Hot Titles & Upcoming Trends: A Look at BookExpo America 2016


2016-05-13 16.32.19Last week I attended BookExpo America—the largest annual publishing industry trade fair in the U.S. With an attendance of nearly 20,000, it’s a monumental gathering of publishers, editors, agents, book sellers, librarians, authors, and others in the industry. BookExpo runs Wednesday through Friday, and then on Saturday the show opens to the public through Book Con, which gives book lovers a chance to meet their favorite authors, attend panels, and go home with a suitcase full of free advance reader copies (ARCs). What could be better?

One of my favorite things about BEA is that it’s an opportunity to preview the titles publishers, agents, and booksellers are most excited about for the coming year. In this post, I’ll share a glimpse of those hot new trends.

This year’s Expo took place in Chicago, after more than a decade at the Javits Center in New York. Reactions to the new location were mixed; some attendees pointed out that attendance was down slightly and that East Coast publishers sent fewer staff members and 2016-05-13 16.04.07threw fewer parties (boo!). Others saw the new venue as a plus, since it drew larger numbers of attendees from other parts of the country than usual and brought in many first-time attendees (yes!). Personally, I love New York, but I enjoyed the energy and freshness of this year’s Windy City BEA just as much.

Among the most popular events are the “Buzz Panels,” where editors from top publishing houses gush about a book they can’t wait to see debut. There is a panel for each of three
categories: Young Adult, Middle Grade, and Adult titles. This year’s Buzz Books in YA fiction featured an eclectic mix, from high stakes fantasy, to a dark satirical tale of modern high school, to the story of a girl who finds power through rap music after experiencing sexual abuse. Here is the complete list from the YA Buzz Panel:

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CARAVAL by Stephanie Garber



SPONTANEOUS by Aaron Starmer

I have to admit I’m particularly excited about that first title because I had the great fortune to work on it with Stephanie as she prepared to submit it to agents and publishers. Watch for its hardcover debut in January!

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Stephanie Garber and I get excited about her beautiful Caraval ARCs

Other upcoming YA titles that generated major excitement were Sabaa Tahir’s A TORCH AGAINST THE NIGHT (sequel to AN EMBER IN THE ASHES) and Laini Taylor’s STRANGE THE DREAMER.

In Middle Grade, the focus was on classic adventure stories with a fresh twist. Here are the titles to watch for this fall from the Buzz Book Panel:



FRAZZLED by Booki Vivat



In adult fiction, a few of the hot titles featured were Coleson Whitehead’s THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD, which he describes as historical fiction with “one degree of magic realism,” Jodi Picoult’s latest work SMALL GREAT THINGS, and Louise Penny’s A GREAT RECKONING, the latest in her Armand Gamache mystery series. Another title that caused a stir among booksellers was THE GIRLS, author Emma Cline’s debut about a teenage girl’s disastrous experience in a cult in the 1960s.

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YA Buzz panel author Sonia Patel rapping a song inspired by her protagonist in Rani Patel in Full Effect

Here are the titles from the Adult Buzz Book Panel:


THE MOTHERS by Britt Bennett


A HISTORY OF WOLVES by Emily Fridlund

THE NIX by Nathan Hill

DARKTOWN by Thomas Mullen



Don’t miss your chance to download FREE excerpts from some of the titles mentioned here, and many other hot upcoming releases, in the Publishers Marketplace Buzz Book collections.

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Publicist Vanessa Lloyd-Sgambati, agent Regina Brooks, marketing expert Ken Smikle, and African-American Lit Book Club founder Troy D. Johnson talk about how to hook readers and drive book sales

A thread that connected many of this year’s panels and sessions was the continued need to bring diversity into our literature and the industry as a whole; yet great strides have been made. The team from We Need Diverse Books put on another fantastic panel about progress and continuing challenges (e.g. using terminology like “marginalized groups,” which connotes separation, not inclusion). In the panel “In Search of A Book Buyer: African American Women Top the List,” speakers addressed research that shows African American women represent the highest percentage of readers in the country, and how to authors can get their books into the hands of this audience. Regina Brooks, panelist and president of Serendipity Literary Agency, said, “My mantra is that as much as we need diverse books, we need people to market diverse books” (Publishers Weekly Show Daily: Day 2). One idea that come forth was the importance of getting books into community gathering places e.g. community centers, churches, and salons.

tribeBookExpo features a huge number of exciting new titles in nonfiction as well. Two must-reads that I came across focused on sociological aspects of life in the modern world: TRIBE: ON HOMECOMING & BELONGING by Sebastian Junger (May 24/Harper Collins) and THE FOUR DIMENSIONAL HUMAN: WAYS OF BEING IN THE DIGITAL WORLD by Laurence Scott. Junger, author of The Perfect Storm, spoke at Thursday’s Adult Author Breakfast, where he shared his belief that books “actually are kind of sacred…. It means that every phase of the book-making process and the bookselling process is sacred to some extent in my belief.” Expressing his gratitude to booksellers, he said, “It’s one of the most profound and important things I think that a person can do; that a society can do. The hands need the books and the books need the hands.”

Another exciting aspect of BEA is its spotlight on indie authors through the UPublishU conference, held concurrently at the same location (McCormick Center). Speakers from Ingram Spark, Kirkus Indie, the Editorial Freelancers Association, and many others shared tips and best practices. Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords, presented his “Top 10 Trends Shaping the Future of Publishing” (visit the Smashwords website for Mark’s industry insights and resources).

Want to see more fun shots of BEA? Visit my Word Cafe album on Facebook.

Four Red Flags to Avoid in the Opening Pages of Your Novel


Warning light. copyIf you’re like me, this busy time of year can cause a dip in your creative energy. So, how best to use your time as a writer? ‘Tis the season for revisions! Whether you are just wrapping up NaNoWriMo or heading into your thirteenth draft, December is a great time to put on your editor’s hat. Most agents take a break from reading submissions over the holidays, so this will help ensure you have your novel polished and ready to go when they reopen in January.

Since your opening chapters are often what make or break your submission (or hook a reader if you indie publish), it’s worth focusing some extra attention on them. Based on my six years in the writing industry, I’ve compiled a bank of potential pitfalls for the beginning of a novel. Here, I’ll boil it down to four of the most common.

Four Common Pitfalls to Avoid in Your Opening Pages:

(1) Backstory overload. Also known as the “data dump,” this is one of the most common problems seen in first drafts by both new and seasoned writers. It consists of several paragraphs or pages at the beginning of a story with no purpose except to “clue the reader in” about the main character’s history or past events. It often happens when a writer confuses what she needs to know (in order to write the character and story), versus what the reader needs to know at this moment (which is usually much less). Fixing it means trimming material, or finding ways to weave in the essentials gradually, as the plot moves forward.

(2) Lack of physical grounding in the setting and the main character. Have you ever read a fellow writer’s first draft where your prevailing emotion was confusion? It was probably due to this problem. It occurs when there is not enough “grounding” information to help the reader picture the characters clearly and situate them in time and place. (How does the character see herself? How old is she? Is the scene happening in the kitchen or on the balcony?) The result is that the story feels disembodied, causing the reader’s attention to stray from the action as he tries to tackle those unanswered questions. [Notice I didn’t ask What does the character look like? Some authors give detailed physical descriptions, while others prefer to let readers fill in the blanks. The important thing is to give readers something–is she a teenager or a twenty-something; does she have physical attributes she is self-conscious of, etc.).

(3) Too much musing, ruminating, or psychoanalyzing by the main character/narrator. This is also known as introspection or inner monologue. A healthy dose is necessary for character development, but too much can spell doom for your opening pages. If nothing happens because your protagonist is too busy thinking and philosophizing, the tension fizzles and you quickly lose readers.

(4) No sign of the inciting incident. The inciting incident is the spark that sets in motion your plot arc. Without it, you end up with a story that never gets off the ground. It also plays a key role in your pacing and tension; a good inciting incident sets the tempo that those two elements must maintain. A common problem in early drafts is that the inciting incident shows up much too late. If it is not present within the first 25-30 pages (ideally, even sooner), you’ll have a very hard time getting your audience to read further. Often, this happens because a story starts in the wrong place due to backstory overload or improper sequencing.

As you get ready for your next revision, keep an eye out for these potential culprits. Better yet, have your writing partner or critique group do a diagnostic for you. Happy revising!

Pitch Perfect: How to Make the Most of Face Time with an Agent


Pitch Session

One of my favorite things about fall is that I always have several writers conferences to attend. (Next up: Castle Rock Writers in Parker, CO, November 6-7.) In that spirit, I’m due for a post about the most fear-inducing activity writers face…worse even than writing a query letter…you know what I’m talking about: PITCHING.

In my literary agency days, I was often asked to take pitches, and for me, that face-to-face interaction was so refreshing after the relative anonymity of the slush pile. But I also knew how hard it was for the person on the other side of the table: ten minutes to make someone else believe in your dream is a lot of pressure. So, is it easier to get a manuscript request in person? Absolutely. Agents are more likely to take a chance on a project after direct contact with the writer. So take a deep breath and go for it—every time you get a chance.

Now, as an indie editor, my role has shifted to one I enjoy just as much: coaching writers on how to make the most of their time in front of an agent. Whether you’re a novice or an experienced pitcher, here are some tips to help you avoid the jitters at your next appointment:

Relax and be comfortable. Agents hate making people nervous (really!). Remind yourself that they are regular people, and they’re just as eager to find their next client as you are to be that client! They might be nervous, too.

Do your homework. Research the agents you are pitching so you can show you know something about them. Agents like to know you are interested in their agency in particular (not just any agency).

Along those same lines, be prepared for the agent to close the pitch session with this: “What questions do you have for me?” It’s a great chance to show your professionalism and satisfy your curiosity about the agent or the publishing business.

• Get ready to elaborate. Agents will usually ask for more information once you have delivered your initial spiel, so try to anticipate some of them in order to avoid that deer-in-the-headlights look. Here are some that I often asked writers during a pitch session:

Is this your first book? Are you working on anything else?

Where do you see your novel fitting in the market? Who is your target audience?

Does your book have series/sequel potential?

Where did the idea for this book come from/what made you just have to write this book?

What do you love most about your story? About your main character(s)?

What does your writing process look like? What do you enjoy most about writing?

• If you have extra time after your pitch, use it! For example, mention you have another novel completed and you’d love the agent’s take on which might be more marketable. Just give a very quick nutshell version—some agents might get annoyed if you’re clearly trying to pitch two novels at once.

What if the agent turns you down? This is the worse-case scenario, but it can happen. If an agent knows your book isn’t her cup of tea, she’s actually doing you a favor by being up front. Don’t be discouraged. Use any remaining time to ask for advice about improving your pitch—so that when you do get in front of the right agent, it will be right on target.