Posted by: Kathy Temean | June 15, 2010

State of the Children’s Book Publishing Industry

There were so many sessions going on during the conference, that I felt too many people missed hearing David Caruba’s State of the Market Report at the Conference.  Since David did such a good job and because it should be something everyone attending should be interested in knowing, I am looking to have him give his report to the whole group next year.

David contacted all the editors and agents attending, but also contacted additional editors to try and get the thoughts from every publishing house.  I asked David if he would write up a few highlights to share with the visitors on my blog.  Here is what he sent.


A Survey Presented at the NJ-SCBWI Conference by David Caruba

“It’s been a dark couple of years.  We all wish that everything was selling better than it is.”  –Editor, NY House

“Now that it’s much more acceptable for adults to be reading kids books, our audience is large.  There’s lots of interest from different sectors in publishing.”  –Editor, NY House

“We’re seeing an evolution of an industry with more electronic devices.  The landscape may change but the market is still hanging in there.”  –Major Agent

In early June, I presented a report of the children’s book market at the 2010 NJ-SCBWI conference.  While the full presentation ran 90 minutes with questions, Kathy Temean invited me to submit a short guest blog summarizing the results.

In total, the survey entailed interviewing nearly 30 children’s book editors and agents, encompassing 13 houses and six literary agencies.  While far from scientific or conclusive, it did paint a fairly consistent picture of the industry:

This is the year of the YA, with a 30% growth in the segment reported by Publisher’s Weekly.  An editor put it better with: “YA, YA, YA.  It’s definitely the hot, revenue-generating category.”  Editors and agents report genuine crossover to adult readers thanks to The Hunger Games.

Picture books remain soft, although there is some interest reported in author-illustrator packages (where the author is also the illustrator) and books with characters that can be branded or grown (by grown they refer to branching the character into other stories and markets, not aging the character) with an eye towards the emerging digital market.

Middle grade stories remain strong, although their demand has softened a little over the past year.  Some editors attribute the softening not to the market but to their own focus on building YA lists.  Single biggest reported issue: middle grade stories without middle grade voices.  “We always want middle grade but just can’t get it,” explained an agent.  “People can’t write it.”  Publishers report wanting MG stories with a marketing platform or media hook.

While everyone in the field seems fed up with vampire books, according to editors and agents, they continue to sell.  “We hate them all, but every month a new vampire deal is published on PW.  The market is voting with their dollars”—stated a frustrated agent.  Latest iteration: vampire satires and stories with a twist.

Fantasy remains hot, historical novels remain soft.  Still, as an agent pointed out, “My position is, we’re going to have a fabulous breakout historical that will revive the category.”

Market trend good: lot of YA dystopian, adult crossover, and the rise of the digital market (eBooks and eReaders).

Market trend bad: publishers looking for “blockbuster books” (more pressure on authors to sell thousands of copies), publishers insisting on writers revising without contract, and publishers acquiring based on rumors of what Stephanie Myers’ next book will be about.

So how healthy is the children’s book market?  Surprisingly healthy.  All total, 95% of publishers indicated they would publish the same number of books as in 2009 or slightly more.

I wish had thought to take a picture of him giving his presentation.  This one is so small and he really looked nice in his suit and tie.  Thank you David for collecting all the info and sharing it with us.

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Thank you David for that report. Very interesting. Thanks as always Kathy, for presenting us writers and illustrators sooo much helpful information.

  2. I was sorry I couldn’t get to your talk, David. Thank you for posting this.

    Can I ask a question? When you were talking to the editors/agents and they said they want more middle grade but people can’t write middle grade, what did they mean?

    Thanks again for posting this. The value of that conference continues on and on….. 🙂

    • Hi Nanci,

      Thanks for your question. What editors and agents meant is that too many manuscripts submitted as middle grade have voices that are really YA or adult. Another problem mentioned MG manuscripts with adult sensibilities. It’s a real art writing middle grade.

  3. I was very fortunate to attend David’s workshop, and it was EXcellent! He did a tremendous amount of work to compile all that extremely helpful info and I’m grateful. It really helps us get a better handle on what seems to be going on in the industry, which I think is really important.
    Thank you, David, for such a thorough and easy-to-comprehend job. You’re a GREAT and very natural speaker 🙂

  4. This is very, very interesting. As an Elvensie/2K11er with a mid-grade historical coming out, I am doubly thankful my work sold in this soft market.

    • Caroline,

      What is the title and when is it scheduled to come out?


      • May B. It comes out January 10, 2012 (Schwartz and Wade/Random House Children’s Books)

    • Me too, Caroline! I have a historical coming out in Spring 2011, as well. Fingers crossed for that breakout! 😀

      • Wow, you ladies are kicking some publishing butt here! Congrats to both of you! 😀 😀 😀

  5. Thank you for the information!

    • Rena,

      My pleasure. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment.


  6. My favorite line here?

    “Fantasy remains hot, historical novels remain soft. Still, as an agent pointed out, “My position is, we’re going to have a fabulous breakout historical that will revive the category.””

    • Just yesterday while doing my regular browsing in the B&N children’s dept., I met a mother and daughter picking out books (the girl had a B&N gift card to use and her mother insisted it be used on books, not music). This 11-year-old girl LOVES historical fiction 🙂

      • Donna,

        I actually think kids enjoy historical novels, if the author has included things that are relevant today. Girls have been falling in love with boys from the beginning of time, so some things never change.


    • Joyce,

      I hope that historical break-out novel is one of yours.


  7. Thanks so much for posting this, Kathy! This is wonderfully informative as I look to begin the agent-querying process soon. 🙂

    • Crystal,

      There was lots of good info presented. Good luck with the agent search.


  8. Thanks for the great information. 🙂

  9. Personally, I’m glad to hear that YA and vampires (any kind) are still going strong. Publishers and agents may be sick of them but I cannot get enough! Keep ’em coming and I’ll keep reading them!

  10. I really enjoyed your presentation, David, particularly when you said that agents and editors are looking for “ironic vampire” and science-fiction YAs, because the main novel I was marketing at the conference is about a teenage super tech geek who gets turned into a vampire by a hot girl who wants him to be her platonic best friend literally forever (a geek guy’s worst nightmare). That and the critiques I had with an agent and an editor, and the pitch session I had with an agent, have renewed my hope in seeing this project traditionally published. I’ve been considering epublishing it myself, but now that I know there may be other options, I have to give it some more thought. Thanks!

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