Why YA Publishing is a Mess Right Now

Yikes. This is kind of a bad-news/good-news post, in the context of Mesh. Since Mesh is considered a ‘high-MG/low-YA’ novel, I’m keenly interested in what’s happening with the publishing market. That’s why I was concerned when I heard a lot of tweets saying ‘YA publishing is a mess.’ Like, what?

I did some digging, but nothing seemed to make sense. Nothing in the news, no major blog posts. I started asking authors on Reddit and Twitter and got a breakdown which I’m sharing with you here. First, read the explanation, and then we’ll talk about what this means for Mesh.

Interestingly enough, I asked this question on /r/pubtips and the answer was good enough for /r/goodlongposts:

I think this might have happened anyway, especially given we don’t actually know precisely why they closed. YA has had declining sales for a while; it’s an over-saturated category. With Jimmy, it’s possible James Patterson would have decided to shutter the “original” part of the imprint regardless. With Imprint, Macmillan recently got a new President, and he’s clearly making moves. COVID may have simply… hastened some decisions.

COVID has impacted publishing more than I think people realize. TV too. Yes, from our perspective “hey we’re doing these things more than ever!” but a lot of regular cash flow streams dried up because COVID changed buying habits and many businesses simply weren’t equipped/prepared for certain steady “norms” to bottom out so drastically. I work in TV as my day job and yes we’re still chugging along (yay I have a job!) but advertiser dollars are down across the board, and many many many many customers are cord cutting b/c of, well, suddenly falling into extreme poverty. Also production completely shut down so most media companies are literally… running out of content. It’s gonna be BLEAK very soon when everyone realizes no new shows ha.

Re: publishing… most publishers just don’t have much cash flow on hand for this kind of emergency. Publishing heavily relies on book stores and physical books. it’s also a delicate dance of cost to print vs. sales and suddenly a TON of printers stopped printing/went out of business, etc… I’m betting costs went WAY up for the books publishers are able to print b/c now there’s fewer people to print them, they have to do shorter runs, and it’s all more expensive. And readers who prefer physical books can no longer go to bookstores to buy them, or browse. Bookstores are still pretty important for sales; a lot of readers don’t do ebooks. Events, too, are a backbone of promotion for a lot of publishers… and all events were cancelled. That 100% hurt sales. Oh plus schools and library markets! No schools! No libraries… sales down. Also if people are hurting for money, they won’t buy books. Books are a luxury for a lot of people. (also betting piracy is way up!)

Plus, simply, publishing wasn’t prepared for this. No one was. So suddenly that risky business choice a year ago–that 7 figure (or close to it) splashy deal that would pay dividends (they hoped) when the book came out and hopefully broke out… welp COVID helped many of these books go splat in the market (especially those with marketing plans based entirely on in-person events…). Other publishers got lucky–that thing they bought 18 months ago hit well with the global mood and yay we don’t have to fire anyone/furlough them/close an imprint. Basically: a lot of publishers are having a major cash flow issue I’m guessing because they lost an entire season of sales, more or less. Most of them don’t have budgets/operating cash flow that can handle a significant reduction in sales… I think it will be interesting though–publishers who had a lot of titles in COVID-flourishing genres and who have readership who were already converted to being ebook forward will probably do better. Romance, thrillers, anything escape read basically. Some types of YA. But that’s the thing: I think we’re seeing consolidation that would have happened anyway, in a category that has had serious issues with sales for years, not just a few months. It doesn’t make sense to run an entire imprint if too few of your titles breakout…

I don’t know. It’s really interesting. I feel AWFUL for the editors though.

Be sure to check out the discussion below the thread, too. This hits EVERYBODY, not just YA authors and publishers. Now, here’s why that’s good news for Mesh: In the short term, it was bad to hear Mesh get rejected by a lit agent. In the long run, had Mesh got a book deal, it would have likely rotted on the vine along with many other fine titles. Getting that rejection wasn’t a missed opportunity so much as it was a dodged bullet. Lesson learned.

I can’t imagine how painful and frustrating it must be for those authors/editors/agents/publishing people directly impacted by these big business changes. I’m getting into a weird business, but it’s better than trying to self-publish Mesh.

Keep grinding.

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