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.
Carolrhoda Lab's Launch List
Andrew Karre, editorial director of Carolrhoda, Darby Creek, and Carolrhoda Lab, emphasizes that this new imprint will span "the whole spectrum of YA fiction." Lab's debut fall list, he says "is older YA with darker themes. The spring 2011 list will be younger and a little lighter." The line launched with Draw the Dark by Ilsa J. Bick, Steve Brezenoff's The Absolute Value of -1, and The Freak Observer by Blythe Woolston, as well as a paperback reprint, Traitor by Gudrun Pausewang. He calls Draw the Dark, to which German rights and audio rights have been sold, "an angsty novel with overtones of historical fiction and dark fantasy. It's emblematic of the experimental spirit of this imprint," implied in Lab's name.
Karre expects that the new line will release six to eight new titles annually, plus reprints. Although there are "certain elite manuscripts out there that are very expensive," he notes, "there is also much of high quality that can be had more modestly, which gives publishers an opportunity to develop talent." A significant number of these books are penned by authors in their teens or 20s who easily relate to their audience, he says, since "they are young enough to remember very clearly what it's like to be in high school."
The editor is also encouraged by many bookstores' expansion of the space devoted to the genre. "I think the growing YA market has provided an entrée for smaller publishers to get books into those sections," he says, crediting Barnes & Noble for "accommodating smaller houses early on in the YA renaissance by buying their books and taking some risks."
Sterling Takes Its YA Bow
Sterling Children's Books steps onto the YA stage in January, when it publishes the first title under the Splinter imprint, so named to reflect the nature of its list—and its audience, says v-p and publisher Frances Gilbert. "We want the imprint to be edgy," she says, "to go on its own path, just as teens splinter off from what they've always known to forge their own way."
Splinter's inaugural release is Tiger's Curse, a fantasy-romance by previously self-published author Colleen Houck, which has a 250,000-copy first printing. Sequels Tiger's Quest and Tiger's Voyage will follow later in 2011. "We're publishing all three books within a single year so readers don't have to wait," Gilbert says, "and we're releasing them simultaneously in hardcover and e-book editions, with the paperbacks to come in 2012."
Gilbert explains that the imprint's goal is to publish books "that speak to the young adult experience and are written with the greatest amount of respect for what kids are going through." Recalling what she refers to as "the golden age of YA fiction in the 1970s, when S.E. Hinton, Robert Cormier, and Paula Danziger were writing groundbreaking books that understood the lives of readers," Gilbert welcomes the chance to enter the current YA spotlight. "The energy level in this genre is crackling," she says.
Splinter will be what Gilbert calls "a small boutique list, with no set quota for the number of books we'll publish each year." Two additional series—one a thriller, one a romance—are due in 2011 and 2012, respectively.
A Multicultural Teen Imprint from Lee & Low
Tu Books—so named for the inclusive connotations of the word "tu," meaning "you" in some languages and "many" in the native Japanese dialect of Ainu—will release its inaugural list in fall 2011. The imprint, which is the brainchild of editorial director Stacy Whitman, will cover science fiction, fantasy, and mystery, and will feature characters of color and non-Western settings.
The inaugural releases in the line, which will add six books annually, are Joseph Bruchac's Wolf Mark, a paranormal thriller; Galaxy Games by Greg Fishbone, a space adventure; and Tankborn by Karen Sandler, a dystopian SF novel. Whitman observes that teens' loyal devotion to fantasy, and the growing crossover appeal of YA titles, are positive signs for YA publishers. "Teens are definitely our core audience," she says, "though we know that many adults are looking for what you might call cleaner reads or more straightforward adventure. I believe that people who love fantasy and science fiction care more about the story than [what age group] a book is published for."
Orca Continues Commitment to YA
Orca Book Publishers, in Victoria, B.C., has a double-pronged publishing program for teens: Orca Teen Fiction and Orca Soundings, a line of novels for reluctant readers whose 70 titles have together sold more than one million copies. "Our niche, in both lines, is contemporary stories that are accessible and compelling," says publisher Andrew Wooldridge. "We haven't done a vampire book and I don't think we will."
Among the featured titles on Orca Teen Fiction's fall list are Death Benefits by Sarah N. Harvey, starring a boy who cares for his eccentric grandfather, and Leanne Lieberman's The Book of Trees, the story of a Jewish-Canadian girl who falls in love with a non-Jewish tourist while spending the summer in Israel.
Wooldridge remarks that the number of adult authors who "see the potential in the market" and are writing YA fiction and publishers "jumping on the young adult bandwagon" have contributed to what he sees as "a crowded field." Yet he cites a key benefit to the upswing: "I have been seeing a lot of higher quality submissions as children's books become more popular to write. It seems they are no longer the poor cousins of adult books, and maybe with this larger market, there is more respect for people who write well for teens."
Kensington Steps Up Its YA Presence
Though not new to the young adult arena—its Dafina Books has been publishing multicultural YA novels since 2006—Kensington will expand its offerings next spring with the debut of K Teen. The imprint will release four titles in 2011 and approximately one book per month in subsequent years. "We are not tying ourselves to a strict publishing schedule," reports Kensington editorial director Alicia Condon. "Our priority is high quality writing."
Condon notes that with K Teen, "We're hoping to attract a crossover market, and that will come into play in the ways we are packaging and positioning the books." The editor, who moved to the house from Dorchester a year ago, says, "I am known for pushing boundaries, and YA right now is an area bursting with new creative talent, innovation, and energy. By definition, teens are always testing the rules: how many can they get away with breaking? I'm excited by the possibility of trying out new things."
One book that Condon says "definitely pushes boundaries" is Torn by Erica O'Rourke, which K Teen will publish in July 2011. In this novel, a teenager must choose between two guys and two equally dangerous worlds: mob-connected Chicago and an underground society in New Orleans.
Zondervan: A Shift in the Balance
The makeup of Zondervan's YA list, which debuted in May 2008, is changing somewhat, reports senior v-p and publisher Annette Bourland. "In the past, I would say our list has been 50% chick lit, 25% paranormal, and 25% adventure fantasy," she says. "Going forward, since chick lit has toned down, the list will be 50% to 60% paranormal, 30% fantasy, and the rest contemporary fiction."
Bourland estimates that 70% of Zondervan's YA titles—there were 13 published this fiscal year and the same number are slated for next—is aimed at girls. Melody Carlson, whose Carter House Girls series has sold well for Zondervan, wrote last May's Premiere, first in the fashion-themed On the Runway series. A highlight of this fall's list is The Healer's Apprentice by Melanie Dickerson, a loose retelling of the Sleeping Beauty story. Successful boy-targeted books include those by Bryan Davis, whose Dragons of Starlight debuted last spring with Starlighter and will continue in January with Warriors.
Contributing to the robust health of the YA market, observes Bourland, is "teens' willingness to spend their discretionary funds on books, and the fact that word-of-mouth by text-savvy teens can help a book take off like a firestorm."
A Mix of Fiction and Nonfiction at Groundwood
"Young adult books have been a fundamental part of our list from the start," says Patsy Aldana, publisher of Toronto's Groundwood Books, founded in 1978. The house publishes five or six YA titles annually, including fiction that is "on the literary side," and a line of nonfiction books, the Groundwood Guides, focusing on such issues as climate change, gangs, and sexuality.
"Our books have always spoken to young people's interests and real issues that are important to them," Aldana observes. "Authors today have to be conscious of the fact that the lives and reading habits of young adults are changing, and that many do not have the time to read extra-long books."
Two novels dealing with real-life contemporary issues are highlights of Groundwood's fall 2011 list: Tilt by Alan Cumyn, which Aldana calls "a coming-of-age novel about a teenage boy's obsession with basketball—and sex," and Money Boy by Paul Yee, featuring a 16-year-old Chinese immigrant who is kicked out of his house because he's gay. Also due that season is Suffer the Children by Pamela Porter, a novel about a family of orphaned children, set during the Great Depression and WWII.
Issue-Oriented Novels Anchor WestSide Offerings
Evelyn M. Fazio, publisher of WestSide Books in Lodi, N.J., emphatically states what will not appear on her house's list: "No fantasy, no romance, no dragons, no vampires. We publish books that kids will relate to based on their own experiences. We don't want them to feel alone if they are going through difficult times." Indeed, the scenarios portrayed are not always happy. "Characters in our books are runaways, are suicidal, and are abused," she says, "but we also like the stories to have humor and hope."
Launched in February 2009, WestSide publishes eight to 10 hardcovers annually and may issue paperback reprints of selective titles in the future. One of its bestsellers is Scars by Cheryl Rainfield, a March release now in its fifth printing, described by Fazio as "an edgy story about a teen who's been abused sexually and who cuts herself to help cope." Like other WestSide titles, this novel is partially based on the author's own experiences: the slashed arm in the jacket photograph belongs to Rainfield.
Tapping into the boy market, WestSide has published two successful books by Mark Fink, Stepping Up and The Summer I Got a Life; Fazio sees this as a growing niche. "I've heard from teenage boys that they aren't finding much they like to read, so I'm actively seeking those books," she says.
Chronicle Extends Its YA Reach
In fall 2009, San Francisco's Chronicle Books expanded its children's publishing program into the YA arena when it released Michelle D. Kwasney's Blue Plate Special, the story of mothers and daughters told from three perspectives. The house has since published several other YA novels, and expects to issue 10 to 12 annually.
"We're interested in contemporary and historical fiction that has distinctive personality," says editor Julie Romeis. "We want to publish books that not only have great storylines, but make beautiful visual packages." Romeis notes that Chronicle will publish books in other genres as the list grows, such as its first YA nonfiction title, Dan Eldon: Safari as a Way of Life by Jennifer New, a biography of this photojournalist due next spring. Rounding out the spring list are two novels, How I Stole Johnny Depp's Alien Girlfriend by Gary Ghislain, about a boy who encounters an alien who believes she's Depp's soul mate; and Spinning Out by David Stahler, Jr., starring two slackers who land leads in the school play.
Medallion Gives Voice to Teenagers
Who knows better than teens what teens want to read? Nobody, decided Medallion Press, an Illinois publisher of adult genre fiction and nonfiction. In December 2011, the company will debut its Ya-Ya imprint—short for "young adults writing for young adults"—with editorial director Emily Steele at the helm.
The line's launch title is The White Fox, a fantasy with science fiction and romance elements, written by James Bartholomeusz, an 18-year-old British college student. "I think we're prime for new voices in publishing, and we're excited to give young writers a platform so they can reach readers and grow as writers," says Steele.
In addition to Ya-Ya, Medallion is publishing other YA titles. Scheduled for March is Zombies Don't Cry by Rusty Fischer, featuring a girl who wakes up as a zombie after being struck by lightning. Angelique, an illustrated paranormal romance due in October 2011, will be published as an adult title, but Steele expects it to have strong YA appeal. It will be released as an interactive e-book, and is written by Medallion's CEO, Helen A. Rosburg, in collaboration with her college-age daughter, Ali DeGray.
Arte Público's Piñata Books Spotlights Latino Community
"We launched Piñata Books in 1994, with a mission to publish engaging literature for children and young adults that accurately and positively portrays the Latino community," says Carmen Peña Abrego, Arte Público's marketing coordinator. "Our role is to continue fulfilling the demand for culturally relevant books for teens, particularly since the U.S. population is growing more and more diverse."
The imprint releases five or six YA titles annually. Featured on the fall 2010 list is A Good Long Way by René Saldaña Jr., a novel about three troubled teens in a South Texas border town. The spring 2011 list includes You Don't Have a Clue: Suspenseful Latino Tales for Teens, edited by Sarah Cortez, and an updated edition of Nicholasa Mohr's Nilda, the story of a Puerto Rican girl coming-of-age in New York City, which has a new preface by Alma Flor Ada.
Running Press Targets YA Readers
Running Press, which had its first big YA success in 2006 with Cathy's Book, has recently found a niche with paperback anthologies. Edited by Trisha Telep, The Eternal Kiss: 13 Vampire Tales of Blood and Desire had sold more than 50,000 copies since fall 2009, reports publisher Chris Navratil. Kiss Me Deadly: 13 Tales of Paranormal Love, edited by Liz Miles, was released this fall. Two additional anthologies, Telep's Corsets and Clockwork and Miles's Truth & Dare, are due in spring, and Navratil says more will follow. Purple Daze, Sherry Shahan's free-verse novel set in the mid-1960s, is another highlight of next spring's list, notes Navratil, who is encouraged by the expanding displays of YA titles in Barnes and Noble stores and mass market outlets.
Navatil welcomes what he describes as "the different, very fresh writing" of today's young authors, including that of 21-year-old Jennifer Knight, whose Blood on the Moon, a paranormal tale involving werewolves, is due in fall 2011. A yet-untitled sequel will follow in 2012.
Cinco Puntos Press Titles Portray Latino Teens' Experiences
In 2005, Cinco Puntos Press published its first YA novel, Benjamin Alire Sáenz's Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood, for a dual reason. "We had been talking to Ben about doing a YA book for us, and we kept getting calls from librarians and teachers asking if we had any books for Latino kids," explains Lee Byrd, who founded the company with her husband, Bobby (son John has since joined the team). Over 25 years, the press has released many other fiction and nonfiction books for this audience, she says, aimed at "opening up new avenues of thinking, while also providing mirrors for Latino/Latina teenagers."
Due in the spring are a paperback reprint of Sáenz's Last Night I Sang to the Monster, about a teenage boy dealing with addiction; and This Thing Called the Future, a novel by J.L. Powers that centers on a South African girl who is dealing with her ill mother. Both books aim to fulfill the publisher's mission of "introducing new understandings to teens."