Friday, July 29, 2016

Sara Sargent: Cutting Edge Young Adult Fiction

Sara Sargent is an executive editor at HarperCollins Children's Books. She's published Deb Caletti, Jennifer Echols, Julie Cross, Aaron Karo and Martina Boone, and she acquires everything from picture books through young adult.

YA editors are wondering what's next when it comes to trends. Books that are hitting shelves today were acquired 12 to 24 months ago. It's true that you shouldn't write to trends. Today's trends will be over when your book comes out. Also, books that aren't written from the heart won't be as good.

"My list is only as good as the books you write."

Sara started at HC a year ago to develop books teens really want to read. She wanted to know what made teens tick, and what drives their purchasing habits. "What could I do to make sure the books I was publishing today reflected the teens of today?"

Publishers were publishing books for millennials and Gen Z—the one that follows millennials. Here's some marketing data:
  • First generation to be majority nonwhite
  • Average attention span is 8 seconds
  • They use on average five devices (phone, laptop, desktop, tv, table) 
  • More tolerable of gender diversity than previous generations
It's good to research teens to understand what they want. There are a number of things to research: their music, their pop culture interests, their ideas about sex and identity, what they worry about, what their school lives are like (among many other things). 

What makes her reject a manuscript?
One that feels like it's a book the authors are writing for the teens they were. You need to make it your business to know what would make a teen want to buy it. 

Immerse yourself in teen culture. Watch a lot of YouTube. See what kids are watching. Read advertising industry articles. Subscribe to the AdWeek emails—they have lots of interesting articles on the topics. Download apps. Books are competing with other media for attention, and it's important to know your competition. 

She creates separate social media accounts she uses to follow people. You can use it just for work to follow celebrities and such. See what they're talking about and how they're galvanizing their fans. 

"We need to cozy up to our audience. We need to understand and know them, and—dare I say—love them." 

What does cutting edge mean? 
Among other things: Something that pushes the envelope as a taboo, something that experiments with form, something that makes adults uncomfortable, one that turns traditional relationships upside-down, one that portrays a broader set of experiences. "Innovative and pioneering. Those are great words." 

Rethink storylines. Surprise her. "I know I'm reading something cutting edge when I can feel my brain carving a new path, rather than going on autopilot."

Something innovative builds on the pre-existing canon. "Read, read, and read some more." 

You want to find a new way to express something universal. 

Find her online at and on Twitter and Instagram as @Sara_Sargent.

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