A couple weeks ago I attended an SCBWI event at my local indie 57th Street Books, where a panel of children’s book experts discussed “The State of the Industry.” The panelists included Todd Stocke, VP and editorial director of Chicago based publisher Sourcebooks; agent Paul Rodeen of Rodeen Literary Management; and Angela Sherril, collection development manager at Children’s Plus and organizer of the 57th Street Children’s Book Fair.
So, what is the state of Children’s Publishing? Well I think it’s clear to most that of all the categories in publishing, children’s books are doing pretty great. Here’s a short rundown of what these experts had to say:
- Picture books are still selling, despite the cry of their death. Today’s picture books need to fill a blank space on the shelf, a different slant on the ordinary. Paul Rodeen used Creepy Carrots by Aaron Reynolds and Peter Brown as an example. (Hey! This just won a Caldecott Honor!) A lot of a picture book is about the art, and it’s a lot easier to sell an author/artist than just a picture book author alone. Rodeen actually finds success in pairing authors and artists before he submits. Oh, and Mo Willems is the king of picture books these days, but was this ever in question? It’s that pigeon and his beady eyes. And maybe a bunny.
- Early Chapter books are viable but difficult to sell. The format and audience creates a demand for series. No one reads just one. Series like The Magic Tree House, Junie B. Jones, and Judy Moody are a big success in part because they have big presence on the shelf and kids can keep going back to what’s familiar, but get something different every time, like your favorite TV show.
- Middle-Grade is where the magic is. (Don’t I know it!) It’s so versatile. Kids are old enough to read and comprehend difficult things, but the magic and wonder of childhood is still there. You’re not likely to become a best-seller here overnight, though. (Boo!) Best-sellers are almost always established authors.
- YA is still hot. It never cooled off. One of the panelists referred to YA as “The black space of the book store.” Meaning physically all black. (I’ve noticed this too!) The undead are not dead and probably never will be. There’s still more room for paranormal fantasy but it can take longer to sell. One of the reasons YA can do so well is because you have teens with disposable income, willing to spend it on books. (Who knew?) And of course there’s crossover appeal, because some of us never quite move from YA to adult fiction. The challenge of voice in YA is very real. If the voice sound like an adult writing for a teen, the teen audience will pick up on on it.