I loved David’s recent post on the five things about the business that surprised him and I agree on all fronts. Then I got to thinking about whether there was anything in particular about writing YA that surprised me (since I try to bring the YA perspective to the table whenever I can). While there’s a lot of overlap, I thought I might piggy-back off of David’s post and add my own thoughts about what surprised me in publishing YA. Most of these are just my observations and, like any other thoughts about this industry, there are always exceptions to the rule.
1. The time — there is a lot of it between selling and book release and in casual conversations with adult authors I’ve found that YA seems to (more often) have a longer lag time between sale and release [for an overview of this process, click here]. I sold my first book in October 2007 and it didn’t come out until March 2009 and that was considered on the short end of time for my friends (close to 2 years is standard). If I sold a book today it likely wouldn’t come out until fall 2013 (if I were lucky) and more likely would come out in 2014. Contrast that with a romance writing friend of mine who is still drafting her fall 2012 book.
Part of this is because the editing of YA books is often very intensive. All editors and all authors are different in terms of the level of editing they require but on average there are at least three rounds of editing before the book goes into production: a large scale story edit (or, more often, two), a line edit (or, more often, two), and then the copy-edit. Then the book gets type-set and sent through for another copy-edit/proof. It’s not at all uncommon for YA authors to rewrite large chunks of their books several times during the editing process. I don’t think this is exclusive to YA, but I’ve definitely talked to a few adult authors who were surprised by this schedule when they moved into writing for teens.
2. Marketing — as David said, a lot rests on the author’s shoulders. This is pretty much true across the board for all genres and all authors everywhere and not exclusive to YA at all. I’ve definitely been part of discussions about whether YA authors tend to be more focused on social media because that’s where so many of the readers are, but I get the impression that, again, this isn’t exclusive to YA. There’s also a very large “book blogging” community of teens (and adults) who review YA books online. Again, this may not be exclusive to the YA world, but these bloggers can carry a lot of influence and are passionate about what they do.
There definitely seems to be a much larger focus on school visits and marketing to libraries. School visits seem intuitive — that’s where so many of our readers are. Because so many high schools are focused on testing it can be hard to fit into their schedule so more often than not I find myself visiting a lot of middle schools (which took some getting used to as I tried to figure out exactly what age range my book would be appropriate for). A lot of YA/MG/PB authors I know actually make much of their living through these kinds of paid visits.
At the end of the day, Kalayna hit nail on the head in her comments — in both YA and adult publishing, there’s a ton of time spent on the business and NOT writing.
3. Ebooks — this is an interesting and constantly shifting landscape for both YA and adult authors. There are a lot of very successful YA authors who started (or are now focused almost wholly) on ebooks (Amanda Hocking is a great example). In the comments to David’s post there was discussion on this topic so I don’t have much more to add. Only that whenever I hear someone say, “Amanda Hocking was so successful at it so I’ll give it a try,” I want to say, “Yeah, well, Stephanie Meyer was so successful but do you expect to be her if you dash off a YA?” There are breakout stars in every genre and every format — just because the ebook landscape is still so new doesn’t mean anyone should expect easy success.
Anecdotally it seems that, while sales of ebooks are growing for YA authors, it’s still not as big of a chunk of sales as print books. There’s a lot of discussion about why this might be, but one guess is that teens just don’t have ereaders on the same scale as adults. They’re still expensive and we haven’t hit a point where enough parents are willing to hand their kids another $100 piece of technology that could be easily broken. Personally, I think this landscape is shifting rapidly and every time a new generation of ereaders is released it means parents are handing down the older versions to spouses and kids. So it likely won’t be long before teens are reading electronically in the same number as adults (lots of teens read on their phones — this makes me feel old when I think “how can they spend so much time with such a small screen!?”).
3b. Speaking of format, I think it’s much more common for YA authors to be released in hardcover and then in trade paperback a year later. My impression is that for other genres hardcover is the exception, rather than the rule whereas it’s the opposite for YA. At the same time, the price point of a YA hardcover is lower than that of an adult hardcover (and the royalty rate for authors is different as well — YA tends to start at a lower royalty rate and rarely escalates as high as what is common in adult). Part of this emphasis on hardcovers may have to do with the importance of libraries (hardcovers tend to last longer in circulation), but that’s speculation on my part.
4. The importance of libraries. Before I sold, I had absolutely no idea how important libraries and librarians are in the YA world. I heard YA authors talking about it, but didn’t understand until someone explained to me that, according to the ALA, there are just under 10,000 public libraries in the country (~16,000 if you count each branch separately), and just under 100,000 school libraries. Now think about what it does for your sales if every library bought a copy (or two, or three) for their library?
As an adult author, that could add up to an additional 10,000 sales. As a YA author that could add up to over 100,000 in sales (because you can be carried in both the school and public libraries). Not only that, but school librarians are an amazing wealth of information — I can’t count the number of times I’ve visited a school and watched a student ask the librarian what they should read next and then watched that librarian spring into action. They’re amazing! Furthermore, librarians make up most of the major award committees for kids books (Printz, Newbery) and each state has its own book lists that schools often use for summer reading, classroom reading, or just to figure out which books to purchase for their libraries.
In the kids universe, librarians and libraries = full of win!
4b. Conferences. There are a lot of library/school conferences (ALA but also individual states like Texas Library Association (TLA), as well as National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), etc) and authors are often invited to attend. This can be a fantastic opportunity to meet with teachers, librarians, and to market yourself and your book.
At the same time, I also think that the YA community is small and (I like to think) helpful and inviting. Because of this, many authors become friends with each other, with librarians, teachers, bloggers, and readers. To this end, I’ve gotten the impression that networking that’s purely about marketing isn’t as effective. So while these conferences can be a great place to network and market yourself, the true benefit is in becoming part of the community and making friends. After all, everyone there is passionate about books which means they’re all awesome
5. Flavor of each house. This isn’t exclusive to YA at all, but before I sold I didn’t really understand the distinct flavor and style of each publishing house and imprint. To me, they were kind of all the same. Perhaps I pay closer attention now or maybe I just know more authors at the difference houses, but it’s much clearer to me now how different each house can be in terms of advances paid, marketing provided, edginess allowed, etc. Some authors use this knowledge to better target their books, but most I know just use it to understand why a project might get rejected from one house but picked up by another.
6. Percentage of adult readers. I think there’s a common misconception that YA books are mostly read by teens. Perhaps that used to be the case, but with the popularity of Twilight, Hunger Games, Mortal Instruments, Vampire Academy, etc., there have been a lot more adults hanging out in the YA section. While I’m sure it varies from author to author, I’d say that at least half of my readers at any given event are adults (many of them appear to be in their 20’s/30’s).
As I said at the top, there are a lot of similarities between the business of writing for kids and for adults but there are also some differences beyond just your target audience. It’s still a great gig and I absolutely love it Hopefully this post helps give an impression of the landscape — let me know if you have any additional thoughts or questions!