It's fairly common for the books in a middle-grade fiction series to be released in quick succession—think 39 Steps, Big Nate, and Warriors—but it's less the case for YA series, with their more complex themes and higher production values. But publishers are finding, particularly with series that lean on cliffhanger endings, that the wish to accommodate eager fans and hold on to them as readers is making for some different strategies.
HarperCollins, for example, has published nine volumes in its Pretty Little Liars teen mystery series and seven volumes in its Vampire Diaries series since 2007, as well as four volumes since November 2010 in a Vampire Diaries spinoff, Stefan's Diary. And Harper also published the three volumes in Lauren Conrad's L.A. Candy series between June 2009 and October 2010.
"They're pretty contained stories with cliffhanger endings," editorial director Farrin Jacobs explained of all the series HarperCollins has rushed into the marketplace. "We didn't want to force people to wait a year to find out what happens."
Similar thinking is behind FSG Books for Young Readers' decision to speed up production halfway into its Escape from Furnace series of five YA novels by Alexander Gordon Smith. Rather than one release each year, the frequency will be one every six to eight months. Lockdown, the first novel in the series, was released in October 2009, followed by Solitary in December 2010; Execution, the last novel, will be released in October 2012, 14 months after Death Sentence and eight months after Fugitives.
"The series found a readership right away," said Jon Yaged, president of the Macmillan Publishing Group, describing each volume as having a cliffhanger ending leading directly into the next book. He compares the novels to serials. "We were getting feedback from our accounts and from our sales force that fans were eager for the next one and wanted to read it quickly. It was a leap of faith; we felt it could work," he said.
The Escape from Furnace novels are being published simultaneously in hardcover and in e-book format, with a 60,000-copy initial print run per title. The series was published originally in the U.K. by Faber & Faber, a fact that influenced FSG's decision to speed up the U.S. production in the middle of the series. "There was less risk, because the series already had traction," Yaged said. "We had the opportunity and the incentive to accelerate the schedule."
While FSG decided to speed up production in response to demand from the market, two other publishers are taking even greater risks by launching their YA series with a succession of rapid-fire releases of the entire series. The specific reasons behind the decisions to fast-track publication vary with each series, but there are some common denominators, including publishers' desire to capitalize upon the current hot category of dystopian YA spawned by The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. And they insist that fast-tracking is what YA readers, who are used to instant gratification in almost every aspect of their culture, expect.
"Teens want everything now," noted Cindy Loh, editorial director for Sterling Children's Books. "If we have the books already, why not give them to readers? We're feeding [their] appetites, thanks to an accelerated schedule."
Sterling, which has dubbed 2011 the "year of the tiger," is launching Splinter, its YA fiction imprint, by releasing this year all three novels in its Tiger's Curse trilogy: Tiger's Curse (Jan.); Tiger's Quest (June); and Tiger's Voyage (Nov.). The books are published in hardcover, with simultaneous e-book publication. Tiger's Curse had a 250,000-copy first print run; the print run for Tiger's Quest is 150,000.
"We wanted to make a splash with our new imprint," Loh said, describing Splinter as an "unconventional boutique" imprint. "We didn't want to do the same old thing. In order to be successful, you have to shake it up and do things differently."
Loh admitted that the fact that the series' author, Colleen Houck, had already written all three novels and had previously self-published the first two as e-books made it easier to rush them into publication, including Tiger's Voyage, which clocks in at 500 pages. While Loh declined to disclose sales figures for the self-published editions of Tiger's Curse and Tiger's Quest, she claims that Houck's self-published novels found "great success on Kindle," and the movie rights have already been optioned.
While Loh described the self-published editions as "very different" from the Sterling editions—"quite a bit of polishing and editing was done"—she added that technological advances have made it possible to publish a book every six months. Sterling may try to fast-track future YA series in its Splinter imprint, including Gregg Olsen's Empty Coffin series, which will debut with Envy in August. "We're hoping Betrayal [the second volume] will be published before a year goes by," Loh said.
Penguin's schedule for its four-volume Relic Master science fiction adventure series by Catherine Fisher, published under its Dial imprint, is even more ambitious than Sterling's. The Dark City was released in May, followed by The Lost Heiress in June, The Hidden Coronet in July, and The Margrave in August. The books are being published in hardcover with a combined 300,000-copy print run.
"With the movie coming out, Catherine Fisher's profile is high right now," explained Shanta Newlin, publicity director at Penguin Young Readers Group, referring to buzz surrounding the film adaptation of Incarceron, based on Fisher's 2007 YA science fiction/fantasy novel. The film, starring Taylor Lautner, is scheduled for release in 2013.
"The fans are excited, and we want to tap into that momentum and keep it going," said Newlin. Penguin will publish one book a month during the summer, when teens have more time to indulge in pleasure reading. "It keeps their interest piqued," she said. "Our plan is to keep the books front and center all summer."
An added bonus: each volume will include a different map, with readers encouraged to collect all four maps. Placed together, the maps reveal the entire world of Anara, the setting for the series.
That the Relic Master series was published in the U.K. between 1998 and 2001 as the Dark Crow series definitely facilitated a fast-track publishing schedule in the U.S. "We were in a unique position where we could design any publishing model we wanted to," Newlin noted. "If you are a fan of these books, wouldn't it be great if you could read the next one in a month? It's almost like an old-fashioned serial."
For their part, booksellers contacted by PW appreciate the reasons that publishers would want to fast-track some YA fiction series, but at the same time, they expressed ambivalence about cutting down on the lag time between releases. Ann Seaton of Hicklebee's in San Jose, Calif., said she "loves" that many of these books are being released during the summer months, when teens have more time to read them and can do so in quick succession, rather than having to wait. But, she added, she wouldn't want fast-tracking to become the prevailing trend in YA fiction series publishing. "It's sort of like Christmas, when you are waiting for the next book. I wouldn't want that to totally go away," she said.
Ann Krusek, a bookseller at the Magic Tree Bookstore in Oak Park, Ill., echoed Seaton's sentiments. "The wait creates more anticipation," she said. She pointed out, however, that if there is too long a wait between books in a series for middle-grade or YA readers, those readers may lose interest. "Readers might advance past that level of reading before the series finalizes," she said. "Readers will wait years and years for a series like Hunger Games or Harry Potter," she explained. "But you can't guarantee that about every series."