The Ups and Downs of the Current Children’s Book Market

I’ve just returned from the Millennium Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, where the annual summer conference of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators had to be relocated after our ‘old’ and usual hotel site in Century City broke its contract with the group. The Biltmore is an old and elegant building and the staff was friendly and helpful. However, it’s not really big enough for the conference turnout. Around 250 would-be attendees had to be turned away, so the search for a new site will likely continue.
As usual, the state of the industry was discussed with interest, first by Justin Chandra, VP and Publisher of 4 children’s imprints at Simon and Schuster, and later at the Market Report given by Deborah Halverson, author and former editor, and creator of advice site: DearEditor.com.
News is mixed. Children’s book sales are up by only 2%. Sales of teen books are falling, and there is a sharp decline in ebook sales. Chandra said the YA market has been saturated. He says right now fantasy and action/adventure are selling, but since by the time you write and sell a book and get it to market, no one knows what will be hot, he advises you to forget about trends and write what is closest to your heart.
He said that last year there were more sales of fewer titles, big sales of movie tie ins, and it is hard to get attention to midlist. (My note, when was it not?)
The good news, we’re seeing the return of independent children’s book stores, new stores opening, where children books can be hand sold by dedicated staff.
Middle grade sales are pretty solid, and picture book sales are picking up again. Diversity is not a trend, simply real life.
Halverson also talked about the drop in sales, hardcover fiction and YA. Nonfiction sales numbers rose sharply, but that was partly because adult coloring books were counted among juvenile nonfiction. She noted that paperbacks were up, picture books doing well, and ebooks flat for the third year in a row. Someone’s survey noted that 49% of consumers bought both print and ebook formats. She also noted new children’s bookstores opening, and also school book clubs bouncing back.  Middle Grade is a good place to be, open to literary and genres, buying contemporary and historical fiction but with a contemporary voice. Nonfiction is wanted, but with a fresh approach.

Some new imprints: Quinera, (not sure of the spelling–we did not get a handout), wants contemporary and historical, American history and social justice themes; Peeko, picture books for the very young; Her Universal Press, sci-fi and fantasy with strong female roles by female writers, and a few more. SCBWI members can find these in “The Book”‘ on the SCBWI website.

So, you can still sell, but not easily. But authors have heard this for years, right? So don’t give up, keep writing, learning and revising, keep on keeping on! And good luck to everyone.

Cheryl Zach

Tea at the Biltmore

Tea at the Biltmore

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About Cheryl

Cheryl Zach has published over 50 books, mostly for young adult and middle grade, some for adult readers as Nicole Byrd. Her YA titles include the Southern Angel series: Hearts Divides ( which won the Virginia Romance Writers Holt Medallion), Winds of Change, A Dream of Freedom, and Last Rebellion. Her YA Runaway won the RWA Rita award, and she is a member of RWA's Hall of Fame. A military brat, she changed schools 10 times in 12 years, won a National Merit Scholarship, holds a B.A. and M.A. in English and taught school before stopping to write full time. Born in TN, she has lived in TN, TX, GA, on the MS Gulf Coast, in southern CA, in Britain and Germany and has visited most of the other states and several other countries. She has spoken at schools and workshops around the country.

9 thoughts on “The Ups and Downs of the Current Children’s Book Market

  1. Oh, I wish I was sitting next to you, Cheryl! You look lovely in this stunning room. Thanks for the conference update. I hope your work is going well. Stay in touch and hope to see you soon again. Love, Edie XO!

  2. Love the photo, Cheryl. And the news is not unexpected regarding sales and the softening of the YA market. Our business is always runs in cycles. And it’s nice to hear the middle grade is holding and that picture books (yay!) are making a return. Thanks for the report.