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Book-publishing trends have always reflected themes prevalent in culture and society, but this week’s issue demonstrates just how much today’s headlines are driving not just conversation but also book acquisitions and partnerships.
So opens the first Hot Sheet of November, where Anderson and Friedman
touch on the types of YA fiction agents are seeking—novels with themes and plotlines inspired by current events—and we note the emergence of “cli-fi,” or climate-change fiction.
Given the Hot Sheet is tilted towards the self-publishing community that in itself is a useful reminder that, for every radical indie crying “We don’t need publishers and agents!” there are any number more who see publishers and literary agents as valuable tools to career fulfillment.
The Latest Trends in Young Adult Fiction
It’s a crowded market out there; agents discuss which books rise to the top of their slush pile.
Slush pile? Many in the self-publishing community left that behind a long time ago, and have done very well without it, no question, but for others the slush pile is still on the agenda.
After all, even if we are doing well in our home market as self-publishers there’s every chance we are not doing so well in other markets, or in other formats.
A quick glance at the bestseller lists on Amazon, for example, show that most indies who are self-publishing successfully have trad pub history or current engagement alongside. And in “trad pub” there I of course include those who have a deal with an Amazon imprint, APub being in every sense of the word a traditional publisher.
But let’s get back to the Hot Sheet take on what agents believe is trending right now.
Throughout the current decade, YA has been the darling category of the traditional publishing industry, a key growth area (at least before audiobooks took off) offering crossover appeal. Nielsen studies suggest more than half of all YA is read by adults.
Which is something worth dwelling on. I mean, W.T. Flip does YA mean anyway?
Well, obviously “young adult” in its literal sense, but actually that began as just a PC term for teens. The kind of twaddle the head teacher would reel off in a feeble attempt to gain some faux cred with his or her older pupils.
And for some obscure reason it got picked up by some booksellers and publishing professionals looking to gain faux cred with readers.
But nowadays it’s pretty meaningless and just covers anything that has a young protagonist and pretty much anything can and is roped into the genre if a publishing professional thinks it will help grab an extra sale.
Harry, Hermione and Ron were clearly not teenagers, let alone “young adults” when the first Harry Potter was published, and was rightfully classified as children’s fiction.
Nowadays it seems if one of the central characters is out of nursery school and not married then the book is “YA”.
But back to the Hot Sheet.
When a Big Five publisher allows a year to go by without a release from a blockbuster YA author (think Suzanne Collins, Veronica Roth, Stephenie Meyer, Cassandra Clare, Nicola Yoon, John Green), it will typically experience a revenue decline.
So what do agents look out for? The Hot Sheet offers us some insights via Sue Corbett of Publishers Weekly, who asked a dozen agents about trends in YA.
Sweet, fluffy rom-com. Agents say the Netflix movie To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (based on a trilogy by Jenny Han) has resulted in demand for more like it. Agent Thao Le tells PW she especially wants light-hearted stories with diverse characters.
Strong social-justice themes. This includes both nonfiction and novels that speak to activism, environment, and politics.
Mental-health topics. Teens face a myriad of challenges—everything from depression to disordered eating. A new novel by Jennifer Yu, Imagine Us Happy (Harlequin Teen), deals with such issues, including a toxic relationship.
Issues-driven plotlines. In short: novels should reflect today’s headlines and accurately capture the contemporary issues that teens face, such as sexual harassment and assault (#metoo), the drug epidemic, and even healthcare.
Diverse authors. Nearly every agent and publisher is seeking to diversify children’s publishing—and not just via acquisitions, but in staffing. Agents pointed to a specific need for more Native American and Latino stories.
I’m not going to abuse fair use with the full list but will add here,
Realistic fiction still dominates (sorry, fantasy writers!). Those working in science fiction and fantasy may need to consider how to ground their work in the real world, give it a contemporary feel, and address social issues teens grapple with today (e.g., sexism, violence, racism).
…Most agents still rely heavily on what comes in cold through the mail: the query letter.
Other stories in the Hot Sheet include,
Scribd Partners with The New York Times on a New Subscription Offer
In the US ebook subscription landscape, Scribd is the biggest (and only viable) competitor to Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited. Scribd has deals in place with major publishers and offers a deep backlist catalogue of Big Five publishing titles, while KU is mostly populated by mid-size and small publishers, Amazon Publishing titles, and indie authors.
I would add here that there are niche subscription services in the US like the children’s ebook subscription Epic! (exclamation mark part of the brand) that are not only viable but very successful.
Anyway, the story here is that Scribd teamed with the New York Times to offer a great joint subscription deal for less than the regular price of a subscription to the NYT.
Most importantly for us here is that the Hot Sheet, presumably having the latest confirmed figures, says Scribd has more than 800,000 subscribers and half of those are outside the US.
Where? See below. But first from the Hot Sheet, this particularly caught my eye:
Earlier this month, Scribd CEO Trip Adler spoke to Porter in a Publishing Perspectives Talk at Frankfurt Book Fair on the International Stage. When pressed on how his offering has survived when so many reading subscription services—including Oyster—have failed, Adler stressed a broadly flexible model, describing a case-by-case approach to deals with publishers. His intent is to ensure each content provider in the system gets what it needs to be successful, rather than to impose strict system-wide controls that wouldn’t work for them all.
“What we offer publishers,” Adler said, “is a way of connecting the two sides of the ecosystem”: readers and publishers. He said Scribd offers “a frictionless reading experience for subscribers, and on the publishers’ side, we work really hard to take their books and make them available to this audience of readers. We offer publishers reach—we have more than 100 million [unique] visitors monthly. … In particular we’re really good at driving discovery to backlist books. And then we drive incremental revenue. We have people reading books at Scribd who wouldn’t be buying them elsewhere, and we help publishers get revenue from those readers.”
On where Scribd is big outside the US (400,000 non-US subscribers, remember), the Hot Sheet reveals (via Adler),
Scribd is popular in Latin America, certain European markets, India, Indonesia, and Malaysia. “I think the reason we got so big in those markets,” he remarked, “is that we support the uploading of content in many languages.”
Moving on, and as ever I’m going to have to skip much of the Hot Sheet’s detail, as this is a paid service, but would highlight,
PublishDrive Offers a New Payment Model for Authors
At which point full disclosure, The New Publishing Standard is published by Antonio Tombolini Editore, part of StreetLib, a fellow distributor, so I’m going to skip commentary rather than risk misinterpretation and just offer a few snippets from the Hot Sheet on this fascinating story.
Last month, ebook distributor PublishDrive announced a new (optional) model: a $100 monthly fee for 100 percent royalties…Authors working with PublishDrive also get access to promotional opportunities with specific retailers.
Authors earning more than $1,000 in ebook royalties each month through a distributor will find this new model attractive. Let’s assume you sell an ebook for $2.99. Authors earning 100 percent net from PublishDrive would receive approximately $2.09 per sale, while authors giving a cut to PublishDrive would earn $1.79 per book. At the $2.99 price point, the flat fee becomes favorable at about 550 copies.
- New monthly flat-fee model: $2.09 x 550 copies = $1,150 – $100 fee = $1,050
- Standard 10% model: $1.79 x 550 copies = $984.50
PublishDrive’s CEO, Kinga Jentetics, says at least 15 percent of authors now using their service could benefit instantly from switching.
Plenty more about this new initiative, but I’ll move to the Hot Sheet’s bottom line:
Other ebook distributors—most notably, Pronoun—have experimented with 100 percent net royalties for authors. Pronoun went out of business last year because the model was unsustainable. By charging a monthly fee, PublishDrive can presumably avoid such a fate. The biggest barrier to adoption: authors selling in high volume favor working directly with major retailers for profit, precision control (such as time-sensitive price changes), and promotional opportunities. Authors who make use of ebook distributors, or who enjoy lots of sales through Google Play or internationally, may find PublishDrive’s offer tempting.
Okay, one final item from the Hot Sheet:
Startup Plympton Returns with Short “Cli-Fi” for Amazon
Launched in 2011, Plympton is a publishing startup that initially created serial content for Amazon’s Kindle Serials (see our write-up), which launched in the same year but went quiet after 2014.
From time to time, self-styled literary studio Plympton surfaces with some interesting projects.
Now, Plympton is working again with Amazon, this time with Amazon Original Stories, the new Amazon Publishing imprint that includes themed collections of short works. Plympton has created a climate fiction (cli-fi) collection called Warmer that includes work by Edan Lepucki, Jane Smiley, Lauren Groff, Jesse Kellerman, Jess Walter, Skip Horack, and Sonya Larson.
The collection went live on Tuesday (Oct. 30), and Lee tells us, “We conceived and pitched this cli-fi short-story project to Amazon as a way of giving artists, fiction writers, a collective voice around this existential crisis of our era. Art may resonate with some holdouts in ways that science hasn’t.”
Again, plenty more on this fascinating story but this is a review and fair use must be observed.
The Hot Sheet’s bottom line:
While acknowledging the societally relevant aspects of many of the Original Stories collections to date, Sommerfeld classifies Warmer as the imprint’s first collection of truly topical fiction. She says that some of next year’s content may deal with such issues as dating in a post–#metoo world. Unfortunately, as with all Amazon Publishing efforts, Amazon Original Stories does not accept unsolicited submissions from authors.
Other topics in the Hot Sheet I’m going to have to skip completely include PEN America’s law suit against Donald Trump, and a list of links to numerous other topical stories.
As always, if you want to read the full reports from Porter Anderson and Jane Friedman then you’ll need to subscribe.
At which point a reminder: