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

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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

STALKING JACK THE RIPPER by Kerri Maniscalco

RANI PATEL IN FULL EFFECT by Sonia Patel

SPONTANEOUS by Aaron Starmer

THIEVING WEASELS by Billy Taylor
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:

GERTIE’S LEAP TO GREATNESS by Kate Beasley

THE LOST PROPERTY OFFICE by James R. Hannibal

FRAZZLED by Booki Vivat

TIME TRAVELING WITH A HAMSTER by Ross Welford

THE ADVENTURER’S GUIDE TO SUCCESSFUL ESCAPES by Albert White

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

LITTLE DEATHS by Emma Flint

A HISTORY OF WOLVES by Emily Fridlund

THE NIX by Nathan Hill

DARKTOWN by Thomas Mullen

ANOTHER DAY IN THE DEATH OF AMERICA by Gary Younge

 

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.

July Slush Pile Recap

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Where did July go? Here it is, time for another shutterstock_140377015slush pile snap shot! But this time, instead of just telling you what types of projects we requested, I’ll also say why they didn’t quite work out in spite of a promising query letter.

Partial manuscripts (30 pages) read: 63

Full manuscripts requested: 6

A few trends that stood out:

  • Romance (historical and contemporary). On the heels of the RWA Conference in Atlanta, high-quality submissions came pouring in! The problem? Many just didn’t stand out despite a strong query. “Haven’t we seen this before?” A little too formulaic, a little too predictable.
  • Well-written dystopians. But in spite of the great writing, they were just too HUNGER GAMES. We still request this genre but the truth is that, no matter how strong the writing, it’s getting really tough to stand out from the crowd.
  • Contemporary YA with teens facing big, complex issues. What didn’t work? Unlikeable main characters—they were morose, cynical, or just bland. Hard to spend an entire novel with someone like that! Characters need room to grow and transform—but we have to want to root for them even from the beginning.

So what did work from this month’s slush pile? I can’t give too many hints at this stage, but let’s just say we finally found that stand-out middle grade novel we’ve been begging for. Still, keep them coming! Agents are always on the hunt for this elusive beast.

June Slush Pile Recap

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I thought it might be fun to start offering a monthly snapshot of the Nelson Literary Agency slush pile. So, based on the queries we received, here’s a list of the topics and sub genres that really caught our eye and resulted in a sample page (partial manuscript) request in the month of June. To give you an idea of what’s hot on the market, I’ll mainly share things that are not based on the particular tastes of our agents but that are being widely sought by other agents as well.

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JUNE SNAPSHOT:

Partial manuscripts (30 pages) read:  69

Full manuscripts requested:  5 

Hot Topics:

  • Contemporary YA stories with a LGBT component (examples we saw: teen coming out in a conservative small town, girl with two dads—one has been accused of a serious crime)
  • Middle Grade boy stories (fantasy or contemporary)—editors are still clamoring for these so agents are on the hunt
  • New Adult with a pithy story (one example was a realistic and darkly humorous portrayal of a young man battling cancer)
  • Contemporary romances with a sassy voice