Harlequin is set to broaden its presence in the young adult market. Harlequin Teen, a fiction line, debuts in August with Rachel Vincent’s My Soul to Take, the first installment of the Soul Screamers series. Another paranormal tale, Intertwined by Gena Showalter, is rolling off press in September. The imprint will initially consist of trade paperbacks, hardcovers and digital publications, and it will encompass a spectrum of genres including fantasy, contemporary, historical, science fiction and--no surprise--romance.

Harlequin, which in 2007 launched Kimani Tru, a line targeting African-American teens, considered creating a YA program close to a decade ago, according to Margaret O’Neill Marbury, the company’s editorial director of single title imprints. “We at that time decided to remain focused on adult fiction and our core business,” she explains. “But we feel that now is the right time to start a YA program. We view younger women as a natural extension of our core readership and we felt that offering a broad range of teen stories, not strictly romance, was the best way to approach the YA audience.”

While acknowledging that the current YA market is competitive, Marbury cites as positive points the constantly changing makeup of the teen readership (“with just a short passage of time, there is a brand new crop of readers”), as well as the shelf life of many books for teens. “We observed that many YA fiction titles, including some I remember enjoying as a teen, have remained in the marketplace much longer than we would have expected,” she notes.

One adult who is still an avid reader of YA books--even after office hours--is Natashya Wilson, Harlequin Teen senior editor, who is responsible for the line’s acquisitions. She says that most of the books she has signed up have been acquired through agents, but that she also considers proposals submitted directly by authors. “We are building a terrific, fun young author base,” she observes. “We’re seeing a lot of submissions from younger authors, who tend to be most in touch with how the YA voice sounds.”

Wilson, noting that Harlequin Teen will operate separately from Kimani Tru, says the new program will grow gradually. She estimates that, after the two 2009 releases, the line will publish between 12 and 14 titles in 2010 and 18 in 2011, leveling out at an annual output of approximately 24 books. Though the list’s target audience is girls ages 12 to 18, the editor says, “We may look at expanding the age range in the future and perhaps publish some books geared toward boys. And of course we are aiming to publish books that have strong crossover potential, since Harlequin has such a huge audience of women fiction readers.”

Harlequin Teen is already reaching out to readers through a dedicated Web site, through which a panel of teens--numbering more than 250 at present--offers input on story ideas, cover concepts, logos and the like. “Through this site we are able to generate discussion about what teens like to read and keep in touch with what our audience is interested in, which is obviously very important to us,” Wilson says.