Category Archives: Publishing Industry

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.

Five Lessons Working in Publishing Has Taught Me


runnersFall always puts me in a reflective mood, and this week I’ve been thinking about what I’ve learned since I joined publishing four years ago. This is an incredible time in the industry and what an adventure it has been! Here are a few of my top tips for writers.

1) Publishing success is a marathon, not a sprint. We’ve all heard the stories of authors who struck gold—winning an agent, a major publishing deal, and solid commercial success with their very first novel. It does happen. Heck, I’ve worked with a few of those authors. But a far more common scenario goes like this: author writes first novel, hates it, shelves it; writes three more manuscripts, uses them for firewood; submits fifth novel to dozens of agents, finally gets a bite; newly found agent submits manuscripts to publishers; pubs turn it down but agree to look at future work; author gets a modest deal for next three books; agent coaches author through several years of ramen noodles; author writes bestseller and finally “makes it;” several years go by and author hits creative wall, uses new novel for firewood. . . Each variation of this scenario calls for the same advice: dream of overnight success but don’t stake your career on it! If you’re serious about making a life and career out of your writing, be ready for the same ups and downs you’d see in any profession, and throw your hat in the ring for the long haul.

2) Make peace with the unknown. When I began working in publishing in 2010, there was no such thing as a Kindle Fire or a Nook Color (I thought I was darn cool with my spankin’ new Kindle Keyboard). People in the know were saying things like, “we’re about to see e-books really take off.” (Snort!) Self-publishing and vanity publishing were still considered synonymous, and few “serious” authors would consider going indie except as a last resort. Looking back, the pace of change is mind-blowing. To be successful, authors, agents, and everyone else in the industry will have to stay flexible and embrace the changes; what we can’t afford to do is hunker down and hope the tide will change and carry us back to a simpler time. I admit to serious nostalgia for the days of Borders, and I worry about our remaining bookstores. But it’s also one of the most exciting times in the history of publishing—a time to explore new opportunities and look forward to the unforeseeable future.

3) Treat writing like a business, but not at the sake of craft. It’s vital, in this age of limitless distractions, to stay focused on the most important part of your career—the writing. It seems obvious, but too often writers get so caught up in the pressure to market and be on every existing social media outlet, that their craft suffers. It’s in every writer’s best interest to stay current and build good business skills, but all the marketing savvy in the world is useless without a stand-out manuscript—or a finished one, for that matter. Similarly, a stand-out author platform will earn you points in a query letter, but only after you’ve won over the agent with your premise and impeccable writing. Don’t let peripheral work crowd out your priority: getting your best work on the page.

4) A big advance doesn’t (necessarily) mean take your day job and shove it. Over the past few years, I’ve had the privilege of working with or meeting a number of authors who made serious waves with their book deals (hats off to their amazing agents!). When that happens, it calls for a major celebration. But a good agent will also throw in a dash of realism—a big advance isn’t an automatic ticket to super-stardom, and it means you’ll have to work even harder, as the bar has been raised. If your book fizzles, that large sum of unearned royalties can be a major turn-off to your publisher when it comes time for your next book deal. For most authors, success will ebb and flow (see #1). There are too many stories of authors who left themselves with no cushion when their book sales fell short. I’ll never tell anyone not to follow their dream—just be sure that when you do quit that pesky day job, you have a decent Plan B to ensure you don’t have to go back.

5) Writer’s block can strike at any point in your career—roll with it and don’t panic. We’ve all heard about the dreaded “sophomore novel”—the one where you’re writing for a real (no longer hypothetical) agent/editor/audience, and you’ve got that blessed advance to earn out. It’s enough to give anyone stage fright! But what I found surprising was meeting highly successful authors with a string of bestsellers and accolades suffering the same problem. Whether it’s from mounting pressure or creative fatigue, even the most prolific writers have to face this stumbling block at some point in their career. This is where you find out if your support team (agent, editor, critique group, writing coach, etc.) is worth its salt. Those who are will stick with you through the rough patches, show some tough love, and help get you writing smoothly again. And oh yes, you will!

What Does It Take to Be a Good Literary Agent?


Hello, everyone! This is an article I did for our NLA June Newsletter. It’s a popular topic so I thought I’d share it here, along with some added resources. Hope you enjoy!

Earlier this week, my coworker Sara Megibow and I were chatting about a question she often gets in the slush pile, at parties, at family events, and in line for the bathroom. “Being a literary agent sounds fascinating! How can I become one?”businessmanjumping

I’m going to do my best to answer this both for people who have thought about it in passing, and for those who are ready to actively pursue this career. But it’s a BIG question, and I definitely recommend getting acquainted with a number of literary agent blogs (or Facebook pages, Twitter, or other social media). These will give you an inside look at the daily life of an agent. Here, I’ll start with a few ideas we often hear about agenting, and then I’ll get into why they might not be the best reasons for getting into the business.

Common Assumptions about Being a Literary Agent

“I love books, and reading is my favorite pastime. Being a literary agent would be the perfect job for me!”

“My writing career isn’t taking off. Maybe I should be a literary agent instead and help other people with their careers.”

“I’d like to get my novel published, and becoming an agent sounds like a great way to get my foot in the door and establish the right channels.”

“Doesn’t J.K. Rowling’s agent own an island? I want to make that kind of money, too.”

Keeping It Real

Unfortunately, all of these ideas come from the same misconception—that liking books or being an English major are the perfect qualifications for becoming an agent. (Hey, I admit to having this same idea before I joined the industry.) But let’s look at a breakdown of Sara’s typical workweek to get a more realistic picture:

  • 50% Marketing, publicity, and promotion for current client books
  • 15% Negotiating and auditing contracts
  • 15% Selling subsidiary rights (film, audio, foreign rights)
  • 10% Author career planning
  • 5% Reading client manuscripts
  • 5% Reading slush pile manuscripts (full and sample pages)

You might be starting to see why, as Sara puts it, “You’re probably better off with a degree in law than in English, and you’d better have the spirit of an entrepreneur.” She also says good communication skills are at the heart of being an agent, since a big part of the job is career counseling and acting as mediator between authors and publishers. Kristin often talks about an agent’s job being primarily about problem-solving and putting out fires—again, good communication skills are a must.

Now, in case you’re feeling deflated, let me add that a love of books is still at the heart of this. The ability to recognize a strong story with beautiful writing is indispensable to an agent. After all, if you’re fabulous at sales but don’t like to read, you’re probably better off selling cars or software, or something else you really dig. Because the other truth is that most agents don’t get a J.K. Rowling-sized deal the moment they start out, and making a living based on commissions can be a roller-coaster ride. It can take years to reach a steady and reliable income, so having a working spouse, a second job, or other source of income at the outset are a must. My point is that you’re going to need to be personally invested (in terms of passion and interest) in order to stick it out.

If you’re picturing agenting as a surefire path to wealth, or as a way to get paid to be a bookworm, it’s probably not the right career for you. It’s also not a job for novelists who want to publish; if that’s your goal it will be obvious, and it will be a turn-off to your publishing colleagues. But if you have a genuine passion for books and authors, the right skill set, and a healthy dose of perseverance, you just might find your dream job. The gals I work for sure did. : )

* * *

Here’s our bucket list of skills you should have (or work on building) if you are serious about becoming an agent:

  • law/legal
  • marketing/sales
  • communication (oral and written)
  • analytical/editing (for seeing holes in plot and determining how to make a story viable)
  • organization (for managing details about 30-40 clients, hundreds of contacts in the industry, and multiple balls in the air)
  • speed reading with excellent comprehension (for that constant flood of submissions!)


Here are some additional perspectives and practical advice from others in the biz: (Agent Kristin Nelson) (Agent Rachelle Gardner) (Agent Mandy Hubbard)