With a host of dedicated YA romance imprints, and teen romance titles on YA publishers’ main lists, today’s teens have no shortage of reading options. Harlequin Teen debuted in 2009, Sourcebooks Fire in 2010, and Kensington’s Kteen in 2011. Each has proven to be a winning decision for the publisher.
“We saw a growth opportunity in the YA category,” says Craig Swinwood, chief operating officer, North America, for Harlequin. “We knew young women were reading Harlequin books and wanted to give them editorial that was dedicated to their interests.”
Leah Hultenschmidt, senior editor for Sourcebooks Fire and Sourcebooks Casablanca, says that Sourcebooks launched its Jabberwocky imprint for kids and its Casablanca imprint for romance at the same time in 2007. “Starting the Fire YA imprint in 2010 seemed like a natural extension,” she says.
Adds Alicia Condon, Kensington’s editorial director: “I love the openness of YA authors to exploring unusual themes and taking risks. When I arrived at Kensington, there was a successful African-American YA program in place, and I felt it made sense to expand to reach a broader market.”
While Berkley/NAL doesn’t have a separate YA line, YA books are well represented in its main lists. “At Berkley/NAL, romance and science fiction/fantasy novels are a huge focus,” says publicist Rosanne Romanello. “We began to realize that lots of the YA hitting shelves involved dystopia, and all things paranormal—which made it easy for some of our genre authors to start writing teen series that dealt with similar tropes.”
Similarly, while HarperCollins’s HarperTeen is not a dedicated romance line, the titles the imprint is acquiring “almost always includes some kind of romantic element,” says Sandee Roston, a publicist for the line. Jodi Lynn Anderson’s July title, Tiger Lily, is one example.
As befits the tech-savvy audience, most YA romance marketing efforts have a strong digital component. “We focus on reaching a teen audience through YA blogs and other Web sites,” says Romanello.
Notes Harlequin’s Swinwood: “Each campaign allows us to integrate multiple platforms for promotion. For example, the recent campaign for April’s The Immortal Rules by Julie Kagawa included a book trailer with hidden symbols and passcodes that granted fans access to restricted areas of the dedicated book Web site, BloodOfEden.com.”
“We market in a multiprong approach because you have so many different audiences who enjoy teen reading,” says Sourcebooks’s Hultenschmidt. She’s planning a “Get Real: Contemps on Tour” campaign this fall that features an eight-city national tour for several authors writing contemporary YA fiction.
Being Cool, Staying in School (Libraries)
Teen romance seems like a natural target for censors, but most publishers have seen little pushback for the genre. “The concern that parents will object to a particular book because of its subject matter is always there,” says Kensington publicist Vida Engstrand. “But all librarians are hunting for books that will get students to read for pleasure.”
“Librarians are asking whether the story line weaves in other issues that are appropriate and relevant,” she says. “For example, August’s Otherkin by Nina Berry is a paranormal romance about a teen shape-shifter, but it also addresses topics like positive body image.”
Authors who write both YA and adult novels enjoy the raw emotions inherent in writing for teens. “All these experiences are happening to a character for the first time and with such intensity,” says Veronica Wolff, whose Blood Fever will be out from NAL in August. “From a storytelling standpoint, the genre is just too tempting to ignore.”
“I first and foremost am writing romance,” says Jennifer McGowan, whose debut YA for Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, Maid of Secrets, is due in spring 2013. “I do explore more sensual elements in my adult work, but they both have what I hope are pulse-pounding scenes.”
“When I write YA, I’m not an author from Ohio with a husband and three kids—I’m Cara Sweeny, a feisty, fiercely competitive valedictorian with an exotic houseguest,” says Melissa Landers, whose YA title Alienated is coming from Disney-Hyperion in 2013. “Writing YA requires more than just a young protagonist—you have to nail the teen voice.”
That said, teens are perfectly happy to put themselves in the shoes of highly unusual characters. “The most important responsibility of having a YA line is to provide books that present an authentic teen experience,” says Sourcebooks’ Hultenschmidt, “even if that experience is fighting dark exiled angels who want to destroy humankind.”