On Wednesday, November 14, at the Wix Lounge, the NYC chapter of the WNBA (http://www.wnba-nyc.org/) hosted an incredible panel entitled, The Making of a YA bestseller: From Acquisition to Market. Those of us lucky enough to be in attendance were treated to amazing insights on publishing from some of the industry’s biggest names, including:
- Jenny Bent – Literary Agent, The Bent Agency
- Susan Katz – President and Publisher, HarperCollins Children’s Books
- Hannah Moskowitz – YA Author; Gone, Gone, Gone; Zombie Tag; Teeth
- Joy Peskin – Editorial Director, Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers
- Marisa Russell – Publicity Manager, Penguin Young Readers Group
After our own Professor Denning, the President of the NYC Chapter of the WNBA, introduced the panelists, the night’s moderator, Betsy Bird – Youth Materials Specialist for the New York Public Library – opened the discussion with the question we all wished had an easy answer: how do you know that one manuscript will be a hit?
Across the board, the number one answer was: you don’t. But, all of the panelists agreed that you have to trust your gut instinct on the manuscripts you want to acquire. Jenny Bent added that she looks for “great writing, a phenomenal idea, dynamic characters, real relationships, pacing, and appeal to the audience.” Joy Peskin echoed this sentiment, adding that she chooses manuscripts based on how they make her feel, if she loves it, and if it pulls her in. By far my favorite answer of the night came from Susan Katz, who joked that “if we could pick bestsellers, there’d be a lot more bestsellers.” Later in the night she would comment that “success isn’t an accident”. Books like Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, and Twilight all had something “special, fresh, and compelling.”
All of the panelists also agreed that editor enthusiasm cannot be overlooked. This is something we’ve been hearing all semester from professors and guest speakers. An excited editor will be an author’s in-house advocate, will fight for that manuscript, and authors should trust them through the entire process.
The conversation then moved on to marketing and publicity, with Marisa Russell stating that the process usually starts nine months ahead of publication, first by identifying the “hook”, and applying it to various types of media (print, TV, online, radio). The overall goal being to drive sales. From YA, Marisa looks to magazines like Seventeen and Teen Vogue. But, she also recognizes the growing adult audience, so she targets Entertainment Weekly readers as well. She also stressed the importance of author talks, sharing a story of The Girl of Fire and Thorns author Rae Carson, whose pageant background and charisma makes her even more appealing. Susan Katz also shared a story about Seven Wonders author Peter Lerangis, and how his acting background and outgoing personality helped to expand his five city tour to 15 cities.
Jenny Bent agreed that authors need to be able to connect with fans in some way. The conversation then moved immediately to self-marketing and social media. Author Hannah Moskowitz, who is still in college and only 21 years old, stated that she uses social media more to “cement” her audience, not expand it. While Marisa added that social media can be the best way to ensure an author’s book gets attention, it may not be appropriate for all authors. Both she and Joy indicated the importance of finding an author’s strength in expanding the marketing plan. Joy expressed that this is especially important when marketing to teens. She suggests that authors be authentic and “write the book that is personal to them.” That person can be “powerful to connect to youth, librarians, and book sellers.”
The topic of self-published authors, with a built-in fan-base was briefly discussed. Susan shared the story of Eric Litwin and illustrator James Dean’s success with the Pete the Cat series. Prior to being acquired by HarperCollins, they’d already sold an incredible 10,000 units from their cars, at festivals, and through adorable YouTube videos.
Betsy’s next question was about the books the panelists were excited about. For Joy Peskin, it’s Crewel by Gennifer Albin. We were even given some Crewel swag, in the form of a Crewel World purple bracelet, part of the book’s marketing plan. She gave praise to both the author and editor, and has high hopes for bestseller status for the trilogy. Susan Katz is looking forward to the next book in Veronica Roth’s Divergent trilogy – though no amount of cajoling could get her to let the third book’s title slip out. Jenny Bent is excited about Splintered by A.G. Howard, who already has a strong following on GoodReads.
The night ended with a few questions from the audience, which was comprised of students, authors, and industry professionals. When asked for advice about breaking into publishing, everyone stressed the importance of internships. Jenny added that taking publishing courses was helpful. And Joy indicated that establishing and maintaining relationships is invaluable. Authors were given advice on the importance of titles, jacket art, and having an agent.
Written by Tqwana Brown, a graduate student in the MS in Publishing program at Pace.