Five Facts Aspiring YA Authors Should Know (A Conference Experience)

February 17, 2010

By Sarah Harian

This weekend I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the 2010 San Francisco Writers Conference. I experienced a whirlwind of different emotions–anxiety from having to attend alone, fear of not being noticed or being rejected by all of the publishing professionals, relief when I met a handful of wonderful writers on the first day, and joy when I realized how confident I came off during my pitch sessions. These emotions made for a marvelous experience, one that I am very happy to share with the OPWFT readers.

YA Lit was a HUGE topic among conversations between writers, even though a lot of the writers at the conference didn’t write YA. YA was brought up in every single panel I attended, and here’s why:

NUMBER ONE: The amount of YA books on the shelves has increased 83% in the past two years.

You should have seen the faces of all the adult fiction writers when Regina Brooks (from Serendipity, LLC) spilled this little fact at a panel. Those were some numbers! Which leads me to number two…

NUMBER TWO: YA is the reason why a lot of publishing houses are still in business.

Daniela Rapp, editor at St. Martin’s Press, revealed this at a panel about turning your manuscript into a book.

If you’ve been into a Borders recently, you’ll know why. Recently, Borders has rearranged their shelves do display a “Borders Ink” section right at the front of the store. In the Borders in my town, this is the busiest section of the floor. There are always customers there, carrying around the newest Mortal Instruments or Vampire Academy book. Even in a recession, YA booms. Of course, the boom started a couple of years ago, but it took a while for editors to start admitting it was the main reason for the publishing world staying on its feet.

NUMBER THREE: The trend that you’re seeing now is two years old.

That’s right, folks. That’s how long it usually takes from Agent to Bookstore. Editors are no longer looking for Fallen Angels and Werewolves. This is ok though, because as a writer, you don’t want to follow a trend. You want to start one. So write the story that’s in your heart, not ones like those that are selling off the shelves.

Steampunk and Vampires are the exceptions though. The term “steampunk” became a running joke at the conference because either an agent was actively seeking it or had no idea WTH steampunk was. Every author decided on telling others that they wrote steampunk, even though they also knew nothing about the genre.

As for vampires… Well, as it was said many times over the weekend, “Vampires will never die”.

NUMBER FOUR: Publishers these days spend very little money building your platform.

Most editors, and even some agents will ask you this question before they take on your project: “What are you going to do to get the word out?”

It’s up to us, the writers, to advertise our projects and books. This was a HUGE topic at the conference this year. Don’t have a Twitter account? Get one. Don’t have a website? SERIOUSLY think about investing some money into buying a domain and getting a nice, clean layout. Don’t have a blog? Not only do you need one, but you also need to post every other day.

Some agents don’t care about whether or not you have already established some internet presence, but it was said by more than one agent that they do some research on a writer before signing them and see what they’ve already done to build a readership. Yes, if you are querying, agents are researching you. This means that it is VITAL for you to be polite and courteous while you are networking and actively working to get your name out there.


With the dawning realization that YA is such a popular market, a lot of writers with projects that had young protagonists started contemplating pitching their book as YA. This is fine and all, but I KNEW that many of these people had never picked up a YA book in their life, or at least hadn’t since the days of S.E. Hinton or Lois Lowry. The YA market has changed so drastically in recent years, and will continue to change. It is important for you, as a writer, to get your hands on as many YA books from all different genres as you possibly can. See what others are writing about. Take note of their styles. It will help you develop your own voice.



  1. NUMBER ONE: The amount of YA books on the shelves has increased 83% in the past two years.

    Oh wow, that’s such a mind-boggling number.

    Thank you for sharing these facts with us!

  2. Awesome post Sarah! Thanks for sharing!

  3. That’s a huge number, but not very surprising. YA novels have always been the all for publishers – people were just too scared to admit it.

  4. Great post, Sarah. Course, I was bummed to hear about angels, but I’m hoping that means “fallen angels” and my arent’ fallen, lol. Pretty funny how vampires never die, ha, ha! And it’s awesome how YA is the savior of the publishing world! Way cool!


  5. Wow. I knew the number was big. I didn’t know it was almost all encompassing.

  6. Thanks for this. I feel like I flew across country, sat in the audience and got really depressed while in attendance! Except I saved the cost of the plane fare. 🙂 Actually is it encouraging or discouraging to know how popular YA is? Hard to say. I hope some of the pretenders to the throne fall away in the next year. I’m sure there are a lot of “Oh, I can do THAT and make a lot of money” types out there. Sigh.
    Cheers, Kristen

  7. Thanks for sharing, Sarah!!

  8. You already told me all these facts, but I have to say that they are still ridiculous all the same. Because of what the panels said, I predict an even bigger YA surge.

  9. WOOT WOOT Long live YA!!!! 😀

    Great post Sarah!!

  10. YA produces some of the best writing and some of the worst currently on the shelves. The difference is between those who tell a good story and damn the notion that they are telling a YA story and those who set out to tell a YA story which tend to be formulaic crap.

  11. Comprehensive and timely. Very helpful. Thank you for posting!

  12. Wonderful post! I’m glad you had a great time and this info is amazing!

  13. Nice post! I wish I could have gone!

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