Spotlight on Middle Grade

Young adult literature has been a huge catalyst and money-maker for publishing over the past few years. Beyond the books, the category’s given birth to several multimillion dollar franchises and new Hollywood stars. With all of the glamour and glitz that can come out of the YA world, it’s easy to forget about the rest of children’s literature. No, not board books or picture books: I’m talking about middle grade. According to Nielsen, it’s not the highest-selling segment of the children’s book market, but it’s still pulling big numbers. Middle grade titles contend with the YA stars like John Green and their sales can rival the standard baby-shower gift titles like The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Green Eggs and Ham – so it’s time for them to share in the spotlight.

Who’s reading middle grade?

While middle grade is a commonly-used industry term, there doesn’t seem to be one hard and fast definition. Searching for “middle grade” on the Book Industry Study Group yields no direct results. There aren’t any BISAC codes identifying a book as middle grade. (It’s worth noting that YA BISAC codes were only just added in early 2016.) There are BISAC codes for juvenile fiction (ages 0-11, preschool to grade 6) and of course, YA fiction, (ages 12-18, grade 7-12). Given this, one could assume middle grade presumably falls into the juvenile fiction section with perhaps some overlap into the early years of what BISAC considers YA. I asked around for some answers.

Author Alison Cherry, who has written both YA (most recently Look Both Ways) and middle grade (Willows vs. Wolverines) offered some definitions: “The answer I give people who don’t know anything about publishing is ’Appropriate for kids ages 8-12,’ but of course that’s not relevant to a lot of kids—there are ten-year-olds who read tons of YA, and there are six-year-olds who can handle middle grade with no problem.” Going beyond age ranges, she suggested that “one explanation I really like is that MG is often more internally focused—about figuring out who you are and how you relate to your family and friends—and YA is more broadly focused—about figuring out where you fit into the context of the wider world.”

Book Scout for Maria B. Campbell Associates, Rachel Horowitz had a subtly different answer from Cherry’s: “It often seems to be a bit younger, for ages 7-10 rather than 8-12, which is the traditional age group…I just looked at the latest New York Times Bestseller’s List, and for the middle grade bestsellers, there’s a real age range – but I think the sweet spot is really 7-10.”

Impressive Sales

Whatever their age, middle grade readers are big readers. Nielsen’s 2016 Children’s Book Market Report’s top selling authors of the year were loaded with author names you’d expect to see – Eric Carle, Dr. Seuss, Mo Willems, and John Green. And yet, in the year’s top 5 bestselling authors alone, three are middle grade: Jeff Kinney, author of the Wimpy Kid series; author of beloved Magic Tree House series, Mary Pope Osborne; and the “Disney Book Group,” with their Descendants series. This isn’t an anomaly, either. Nielsen’s 2015 Children’s Book Market Report had Jeff Kinney and Mary Pope Osborne on that top 20 list, joined by Rachel Renee Russell, author of the Dork Diaries series. The 2014 report shows Kinney & Osborne again, as well as James Patterson with his Middle School Worst Years series. Through 2014-2016 middle grade authors were up against huge media properties like Minecraft, Star Wars and Frozen, as well as The Hunger Games, Divergent, and The Maze Runner series, and middle grade maintained a firm hold in children’s book sales.

Trending Topics

Jeff Kinney’s Wimpy Kid books are a good example of one of middle grade’s most surprising successes, according to Elise Howard, Editor and Publisher at Algonquin Books for Young Readers. “Humor is the most idiosyncratic and hardest thing to sell,” she said. “Diary of a Wimpy Kid, which had been serialized online and viewed for free by millions of readers before it appeared in book form, taught everyone in publishing a thing or three about the effect of the internet and ‘free’ on the market for paid work.” Despite humor being tough to nail, there is a definite hunger for it abroad, according to book scout Rachel Horowitz: “Everyone is looking for humor! There were a lot of stories with magical animals this year, an evergreen theme, but people would also like to read something funny.” Interestingly, humor is what author Alison Cherry enjoys so much about the category: “I can get away with writing much goofier situations for middle grade….it’s my favorite part about writing for that age group.”

Another trend in middle grade is serious topics. As Cherry mentioned earlier, middle grade characters are often looking inward, finding out who they are. Horowitz noted some examples of books dealing with these topics that have gone on to be successes: “There have been the pleasant surprises, like how well a book like Wonder, about a disfigured boy mainstreaming into school for the first time, has struck a chord; and George, about a boy who realizes he’s the wrong gender; or Lily and Dunkin’, a wonderful friendship story with a transgender character.” Howard pointed out some additional topics about identity that are growing in popularity: “Although there’s a long way to go to meet readers’ needs in this area, the burgeoning of imprints and auctions for Own Voices fiction suggests that it’s becoming something of a trend.” Howard continued. “It needs now to convert from trend to perennial.” Read More »

Top 5 Publishing Articles/Blog Posts of the Week 5/15-5/19

number_5_redEvery week, we recommend 5 publishing articles/blog posts that supplement the major news for the week. Whether data or industry commentary, we hope these 5 links will be a simple way to keep you in the know.

Are we living in the age of great American pop star novels?

Used bookstores are begging for donations of books that aren’t The Da Vinci Code.

A new study shows more independent reading time is needed in American schools.

How does the inherent whiteness of geek culture hurt sci-fi and fantasy genres?

An independent bookstore owner wonders about the next step for bookselling.

People Round-Up, Mid-May 2017


Mark Allin has resigned as President and CEO of John Wiley and Sons for family reasons, effective immediately. Chairman of the Board Matthew Kissner has been named interim CEO, and a search for a permanent successor has begun.

Karen Kosztolnyik, formerly Executive Editor at Grand Central Publishing, returns to the Hachette division as Vice President, Editor-in-Chief. She will lead the publisher’s hardcover line.  She was most recently at Gallery Books.

At Macmillan, Liz Tzetzo has joined as Vice President of Client Publisher Services. She was previously Vice President of Marketing and Sales Director for Basic Books.

Don Linn has joined the UK-based Unicorn Publishing Group as a full partner and will be based in the company’s new Chicago office. He was previously Director of Chicago University Press Distribution Center.

At the Wall Street Journal, Christopher Carduff has joined as Books Editor. He has been Editor and Publishing Consultant at the Library of America since 2006 and the estate-appointed editor of posthumous works by Maeve Brennan, Penelope Fitzgerald, Daniel Fuchs, William Maxwell, and John Updike.

Larisa Elt joined Bookmasters on May 15 as Director of Publishing Services, having worked previously as Senior Director, Trade and Special Markets Sales at McGraw-Hill Education. She replaces Elizabeth Scarpelli, who is now Director of the new University of Cincinnati Press.

After more than ten years at the company, Henry Ferris has left his position as Executive Editor at William Morrow.

At agencies…Brooks Sherman is joining Janklow & Nesbit as Literary Agent on May 23. Most recently he was Agent at The Bent Agency. Nicola Barr is joining The Bent Agency as Literary Agent with her existing list of clients from Greene & Heaton. Cynthia Ruchti is joining Books & Such Literary Management as Literary Agent.

After eighteen years at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and forty years in publishing, Harvey P. Berliner has retired from his role as National Sales Director, Education and Library Markets. He can be contacted at [email protected].

Ken Oxenreider is retiring June 30 from his role as Vice President, Audio Sales at Simon & Schuster. He has worked at S&S for forty years, and exclusively in audio for twenty.

Gavin Caruthers has left his position as Associate Publisher at Post Hill Press to continue his consulting work.

On June 6, Christina Loff is joining Chronicle Books as Marketing Director, Adult Trade. She was most recently Senior Artist Relations Manager at Minted.

Vanessa Jedrej has been appointed Global Brand Manager at Wimpy Kid, Inc. and will start June 12. She was most recently Marketing Director at Penguin Random House Children’s in the UK.

Brooke Parsons has joined Public Affairs and Nation Books as Publicity Manager, having earlier been Senior Publicist at Penguin Press.

Christopher Werner is now Senior Editor at Amazon’s Lake Union Publishing imprint.  Megan Mulder has moved over to Montlake Romance as Senior Editor, having previously worked at Kindle Press.

At Viz Media, Sarah Fairhall joins as Senior Editor, Licensed Publishing. She was previously Commissioning Editor for Penguin Random House Australia.

Allison Moore has joined Bloomsbury Children’s as Editor. She previously worked as Associate Editor at Little, Brown Children’s.

Jennifer Leight is joining Hollan Publishing as Editor. She was previously Executive Editor at Rodale.


Read More »

Top 5 Publishing Articles/Blog Posts of the Week 5/8-5/12

number_5_redEvery week, we recommend 5 publishing articles/blog posts that supplement the major news for the week. Whether data or industry commentary, we hope these 5 links will be a simple way to keep you in the know.

In the age of 24/7 sales, how do publishers know which books to work on?

Sales are up at HarperCollins and Hachette.

How can audiobooks promote #OwnVoices?

Has the fragmented ereader market stymied ebook sales?

How will Amazon’s revamped “Buy” button change book sales?

Top 5 Publishing Articles/Blog Posts of the Week 5/1-5/5

number_5_redEvery week, we recommend 5 publishing articles/blog posts that supplement the major news for the week. Whether data or industry commentary, we hope these 5 links will be a simple way to keep you in the know.

What is the future of digital rights management?

How can publishers challenge the industry?

Are libraries neutral spaces?

What do cancellations of the Big Deal mean for scholarly libraries?

How has the New York Times‘s choice to cut certain bestseller lists affected those genres?

People Round-Up, Early May 2017


Barnes & Noble has announced Demos Parneros as their new CEO. He joined the company as Chief Operating Officer in November, before which he was President at Staples. Michael C. Miller has been named Chief Legal Officer and VP of Corporate Affairs, having previously served as EVP, General Counsel and Secretary at Monster Worldwide.

Rich Thomas is joining HarperCollins Children’s as VP, Publishing Director, and will lead the Festival, I Can Read, and licensing programs. He was most recently Associate Publisher and Editorial Director for Disney Publishing Worldwide.

Andrea Fleck-Nisbet has joined Ingram Content Group as Director of Content Acquisition Sales, moving over from her role as Executive Director, Business Operations at Workman Publishing. At Ingram Academic Services, Christy Johnson has joined as Client Relations Manager. She previously worked as National Account Representative for Amazon at HarperCollins Publishers.

At Holiday House Publishing, Margaret Ferguson joins as Publisher of the new Margaret Ferguson Books imprint. She had previously been Publisher of an imprint of the same name at Farrar, Straus Children’s. This is the first time Holiday House has created an eponymous imprint.

At the Quarto Group, Kristine Anderson has joined as Adult Marketing Director. She previously worked as VP of Marketing at LSC Communications Publishing (Dover Books). In addition, Diane Naughton has joined as Children’s Marketing Director, US. She was previously VP of Integrated Marketing at HarperCollins Children’s Books.

Kimberly Woods has joined Penguin Random House as Sales Director of Higher Education, moving over from McGraw-Hill Education, while Travis Temple has joined as Sales Director of K-12 School Education. He worked previously with the K-12 sales group at Norton. Kathryn Santora has joined Crown Publishing Group as Publicity Manager for Crown Archetype, Three Rivers Press, and Harmony Books. She was previously Publicity Manager at Regan Arts. At Clarkson Potter, Jennifer Sit will join as Senior Editor effective May 8, following her tenure as Cookbook Editor at Blue Apron. Sara Neville has joined Clarkson Potter as Associate Editor, moving over from Book and Stationary Buyer at Urban Outfitters, and Jenni Zellner moves over from Crown Archetype to become Associate Editor. In addition, Sarah Hochman is leaving her position as Editor-in-Chief of Blue Rider and Plume on May 10. She had been with Blue Rider since its founding in 2011.

Angela Baggetta will leave her position as Managing Director at Goldberg McDuffie Communications at the end of May in order to launch Angela Baggetta Communications.

Lena Khidritskaya Little has joined Little, Brown as Assistant Director of Publicity. She most recently worked as Communication Manager, Books at National Geographic. Alaina Mauro is leaving her position as Associate Director for James Patterson at the Hachette Book Group and can be reached at [email protected].

At agencies…Stephany Evans has joined Ayesha Pande Literary as Agent. She was previously Principal at FinePrint Literary Management. Holly Root has left her job as Agent at Waxman Leavell Literary Agency to launch Root Literary.

The most recent round of layoffs at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt affected a number of Books for Young Readers employees, including Jeannette Larson, Senior Executive Editor, Donna McCarthy, Executive Director of Children’s Book Production, and Linda Magram, VP, Marketing and Publicity. Also leaving were Elizabeth Bennett, Executive Editor, Manager of the Franchise Publishing Program; Amy Carlisle, Managing Editor; Carol Chu, Art Director of Franchising and Paperbacks; Christine Kettner, Creative Director; Margie Markarian, Editor, Children’s Paperbacks; Julia Richardson, Editorial Director, Paperbacks; Sheila Smallwood, VP, Creative Director; and Julie Tibbott, Senior Editor.

At Regan Arts, Alexis Gargagliano has left her position as Executive Editor in order to work independently.

Sonia Sanchez has joined Open Road as Email Marketing Manager, having worked previously as Email Marketing Strategist for Hillary For America. In addition, Jeff Freiert has joined as Copywriter. He previously worked in the copy department at Penguin.

John Glynn is now Editor at Hanover Press, having previously worked in that position at Scribner.

Eugenia Pakalik has left her role as Director, Sales Operations, Distribution Services at W.W. Norton and can be reached at [email protected].

At Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing, Casey Nugent has joined as Subsidiary Rights Assistant. Julia McCarthy has joined Atheneum Books for Young Readers as Editorial Assistant, moving over from her role as Editorial Assistant at Penguin Group USA.


Read More »

Literary Agent Contact Sheet 2017

We’ve updated our Literary Agent Contact Sheet for 2017. The 2017 list has contact information for hundreds of literary agents and agencies in the United States. To conserve space, the word “agency” has been omitted from most listings. Those agencies doing business under a single last name are listed alphabetically, with the agent’s first name in brackets (e.g. [Jane] Smith). If you’re unfamiliar with an agency, we encourage you to go to their website to learn more about their specialties and preferred means of communication before contacting them.

Click the image above for the full PDF of the Publishing Trends 2017 Literary Agent Contact Sheet.

Updated 5/3 to include The Garamond Agency, The Kepner Agency, and Transatlantic Agency.

Updated 5/10 to include Stimola Literary Studio, Jill Grosjean, and Susanna Lea Associates.

Updated 5/23 to include Inklings Literary Agency.

Top 5 Publishing Articles/Blog Posts of the Week 4/24-4/28

number_5_redEvery week, we recommend 5 publishing articles/blog posts that supplement the major news for the week. Whether data or industry commentary, we hope these 5 links will be a simple way to keep you in the know.

Could libraries fund themselves?

How can the academic ebook evolve?

Does the physical form of a book matter more than its content?

What kind of political satire should the industry be searching for?

At the Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo (C2E2), attendance was up, but graphic novel sales are down.

International Bestsellers, April 2017

Every month, Publishing Trends runs fiction international bestsellers lists from four territories–France, Germany, Italy, and Spain. This month, our four regular territories are joined by two more: Finland and Greece. Those books that have been published in English are listed with their official English-language title. All others are translated as literally as possible from the original. Where applicable, the US publisher is listed after the local publisher, separated by a “/”. The lists are taken from major newspapers or national retailers, which are noted at the bottom of each list.


PubTechConnect: Where Publishing Meets its Future

NYU’s Center for Publishing joined forces with Publishers Weekly on April 20th to present a day of conversation about innovation in media.  The names of the companies that presented were both impressive and less familiar to book publishing’s usual conference speakers: Vox, Quartz, Dropbox, ClassPass, and Vice were among them, though HarperCollins, Hachette, S&S were also some of the publishers represented.

The morning kicked off with a duo exchanging insights: Kinsey Wilson, NYT’s EVP of product and technology, and Sree Sreenivasan, now Chief Digital Officer for New York City and previously at The Met.  Wilson had much to say about how the Times is broadening its purview – mentioning that ”Cooking” is now the most popular feature, behind Politics and Opinion, and thus broadening the paper’s audience.  Both talked about the importance of the user experience in retaining consumer engagement, increasingly on mobile devices.

Two morning panels, one on innovation and the other on audience development, focused on how to bring fresh ideas to market.  GoodreadsOtis Chandler said that Charles Duhigg sent his own annotations on The Power of Habit to every member who’d read the book, in order to promote his forthcoming book.  The company is focusing on “micro-influencers,” especially for pre-buzz about a book, which he noted has more than “an opening weekend” to perform, but still “kind of like an opening month.”  He also said that authors helping authors was increasingly important, citing how generous Stephen King has been in his “digital blurbing.”  Hillary Kerr at Clique Media, which has fashion and beauty verticals, talked about the importance of editors connecting with their audience, especially as they begin to reach new audiences whose demographics are outside the founders’ own.  She encourages colleagues to ideate using an “improv model,” where each person builds on another’s idea to strengthen rather than dismiss it, thereby insuring that they don’t lose creative input. And George Baier from Dropbox, who once worked in publishing, noted that “silos are the biggest impediment to innovation.”  He is impressed that everyone in the company gets a week each year to work on any project, and with anyone in the company.

Later, Chantal Restivo-Alessi talked about how Facebook Live has allowed HarperCollins to expand its marketing of authors beyond an individual book’s budget, so readers can discover unknown authors even while HC amplifies the reach of known authors.  Meanwhile, in a comment that summoned up book subscription services like the now-defunct Oyster, Joanna Lord, talking of how ClassPass had to pivot away from an “all you can exercise” subscription model that was destroying the bottom line, said, “You can’t hold yourself hostage to the one thing that works; nothing is too precious.”

Speakers during the day covered a range of topics from the needs and interests of millennials (who are driven by digital in every aspect of their lives, perhaps unlike Gen Z, which may want more IRL – in real life – experience); to how to use Snapchat, with its 150 million daily users; to the advantages of digital first versus legacy, and vice versa.  Vox Media’s Jim Bankoff talked about the decision to develop verticals like The Verge and Vox, each one of which has its own discrete audience, unlike, say, the NYT or even Huffington Post, which attract general audiences.  In contrast to legacy, the vertical “has to live or die” by the content it offers, and the loyal audience it attracts and can’t rely on funding from more established businesses.  In another panel, Quartz’s Jay Lauf talked about Atlantic Media’s decision to develop something completely different from the eponymous magazine.  In part, they imagined what The Economist would have done if there were no print magazine.  For the first year of Quartz’s existence, there was not even a website.

Throughout the day there were periodic references to how book publishers could adapt the issues under discussion for their own use – and some energetic interactive sessions lead by PRH’s Kristin Fassler (Marketing), Atria’s Judith Curr (Content) and Hachette’s Torrey Oberfest (Digital).  But generally the purpose of the conference was to present the range of digital voices and platforms, and trust that publishers would find ways to adapt them to their own books, authors and audiences.  In the final panel, Moira Forbes, EVP of Forbes Media, summed up not just her panel but the entire day when she talked about finding, understanding and communicating with your target “customer” by continually embracing innovation.  She and others also mentioned that communicating your findings and goals to colleagues was critical to success.

The audience, almost all of whom stayed through the last panel, was feted with champagne in what felt like a celebration of the multiple opportunities that had been highlighted throughout the day.  There’s no word yet on whether PubTechConnect will become a regular conference for publishers to anticipate, but those who attended this year seemed ready to re-up next year.