Posted by: Kathy Temean | July 5, 2011

2011 NJ-SCBWI Children’s Book Market Report, Part One

As promised:  Here is David Caruba’s STATE OF THE CHILDREN’S BOOK MARKET REPORT that he did for the NJSCBWI June Conference:

I’ve been doing the Market Report off and on for ten years, presenting it each spring at the NJ-SCBWI conference.  In past years, attendees had to elect to hear it; this year it was presented to all attendees following Sunday breakfast.

The survey starts with interviewing approximately 30 editors and agents, across (this year) 13 houses and seven agencies.  The questions asked include: what’s selling well (picture book, middle grade, young adult); what are editors buying and agents selling; are historical, fantasy, vampire and dystopian novels hot or soft; are they seeing any trends?

In addition, if an issue is raised (for example, how Borders filing for bankruptcy protection impacts the market), I can quickly begin asking other industry professionals to learn moreabout it.  Thus, the survey by design is fluid.  Questions can be added at any moment.

Very Important: What it’s not is mathematically accurate or by any means scientific.  It is not intended to be the end-all of industry accuracy, nor is it meant to rain on any picture book writer’s parade.  Rather, it is intended as an industry snapshot of where the market is at this moment (this moment being June, 2011).  It is as if editors from several different houses—say Viking, Scholastic and Candlewick, happened to meet at a bar and chatted a little shop.

So before diving into 2011, let’s quickly review how things were a year ago in 2010.

Market, 2010

Last year was characterized as the Year of the YA, with a reported 30% growth in the segment and lots of crossover led by Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games.  Character-driven series that could be branded or grown were in demand; publishers were more open to author-illustrator picture books even though picture book sales were slow; and middle grade stories without middle grade voices were reported to be a prevalent challenge to editors and agents alike.

Overall, survey participants reported the children’s book market to be very healthy.  One could surmise, sitting in the Princeton
Hyatt (where last year’s report was presented), that the 2011 report would find similar results.

Industry Viewpoints, 2011

“I’m the most optimistic about the book industry than I’ve been in a couple of years.  But I wouldn’t call it a book industry.  I’d call it a media industry.”—Editor Comment, Major New York House.  “My wife visits a patient in the hospital.  The patient is
20 years old and is reading Matched.  Her doctor walks in and says, ‘Oh, I just finished that!’”

“WE ARE UP IN ARMS HERE!!!  Authors are losing financial ground in the e-world.  If there’s an electronic copy of your book, you will make less money than a hardcover.”—A Noted Agent

“The YA market has the tendency to create a lot of authors who will be temporary stars.  I’m just curious, which will reign
supreme.  Who will be the next Suzanne Collins or Stephanie Meyer.”—Major Editor on YA Author Celebrity

 2011 Numbers

 Taking a look at the numbers, when asked what was selling well:

  • 60% of editors and agents reported YA
  • 40% reported Middle Grade 

When asked what editors and agents were primarily acquiring: 

  • 20% said YA
  • 40% MG
  • 7% Picture Book
  • 33% reported acquiring across the board

This raises a question: why if YA was selling well, are only 20% of industry looking to acquire it?  The short answer: there are a lot of YA manuscripts in the pipeline.

Great Quote:  “I buy what I fall in love with.”  –An Editor

Picture Books:  I have to temper my comments on picture books.  The good news is that for the first time in three years, there are signs of life in picture books.  Both editors and agents, 95% of them surveyed, stated that PBs are improving, or at the very
least, holding their own.  “They’re not as dismal as they have been,” an agent told me succinctly.

Several editors expressed interest in wanting to build their picture book lists—which was nice to hear.  There is still a preference for author-illustrators, and the segment is skewed more toward younger children then older (remember when picture books were for all ages, when Brother Eagle Sister Sky topped the New York Times Bestseller List?).

Which brings us to word length.  Several years ago the preferred picture book word length was 500-1000 words.  It dropped two years ago to 800, down to 500 last year.  With this year’s survey it drops again, to the 300-500 level, consistent with younger age children.

Middle Grade:  Middle grade continues to be strong, according to everyone surveyed.  90% of editors and agents surveyed, however, reported middle grade not as strong as YA. Consistent with 2010 remarks, most industry professionals reported
finding a true middle grade voice difficult. “Everyone is searching for the next great middle grade voice,” an editor remarked.

Interesting to note: BEA offered the first ever middle grade buzz panel this year.

A number of agents reported that editors are actively looking for MG but not actively buying it.  “We haven’t seen it in
action as much as we like.  Editors have to put their money where their mouth is
This comment was disputed by a number of surveyed editors.  “When we hear from sales what they want more of, it’s always middle grade,” an editor commented.

Some agents expressed frustration with publishers passing on books deemed “too quiet.”  By too quiet, they refer to a preference for genre books, which they attribute to marketing and sales pressure.  “Quiet is the new kiss of death,” commented
one agent.

Young Adult:  According to a number of industry professionals surveyed, the YA segment is in transition.  “We’re still making a lot of good YA sales, but we can’t point to one thing and say that’s it,” explained a New York agent.

Many expressed the sentiment that vampire, paranormal and dystopian interest is waning.  Others indicated that the market
feels crowded.  As for the next big YA category, no one could say with certainty.

One thing that hasn’t changed in a year is that crossover—titles that appeal to both teens and adults—remain king.  “One
of our books was compared favorably to The Hunger Games,” explained an agent.  “It had amazing adult crossover.”

A strong 85% of editors and agents indicated that fantasy YA is still selling well.  Many editors expressed that YA is the most rapidly expanding segment of children’s books right now.

IN SUMMARY: “YA is still selling really well.  It’s the machine that knows no end.  It’s like the energizer bunny.” –Prominent Agent.


Tomorrow, in the second part of the Survey, we’ll take a closer look at just how hot (or not) historical, fantasy, romance, vampire, and dystopian segments are, and gage how healthy overall the children’s book market is this year.

David Caruba can be reached at  Comments on the 2011 Children’s Book Market are welcome.

Thank you David.  I am sure everyone appreciates the time you spent to gather all the information and hours you put into pulling all that info into a coherent report.  We look forward to reading Part II.

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Great read. What about nonfiction?


    Kelly Milner Halls


  2. thanks for sharing this survey…. and I concure as an agent. Frustrating but exciting market these days. The Quiet book IS overlooked…a shame the editors realize too. And the concept book…it’s all about character mostly.
    Look forward to tomorrows views…. 🙂 c


  3. Hi Kelly,

    Unfortunately, my bandwidth was limited and I didn’t survey the nonfiction field. I’m thinking about it for next year’s survey.

    Hi catugeau,

    Thanks for your comments. I personally dread having a manuscript referred to as “quiet.” As an agent, you appreciate how much the children’s book field has become like other entertainment fields over the last decade–less about art and storytelling, more about dollars and market share.


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