and in September the YA imprint had its first New York Times bestseller, Simone Elkeles's Return to Paradise, which now has 80,000 in print.
Brian Farrey, Flux's acquiring editor, says that the imprint will bump up its annual output from 24 to 30 titles beginning in spring 2011, and will continue to offer a diverse sampling of YA titles. "I'm not looking for the next vampire book or the next fairy book. I'm looking for authors whose writing gets me excited," he says. "I think the really strong boom of YA writing out there now may be an offshoot of the Internet. Writers have more access to each other and are forming support and critique groups online, which may be helping them develop new skills."
One new writer Farrey finds exciting is Karen Mahoney, a British author whose first novel, The Iron Witch, is an urban fantasy due out in February. And Farrey is adding his own voice to the YA mix: his debut novel, a work of realistic fiction entitled Chasers, will be published by Simon Pulse next summer.