Writer's Bloc
My SFWA Bulletin Column

The Harry Potter Effect

from The SFWA Bulletin #173, Spring 2007

The Future of Children's and Young Adult F&SF

    The Winter 2007 issue of the Authors Guild Bulletin focused on the boom in children's book publishing with both the Authors Guild Interview and the Authors Guild Symposium devoted to the subject.

    Isabel Howe interviewed Jean Feiwel, former publisher at Scholastic and currently publisher of Feiwel and Friends, a new children's division at Holtzbrinck. Some excerpts from Feiwel's answers:

      The third [significant] change came with the publication of Harry Potter: Fantasy has become a huge category in children's publishing. Before Harry started, there was tried and true fantasy, but it wasn't a category that was being published with any kind of frequency or velocity. That's totally changed. Sometimes it feels like nothing but fantasy is being published!

      Libraries and teachers have a very central and critical role to play in promoting books, but selling books is another matter. The institutional market is there, but it's not as robust as it once was. Kids are buying books more than they may be taking books out of the library. What happens in publishing is that a trend starts with a book. So Harry Potter started fantasy… Then, with a certain amount of success, everybody jumps in… so that at a certain point, the category is completely gutted. It's then going to diminish.

      But I don't think sci-fi will ever go away, fantasy will never go away…

    The symposium was held at the Society of Illustrators on November 13, 2006. Participants I excerpt are: Jodi Reamer, an agent and attorney at Writers House; Susan Katz, president and publisher of HarperCollins Children's Division; Rachel Vail, an award-winning author; and Josalyn Moran, current vice-president of children's books at Barnes & Noble and formerly an executive at Scholastic, Inc. and Golden Books.

      REAMER: I find that series aren't selling quite as easily, though if something does very well, editors are more than happy to follow up with a sequel, because tehre's a built-in audience. But generally the single titles sell very well [in middle grade and YA books]…. People always worry that there's a glut [of fantasy] on the market, and yet good fantasy always sells. Paranormal is also very exciting right now in YA.

      KATZ: Teen is an incredibly healthy area. Books sell in very large numbers, they're all over the bestseller lists. Books call sell anywhere from 100,000 to 200,000 copies in a year. … Teens have a lot of disposable income…. It's from very generous parents and grandparents.

      VAIL: [An editor told me] the two hot things in the next year or two are going to be paranormal or supernatural, and she actually explained to me the difference between paranormal and supernatural – that paranormal is more grounded in reality, like a regular kind who has a bad day and goes home and says something to the mirror and the mirror answers her. Supernatural is more like the devil would actually come out of the mirror.

      Harry Potter does drive kids into the bookstore…. Whether because kids are going on their own steam or armed with gifts, and partly with the growth of Barnes & Noble as a destination for preteens and teens, has become more of a community to-to place.

      REAMER: I will tell you that it seems from our sales that more girls are reading than boys. We also think more adult women are reading than men. Our experience is women buy more books than men do. … but it's our experience that around 12 or 13 we really lose a lot of boys. Either they're not reading at all or they're reading adult books. We can hold girls for a longer period of time in the children and teen area.

      MORAN: I think the studies show that men read more for information and woman read more for pleasure. And that's why we think we see boys moving out of our area in the adult science-fiction and fantasy area, which is very strong…

      VAIL: I wonder if it's a possibility for boys who are 14, 15, 16, to read really good, meaty stuff that's actually not full of dragons.

    Speaking of Harry Potter, the seventh book in the series is expected to be the greenest bestseller ever. A widely reprinted Associated Press article by Hillel Italie reported that Scholastic completed an agreement with the Rainforest Alliance that will ensure that the 12 million copy [!] first printing contains "a minimum of 30 percent post-consumer waste fiber." In addition, a "deluxe" edition of 100,000 will be printed on paper that contains "100 percent post-consumer waste fiber." No paper from ancient or endangered forests will be used.

    See my Summer 2006 (issue #170) column for tips on increasing the greenness of your own books.

Get a Clue

Sandy Balzo wrote in the March 2007 TTD that the MWA Board voted to fund a pilot project of book donation through their MWA:Reads program.

    This summer, West Virginia will be one of the states using The Collaborative Summer Library Program “Get a Clue” for their summer reading program. Since many of those libraries have a limited number of children’s mysteries and limited funds (33 library systems have an annual book budget of less than $5,000; four systems, less than $1,000), MWA members can help by providing books to the libraries.

MWA members and their publishers will coordinate book donations through the West Virginia Library Commission. Each book will bear a bookplate designating them as donations from MWA:Reads.

Libraries Love InSinC

In other promotional news, SinC President Rochelle Krich wrote in her column in the March 2007 InSinC that the organization developed a display kit to celebrate its 20th anniversary. The kits included a poster, bookmarks, membership brochures, and a directory of SinC authors by geographic areas. Libraries were specifically contacted asking them to request the kits.

The result was 1,950 requests, so many that they had to do a second printing of their materials. Information about the libraries will be added to a database SinC is developing so that they can better connect readers with SinC authors. They are also creating a database of local book clubs for to benefit authors' outreach.

RWA's Image Committee: Disbanded

And one case of a committee that succeeded by failing. Roxanne St. Claire reported in the February 2007 RWR that their Image Committee spent a full year brainstorming ways to leverage their "Have We Got a Story for You" tag line into further promotion opportunities. (See their website at www.storyforu.com)

In the end they decided… to dissolve the committee. Why?

    [T]he function, I believe, and the committee members agreed, is one that should be managed and executed by full-time marketing professionals who are equipped and staffed to develop a comprehensive tactical plan that includes agreed-upon objectives, a range of promotional programs, and a realistic budget to implement the plans. This is not going to be done effectively by a group of volunteers who are making their living producing the fiction the organization wants to promote to the reading public. [italics in original]

Is Your Title A Bestseller?

    We all know lulu.com as the publisher of our own Atlanta Nights, The Worst Book Ever Written! (www.lulu.com/content/102550)

    They're more, though, much more. Campbell Geeslin's "Along Publisher's Row column in the Winter 2007 Authors Guild Bulletin alerted me to a study undertaken by Lulu. According to the press release on their website:

      The study analyzed the titles of every novel to have topped the hardcover fiction New York Times bestseller list from 1955 to 2004 – and compared them with the titles of less successful novels by the same authors.

      Among the study’s findings:

      • Figurative or abstract titles, such as Sleeping Murder, or Presumed Innocent, produce more top-sellers than literal ones, such as The Da Vinci Code.
      • A title’s length does not affect sales -- contrary to publishing industry wisdom, which decrees that bestseller titles be short.

      Even better you can Put Your Title to the Test at Lulu's Titlescorer (www.lulu.com/titlescorer/index.php) to determine its chance of becoming a bestseller or compare two titles against one another at Lulu's Titlefight! (www.lulu.com/titlescorer/fight.php). This is not an exact science, claims the disclaimer. No kidding.

    Online Chicago Manual of Style

      Geeslin's seemingly endless column (it runs 11 pages!) can be mined for all types of writerly nuggets. One particularly golden speck was the news that until September 30, 2007, an introductory subscription to the online version of The Chicago Manual of Style is available for less than half the print version's price of $55.00. It is $25.00 per year for individuals and $30.00 per year thereafter. Groups of up to 20 people can get discounted subscriptions. Check the information at www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/subscription_opts.html

      Organization, Publication, Address, Web Address

      Authors Guild, Bulletin, 31 E. 32nd St. 7th Floor, New York, NY 10016, www.authorsguild.org/

      Mystery Writers of America, The 3rd Degree, 17 E 47th St, 6th floor, New York, NY 10017, www.mysterywriters.org/

      Romance Writers of America, Romance Writers’ Report, 14615 Benfer Rd., Houston, TX 77069 [new address], www.rwanational.org

      Sisters in Crime, InSinC, P.O. Box 442124, Lawrence, KS 66044-8933, www.sistersincrime.org/

      Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators Bulletin, 8271 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90048, www.scbwi.org/

      Copyright 2007 by Steve Carper

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