The State of the YA Market
As I was thinking on what to post about, I was thinking on the topics that never quite get old. And of course... that brought me to the state of the YA market.
I became an agent in February of 2010 (I'm coming up on my three year agentversary!), paranormal was going strong, and the big wave that everyone saw coming (and everyone wanted a part of) was dystopian. The Hunger Games and Catching Fire had, well, caught fire, and the third in the trilogy, Mockingly, was still six months away. Naturally, publishing wanted to capitalize on that, and they were snapping up dystopians left and right.
In the first six months of me being an agent, some of the "major deals" on Publisher's marketplace were:
Maggie Stievfater's final book in her paranormal series that began with Shiver
Beth Revis' debut Sci-Fi Trilogy, Across the Universe (as an aside—I was an intern when I saw her first query and knew INSTANTLY it was a hit, and forwarded it to the agent I interned for)
Gabrielle Zevin's Dystopian Trilogy
Veronica Roth's Divergent (a highly successful dystopian series...)
Anna Carey's Eve trilogy, pitched as Romeo & Juliet meets The Hunger Games
...the list goes on and on. Sci-Fi, Dystopian, Paranormal romance. As a new agent, I only had to look at the last few days deals on Publisher's Marketplace to know that everyone was buying anything under the "speculative fiction" umbrella. Which was a bummer for me, as I was more drawn to realistic fiction.
There's a saying in publishing—one that sounds a lot like "I didn't love it enough to take it on." Which basically means... if I didn't love it enough to lie down in the road for it, I'm going to pass. And that's because of the work that goes into each client, the finite amount of time every agent has, and the very real possibility that we may not be able to sell a client's book despite everything we do. So we only take on books we can't NOT take on. Which brings me back to where the market was 2.5 years ago. And the fact that, despite my desire to succeed... I signed a whole lot of realistic fiction, at a time it was really hard to sell. And guess what? My first sale as an agent was Jessica Martinez' Virtuosity. At auction. I was so concerned that the market might go against us that I only sent it to 6 publishers, hoping to get some editorial feedback and such rather than launch it widely. And then four of the six offered.
All of this is a long way of getting to the point—where the market is, and why you should know where it is...and why you should ignore it as much as possible. I always say you should know the market so you know what you're up against, and then you should write what you love. If you have six ideas and four of them are tough but two of them are timely, that can play into your decision. But as always, don't chase trends.
SO, that disclaimer out of place....
There are things that are VERY hard right now. Things you MUST do VERY VERY well, or it won't work. You can't be "Good" you have to be "OMFGWTFBBQ" good if you are writing the following:
[box type="alert"]REMEMBER THIS IS FOR YA, NOT ADULT[/box]
Paranormal romance, most especially books featuring vampires, werewolves, ghosts, mermaids, sirens, shapeshifters, demons, angels, zombies, etc.
Dystopians. Anything that looks like America with civil wars, no electricity/gas, post-apoc, bubbled or walled cities, etc.
Characters who come into special abilities/discover they are super heroes/etc—if your character realizes she can read minds, see ghosts, predict the future, fly, control electricity/water/etc... that market is TOUGH and has been done a lot.
Romances in which the hero/heroine fell in love in the past... died...and have found each other again.
Things that ARE working:
Contemporary, MOST ESPECIALLY with a hook. Think: Thirteen Reasons Why, anything by Ally Carter, etc. The usual "coming of age" or romance is tough, but if you can find a way to zero in on a big hook, you're in GREAT shape.
Self-published crossover YA with BIG sales numbers (IE: Abby Glines)
Epic Fantasy—I'm seeing more success stories like Pub Crawl's own Throne of Glass
Horror/Thriller. Editors are looking for this like crazy.
Sci-Fi—particularly if it blends Sci-fi with something else—a murder mystery, a thriller, etc.
Crossover YA. This is hard, becuase you can't write it thinking "I want to appeal to adults and YA equally!" Write a damn good YA novel and adults will love it, but it has to happen organically.
Perennial things that are never BOOM hot, but always seem to work
Intense romance for YAs... MANY of these do really well, but the genre in general doesn't go as gangbusters as some of the flashier types
Verse novels—these are sort of "sleeper hits" when they do well. They still can be tough, but there are certainly success stories in this subset of YA.
Remember, with ANY book, it's all going to come down to the writing. A less timely book with knock-down writing will win people over, but a hook won't sell if the writing can't back it up. So... thoughts on any particular YA market? Happy to expand upon the above for those with questions.