Cecilia de la Campa, Writers House
As with the past several fairs, there are no obvious or overwhelming trends to take over the conversation, which means individual books will have room to shine. We’re having a lot of success with historical fiction and alternative history, which is a testament to the quality of the writing, since these genres have traditionally been difficult for translation licensing. Fantasy and elaborate worldbuilding are creeping back into YA (after several years of contemporary, realistic YA reigning at the fairs), and humorous, illustrated series continue to be highly sought after for middle grade lists.
Marietta B. Zacker, Nancy Gallt Literary Agency
I see more and more writers and illustrators exploring different methods of sharing stories with the youngest readers. As an example, the graphic novel format in picture books and early readers has become more commonplace. In the YA and middle grade space, it is refreshing that we are seeing so many authentic characters that accurately reflect the world we live in, especially since these protagonists’ journeys include both issues dealing with diversity and issues that don’t. We’re also seeing a lot of historical elements in novels... not historical novels, but snippets of history helping to frame a story.
The Chinese market has been very aggressive—Japan and Korea as well. In Europe, I would say that Germany has been strong. And they have been looking at and buying in all age groups and in all genres, including nonfiction and picture books.
Kate Schafer Testerman, KT Literary
I’m seeing a lot more high-concept and very hooky YA pitched. It’s not enough for a book to be a smart contemporary with a great story; it has to have a solid hook that’ll come across well in a 30-minute meeting when I might be pitching four or five great projects. And whereas the international market for YA can fluctuate between being sold to teens, as it is in the U.S., and finding a place on an adult list, middle grade is still very solid for children’s publishers. When you’ve got 15–20 meetings a day, you have to be able to describe a book quickly and memorably. A beautifully written story may sell here, and may go on to sell abroad, but it’s not going to get the quick response of “I need to see this!” that is the goal of a Bologna meeting. That’s why you need a strong hook.
Michael Bourret, Dystel & Goderich Literary Management
I like to think that while we all have an eye to the market, we’re also trying to shape the market. What’s been heartening to me is that We Need Diverse Books [the grassroots nonprofit] has clearly had an impact on authors, and I’m seeing submissions from people with such diverse backgrounds. Even better, they’re eager to explain how their backgrounds have shaped their work. That’s the most exciting thing for me.
Szilvia Molnar, Sterling Lord Literistic
Lately it’s been less about one topic or one series working everywhere, and more about the hook or the voice grabbing publishers’ attention. We have been having a lot of success with contemporary YA that tackles realistic issues, but that still comforts and entertains the reader, a kind of cozy or humorous realism. For middle grade, it’s been adventure series or standalone stories that have fantastical elements, with a voice that charms the reader from the very first page. Across the board we’re having success with gripping retellings of classic stories and an invigorated interest in science fiction.
Aside from film tie-ins and standing bestsellers, the markets have been pretty divided; Brazil, for example, is acquiring LGBTQ-themed books, while Europe is still not as on board. And we’re excited to have something for everyone. We’re seeing what’s happening in the news trickling down to YA and also noticing hard issues that would normally be in YA getting tackled in middle grade. It will be interesting to see how these issues that are such sensitive topics here in the U.S. fare in the global market. We’re also having more conversations than ever before about our picture book list—both backlist and frontlist—which is exciting.
Fiona Kenshole, Transatlantic Agency
Happily, I’m continuing to sell picture books. Many editors are still asking for the smart, funny Klassen-esque story, as they were last year. Chapter books seem to be in a bit of a rut. Is there still room for a sweet tale well told at this level, or do they all have to be a bit shouty? In fiction, the sick-lit wave has passed. I’m getting asked for magical realism—something I think few writers can actually carry off well. And indeed, I get sent a lot of things that are called magical realism that are just good old low fantasy. I’m excited about the commitment to diversity and diverse voices. I do hope that this is a fundamental change, not a passing trend.
Ginger Clark, Curtis Brown
On the YA side, I’m seeing a lot of fantasy that feels very accessible to readers who are not dedicated to fantasy. The setting is similar to somewhere on our planet (like China, or Scotland, or Mexico), usually with a female lead. I’ve also seen an increase in leads who are not straight white teenagers, which is heartening. On the middle grade side, I’ve seen—and sold—more books that have a family or sibling story at their hearts. I’ve also seen a bit more middle grade fantasy and science fiction than in previous years.
Globally, I’m seeing a lot more interest in YA fantasy. I’ve also had some good contemporary YA sell recently. And there are a couple of territories that have asked about dystopia, which is interesting, but there’s not a huge demand for it like there was five years ago. Spanish-language sales are recovering, which is wonderful.
Catherine Drayton, InkWell Management
There’s definitely a move towards more diverse stories and authors. The exciting trend for me is that publishers are actively acquiring debut authors from around the world, rather than just thinking locally. Teenagers are politically engaged and understand that the world is interconnected, and fortunately authors no longer have to be local to generate a following. The best literary YA or middle grade can come from anywhere in the world, and initiatives such as the new Simon & Schuster imprint Salaam are a great step forward. I’m also seeing some wonderful magical realism in both YA and middle grade that will work well in global markets.
Last year was groundbreaking for the graphic novel. Noelle Stevenson, Brooke Allen, and their cocreators won two Eisner Awards for their popular Lumberjanes series, and Stevenson was the youngest finalist for the National Book Award for Nimona. Graphic novels won Caldecott, Printz, and Newbery Honors. And the current National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature is Gene Luen Yang, an acclaimed cartoonist. It’s a good time for sequential storytellers and their readers—you have more choices, more variety of stories than ever before.
Sarah Davies, Greenhouse Literary Agency
In YA, I’m seeing a ton of fantasy, but the bar is set high, with so much already published (and some big bestsellers), though there still seem to be deals to be done if the writing, the hook, is different and wonderful enough. And real world meets magic/fantasy—the two combining in some way—still has scope. Also, anything with diverse characters, cultures, backgrounds, or by diverse authors is hugely interesting. Generally, YA feels quite tough, and other agents have said the same. We’re all wondering what the next big thing is and trying to find those special manuscripts that sliver between the cracks of the vast amount already out there.
I seem to be seeing more that feels fresh and different in MG, though it doesn’t always cross cultures—again, with some touch of diversity, authors from different backgrounds. I’m doing well with layered stories that have great voice and charm, but also deeper meaning. I think there’s also a good market for original and rich fantasy worlds and adventure.
In terms of foreign markets, we are doing lots of business with Turkey these days, and interesting newer markets. We’ve just done our first deals with Iran and Georgia—the former Soviet Republic, not the U.S. state!
Holly M. McGhee, Pippin Properties
We’re definitely seeing a huge upswing in licenses to China across all genres. There’s also very good demand for middle grade series, especially where there are at least two books published with more in the pipeline. Picture books are hot again, and we’re seeing foreign licenses from around the globe on a very regular basis.
Allison Hellegers, Rights People
Domestically, I’ve been seeing a lot of middle grade novels, both series and standalones, which are classic feeling and emotionally driven, especially ones that include diverse characters. For both middle grade and YA, unique story formats (maps, drawing, journal entries, multiple POVs, etc.) seem to be especially desired—across all genres. Authors themselves have become more of a selling point than ever before. The authors who are the most active on social media and at events are really connecting to readers, and vice versa, so this is weighing heavily on publishers’ choices.
In the foreign arena, we are still seeing a lot of interest in contemporary YA, and there is a trend towards speculative fiction—especially sci-fi—that is futuristic but not dystopian. Nothing is better than a big, sweeping love story for a teen, no matter the genre, and it’s refreshing that LGBTQ characters are frequently included in these novels without them being labeled “issue books.” Middle grade novels across the board are selling well, but they usually sell closer to publication after we have reviews and awards, whereas our big YA novels are more likely to sell during the fair. Foreign publishers also love hearing that there’s been a film or TV sale regardless of the age or genre.
Joanna Volpe, New Leaf Literary & Media
The trends I am seeing aren’t related to genre but instead are related to voices and platforms. We’re seeing a much wider variety of perspectives in the stories we’re submitted, which is welcome and refreshing. This is no doubt a response to We Need Diverse Books, as well as a number of other cultural conversations going on right now that center around diversity. The other trend I’ve noticed relates to platform, and more specifically, taking one form of entertainment and engagement and turning it into a book. YouTubers, animators, Instagram celebrities—these content creators are extending their brands into books in really fun and creative ways.
Our YA export sales have increased across our titles, in both hardcover and international paperback editions. Our authors now directly engage with fans all over the world on a daily basis, and those fans don’t want to lose out on getting the book as close to release as possible.
Molly Jaffa, Folio Literary Management
These days I think it’s not so much about what’s trending—it’s about what’s good. It’s about the novel they actually want to read on the plane home, not the one that feels like homework. You can’t fake that kind of enthusiasm for a book; publishers know when we’re passionate about something and take note.
We’re also more and more open to tailoring certain titles to particular foreign markets. I have conversations with foreign publishers who love most of a book, but want to know if edits can be done to suit their market in certain cases. We’re always happy to discuss that, with the author’s approval. If a proposed edit is true to the author’s vision for the book but will make it more appealing to a particular foreign readership, then we want to make that book as accessible as possible.
Steven Chudney, The Chudney Agency
In the U.S., I’m finding that dystopian isn’t in demand, and there still lots of interest in all kinds of middle grade. For YA, I can’t say I’m being asked for anything in particular, but realistic contemporary is still selling well, though I am noticing lots of YA deals where the plot has some kind of otherworldly element to it. I’m selling a smattering of everything across the board—and my submissions are also reflecting that. Many editors are mentioning diversity, of course, yet I’m still not seeing as many deals to match publishers’ rhetoric.
In Europe, we’re also seeing an uptick for middle grade novels, especially in Italy and France. YA in France has to have a strong topic and good characters. In Germany, emotional novels are very attractive now: friendship, family, and love are hot topics in all genres. Emotional, moral, or social issues are really heating up, as long as they are woven into a convincing story with strong, real characters. Fantasy and adventure still work, but only with established authors (i.e. Rick Riordan). Middle grade editors are always looking for good fantastic stories in a world that feels real.
Molly Ker Hawn, The Bent Agency
We’re seeing more submissions from diverse voices, which is really gratifying. Our agents have been very vocal about wanting to discover more projects from underrepresented communities, and I think we’re being heard. And overall, we’re seeing an uptick in short rhyming picture book texts, middle grade fantasy/magical adventures, YA high fantasy, and YA “issue books,” especially the really heavy ones.
I think middle grade is getting a little harder, because so many publishers filled up on it over the last year or so; conversely, there seems to be more openness to YA than at this time last year. I’m seeing more willingness to look at YA science fiction, as well as nonfiction across all ages.
We’re doing really well with YA and some middle grade in Europe—Germany, France, Italy, and Spain have been very robust for us, and we’ve seen a rise in Eastern European sales. Middle grade is trickier, because every territory has its own cultural taste, and English-language writers don’t always write to those tastes. But we’ve had some success internationally with middle grade fantasy and contemporary recently, and when a foreign publisher does go for an English-language MG project, we know they’re willing to splash out.
Brenda Bowen, Sanford J. Greenburger Associates
What's hot: There's an inflection point in the culture right now. Thanks to the efforts of We Need Diverse Books and others, publishers are looking for diverse voices. In addition to that, Pax has reminded everyone that kids love old-fashioned storytelling. Now everyone wants to find a beautifully crafted book that packs a moral and emotional punch.
Internationally, money flows to one-off YA books with crossover appeal. My YA clients have had international success with books that fit that bill: My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga (19 languages) and Steve Jobs: Insanely Great, by Jessie Hartland (15 languages). In picture books, we continue to see territories picking up the Little Elliot series by Mike Curato (11 languages), because heartwarming is heartwarming everywhere.
Sara Crowe, Harvey Klinger, Inc.
I am heartened and excited by how many diverse stories I am seeing, and that are selling. Though not a new trend, I think that contemporary YA continues to be having a moment, here and abroad, especially stories with louder plots and romance. I am seeing more middle grade submissions than ever—realistic, adventure, fantasy—and I also am seeing more magical realism and books with sci-fi elements for both YA and middle grade.
Kerry Sparks, Levine Greenberg Rostan Literary Agency
In terms of YA and MG, I’ve been continuing to see a lot of realistic contemporary with a twist or some surprising element in my in box and selling, as well as a fair amount of accessible fantasy that is very grounded in a familiar world. I’ve also been seeing a lot of great historical fiction in both MG and YA. But what is most exciting or appealing now is what has always been—great writing by an author who has career chops, not just one idea, and characters and a voice that are surprising and familiar in a meaningful and moving way.
Edite Kroll, Edite Kroll Literary Agency
In the U.S., I have found editors less willing to buy stand-alone younger fiction (e.g. chapter books) and looking for problem-focused, “hot” YAs, e.g. novels that can be placed under the umbrella of diversity, such as immigration. For some reason though, this umbrella does not include fiction about African-American middle-class life. Looking internationally, I have found more publishers looking for (and buying) classic picture books, e.g. Charlotte Zolotow, from France and Italy to mainland China and Thailand.
Taryn Fagerness, Taryn Fagerness Agency
I would say that contemporary YA remains a strong category, but the bar is set very high. A nice love story is hard to sell; there has to be something special, some unique hook, or a refreshing voice. I’m seeing a cautious interest in more fantasy and science fiction YA, but publishers want “big” books in these categories. I think the YA market is extremely saturated, so publishers are looking for something that stands out, something totally amazing and unique. That’s hard to define. Everyone hopes (and hypes) that they have it.
Jill Grinberg, Jill Grinberg Literary Management
I’m still looking for—and selling—what I’ve always been drawn to: original voices and authentic stories. Beautifully written, of course! I have always loved creative nonfiction as well as fiction, and categories like narrative nonfiction and memoir would seem a direct follow-on from the industry’s focus on building a body of literature that is as authentically diverse as the world we live in. I’m wary of specific trends given that by the time they’re named they’re on the way out, but I think really breaking open the whole category of nonfiction for a younger readership would be exciting and have staying power.
Editor's note: Additional agents have been added to the original version of this story.