Industry trends: An overview of children’s book publishing in the US

This morning, my iGoogle alerts uncovered a worthwhile read — the results of a US-industry insider’s survey of publishers and editors at the recent NJ (New Jersey?) SCBWI Conference.

I wanted to talk about some of the points raised and add my two-cents worth.

You’ve probably already realised that the YA category is hot. And there’re a lot of adults reading YA fiction. Yesterday, I was chatting to an avid, book-buying, non-writing, adult friend. He said that half of his large ‘to-read’ pile was YA fiction. My friend’s perspective was that YA books are easy to read.  I’m biased (after all, I write for YAs), but I’m wondering, are there any other features of YA fiction that appeal to adults?

The market forecast for YA books, particularly dystopian stories, are good.

The publishers surveyed said their biggest problem with ‘middle grade’ (aged 8-12) stories was that they can’t find writers who write in a suitable voice. I must admit I find it tricky writing for this age group. On the one hand, it needs to be ‘motherly’ (or ‘fatherly’), and on the other, it needs to have a sense of fun. Authors such as Philippa Pearce (Tom’s Midnight Garden) conveyed the ‘motherly’ well, and Roald Dahl was the master of naughty fun.

Picture books were described as ‘soft’ in the market. However publishers were positive about author/illustrators who can develop characters that can be ‘branded’. That is, using the character in other stories or in other mediums. I try to keep an eye on kids’ TV animation to see what book characters have emerged onscreen. And it’s also interesting to see how the characters and stories have changed — for better or worse — as a result.

Personally, I loved the Horrible Histories animated series. And the Mr Men show is a heap of fun. I haven’t caught Pearlie the Park Fairy on TV yet — I do wish TV stations would replay this sort of show at a respectable time for adults.

The children’s section of my local ABC Shop is filled with ‘branded’ stuffed toy TV characters. When confronted with such a formidable array of cuteness, all I can do is flee. Cute on such a large scale … now there’s a dystopian YA plot.

Click here to link to Kathy Temean’s blog post about the ‘State of Children’s Book Publishing Industry’.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on how the survey results do or don’t apply to the Australian industry.

Tomorrow, in line with this week’s Doctor Who theme, I’ll be posting Ebony McKenna’s article ‘The Heart of Science Fiction’.