Harry Potter 20 Years Later: How Harry Potter Saved Young Adult Fiction

This month the magical realm of Harry Potter, created by J.K. Rowling, is celebrating it’s twentieth year. The success of the book series transferred into a successful film series starring Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint, as well as a popular website (Pottermore), Spin-off titles like Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (which also found success as a film), an amusement park attraction (The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios), and now a stage play, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

At the time that the first Harry Potter book was released, young adults and children were accustomed to titles and series such as The Babysitter’s Club, that were a bit more lightweight. The Harry Potter series made way for blockbuster sagas like The Hunger Games, Twilight, and Divergent. Harry Potter easily changed the game for YA fiction.

Though not necessarily original in its common tropes of magic, fantasy, adventure, unfair teachers, a common enemy, heroes, etc., Harry Potter was able to resonate with children and young adults in a way that other tiles could not. Claire Fallon in an article for the Huffington Post writes, “Children’s book writers, especially fantasy authors, who were once the masters of their domain found themselves ignored in media coverage and discussions of ‘Harry Potter.'” Perhaps it was Rowling who wrote the right book at the right time, or she was able to masterfully and creatively construct a seven-book mystery/adventure story arc following characters as they aged into adulthood that coincided with her aging and growing audience. Either way, as Joe Monti, Editorial Director of Saga Press says, “Harry Potter made the careers of many authors possible.”

Harry Potter was able to boosts the sales of YA fiction altogether because of its success. “The Atlantic reported that the number of YA books had increased by a factor of 10 between 1997 and 2009.” The series was also able to help rebuild the disparaging reputation that fantasy had as a genre in YA fiction. Monti says, “Fantasy is mainstream.”

Rowling and Harry Potter as a series took on many risks, including long-form story arcs, thick-sized books, and a fantasy genre as well as the idea that the books also age with the audience. Harry Potter takes on darker themes like lengthy battle scenes, concepts of mortality/fatality, and romantic relationships, all of which challenged what YA fiction was at the time and what publishers can put in front of children and young adults.

Harry Potter was able to open up the horizons for what YA literature could be. Rowling also capitalized on the success of her series, which is part if the reason why Harry Potter has been cemented in pop culture history. It continues, to this day, to pave the way for YA fiction authors.

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The Making of a Young Adult Bestseller – From Acquisition to Reader

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.

Link of the Week: Melissa Marr

Book Expo America 2012 was rich with the literary masterpieces of emerging and veteran authors. Many of these respected authors spoke during panels in order to share their experiences with fellow writers and admiring book lovers. During the YA Buzz Panel early Tuesday afternoon, six authors discussed current YA trends and their own personal writing stories. Young Adult is an ever-changing genre, and people are eager to understand it. We want to know what sells and why, what is and will never be compromised and why, and how it feels to embrace a youthful imagination. One member of the panel, author Melissa Marr, shared stories of her journey to international acclaim, especially in Europe and Latin America. Along the way, she made many interesting points about her habits as an author, including the fact that she deliberately avoids indicating a character’s ethnicity so as not to influence a reader’s experience. Marr does not limit herself to the YA field; she simply sees herself as an author – not one tied to a specific genre. She, like the other authors on the panel, is committed to expressing her imaginative brilliance and sharing it with her readers.

http://www.melissa-marr.com/