I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the number of major
deals in the YA space is down.
There are the occasional blockbuster deals that everyone hears
about—Tomi Adeyemi’s seven-figure deal for her debut,
Children of Blood and Bone (Holt, Mar. 2018), blew up YA
Twitter when it was announced—as well it should. It was an
extraordinary deal for an outstanding novel. That evening I
heard from agents who were beating themselves up for having
missed out on it. But those kinds of deals are becoming rare, as
publishers are more cautious with the money they’re laying out.
The simple fact of the matter is that YA sales don’t seem as
strong as they were five years ago. Partly, the market is
flooded—everyone saw money to be made and publishing did
as publishing does, and everyone threw themselves at what
already seemed to be working. The question now, though, is
what’s going to work next? Because the market has become
spread too thin. While there are still blockbusters to be found,
from The Hate U Give (HC/Balzer + Bray, 2017) to This Is Where
It Ends (Sourcebooks, 2016), the overall number of books selling
in large quantities seems to be down. There are crossover hits,
but there are fewer of them than there were a few years ago,
especially in the series space.
The good news is that the market self-corrects. When houses
overpublish, everything suffers, but then they pull back and the
market renews itself. There are periods of waxing and waning.
And while we’re in the midst of a relative lull, there’s every
reason to believe that more cautious purchasing on behalf of
publishers now will lead to a renewed vibrancy in overall sales
a year or two down the line.
THE STATE OF YA
Editors, agents, and authors take the pulse of current trends in teen literature
BY SUE CORBETT
Ever since the Age of YA dawned with the release of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight (Little, Brown, 2005) people have anticipated that, eventually, the wave would crest. Maybe it has finally happened.
Agents report sales are, if not exactly soft, then softer. The
bestseller lists evidence no predominance of a certain kind of
hit, no clear trend other publishers can grab onto and run with.
Teens (and their parents) continue to buy books—no one is
happier to see John Green return with a new novel than book-
sellers preparing for the gift-giving season—but editors and
authors report the whole marketplace feels slightly preoccu-
pied. “A couple of years ago we might have cited other forms
of media as distracting from book-buying, but now I think
we’re also seeing core teen readers becoming more politically
aware and active,” says Pam Gruber, who edits YA at Little,
Brown Books for Young Readers. “To be clear, I think that’s
great, it just makes me wonder if teens see reading and buying
books as a distraction when they—and all of us!—need to be so
hypervigilant about the news.”
That is not to say that those working in YA view the out-
look—short or long-term—as gloomy. Bright spots abound.
Graphic novels, which were not a factor a decade ago, continue
to stake their claim, carving out an ever-widening slice of the
YA pie. And books by members of once-neglected social groups
occupy multiple spots on the bestseller lists, and the debate over
who gets to tell which story continues to roil on social media,
where YA is discussed, dished, dissed, but most of all, prized.
The teenagers who cut their teeth on Bella and Katniss are now
adults reading Alexie and Anderson, Cabot and Collins, Yang
“The readers who were teens when Shiver and Looking for
Alaska and The Hunger Games first hit are now in their twen-
ties—and they’re still not just reading YA, but excited about
YA,” says David Levithan, v-p and publisher at Scholastic.
“Clearly, we’re doing something right.”
We asked editors, agents, and authors to reflect on what’s
happening in YA right now, where the challenges are, and
where the category seems robust. What they revealed is a
segment of publishing that continues—a lot like the teens it
serves—to push the envelope.
Jim McCarthy, an agent and vice-president at
Dystel, Goderich & Bourret, thinks the YA market may have