09 October 2012

Bev Katz Rosenbaum sizes up the publishing industry from dual perspectives (as author and editor)

Bev Katz Rosenbaum
I recently peppered Bev Katz Rosenbaum with questions about all things writing and editing and she provided some enlightening insights into the publishing industry. 

Bev got her start in publishing at Harlequin Books, where she worked her way up to Editor and won a Romance Writer's of America award for excellence in editing. (And, apparently, almost met Fabio twice.) Her YA novel, I WAS A TEENAGE POPSICLE, was published by Penguin in 2006. She has spent the past few years freelance critiquing and editing for children's publishers, book packagers and aspiring authors. Visit her website to learn more about her work!

Q: How has the market changed since your YA novel was published in 2006? (And, yes, I realize you could write another novel in response to this question! Can you hit on the one or two most significant changes you've seen that affect aspiring authors?)

A: Yes, the market has changed significantly since 2006 in a number of ways, but per your orders, I'll just talk about two! First off, that was a time when many new YA imprints were emerging. Too many. Consequently, soon after, the YA market was glutted and a number of imprints closed their doors. While YA is still a fairly profitable segment of the market for traditional publishers, because of the current state of the industry, only certain types of novels get published. (That's way number two that the industry has changed.) A book of mine that was shopped recently went to Acquisitions at a number of houses, only to be told by Marketing it wouldn't appeal to a wide enough segment of the market. One editorial director told my agent it was the kind of book that might develop a 'cult' following but that wasn't enough. 

To sum up, it's hard to sell either a fun, light YA today (make it an MG!), or anything that's too experimental, form- or content-wise (which was the case with that recently-shopped book of mine). Books have to feel like big bestsellers to be acquired by traditional publishers today. In North America, anyway. A light, fun YA of mine about a teen girl genie who falls for her teen guy assignee (but as part of the whole genie gig, has to help get him together with another girl) just sold to a couple European publishers.

Q: What do you see as the pros and cons of pursuing a traditional publishing route (with agent) vs. going it alone to pursue a smaller publisher or self-publish?

A: So yeah, some of those authors with big bestseller type books do very well with agents and traditional publishers. But you want to ensure you'll get A-list marketing support if you go that route. If you're on a publisher's B or C list in terms of marketing and your book doesn't get a push, the chains might not pick it up, and even if they do, if you're stacked in the shelves, your book will disappear in a few weeks, and then you'll be in trouble, because these days, you will never, ever get those rights back. And your publisher will way over-charge for the digital edition, ensuring no one will buy it. 

I'm not telling everyone to go it alone. In fact, as indicated above, I have a couple books I could do that with (even had them edited and designed!) but haven't yet, because I'm not yet confident enough in my digital, business, and marketing skills to do so. You have to really want to run a publishing business and be willing to thoroughly master all the skills running said business requires in order to do well. Especially if you're self-publishing YA. (Interestingly, my friends writing chick lit for adults are doing super well on their own. So much for publishers saying chick lit doesn't sell...) 

I'm a big fan of the Entangled model--authors get the higher royalties of self-publishing along with professional design, editing and marketing support. I'm wary of a lot of the other hybrid publishers, as they don't provide the kind of marketing support Entangled does (Entangled actually organizes a blog tour for each and every author!), and their staffers do not have the kind of industry experience Entangled staffers do. Unfortunately, the YA I have that didn't go is not an Entangled kind of book. But I might try a romantic/comedic novella (geared to adults) with Entangled and see how that goes.

Q: You've critiqued and edited A LOT of manuscripts. What are the most common mistakes that keep a good concept and good writing from rising to the level today's publishers demand?

A: A lot of manuscripts I see are imitative and unoriginal.Yes, paranormals and dystopians are still selling, but you have to have really fresh twists. And really work on voice. Give an editor a really fresh twist on a classic concept and an uber-original voice (but as I said above, don't get too experimental!) and you're in. 

Q: You worked briefly for Entangled. Can you tell us a little bit about their approach, how it differs from traditional publishers, and if you think we'll see more publishers going this route?

A: Yes, I think the Entangled route is the model of the future. A lot of imitators are popping up, but as I said, none of the others, to my knowledge, offers the kind of marketing support Entangled does. Their editors travel everywhere, talk about the books everywhere, and as I said earlier, each and every author gets an organized blog tour and more. And the other companies don't recruit staffers with the kind of experience everybody on the Entangled team has. There, all editors have had in-house editorial positions at big publishing houses, and all marketing staffers have had experience at large marketing companies. Many Entangled books have already hit the big bestseller lists. And their YAs get print as well as digital distribution.

Q: Since you critique books for a living, do you find it difficult to read for pleasure? How important is it for authors (and editors) to continue reading new books they're NOT working on... and how do you target what to read to keep abreast of the market?

A: Yes, I do find it difficult to read for pleasure, but I make time to read each and every night--books my friends have written, well-received books in the genre I'm currently writing in, and books I want to read just because I want to! I think it's very important to read in your genre and also to keep abreast of the deals being made in your genre (if you're going the trad route).

Q: Can you tell us what a typical day is like for you, and how you balance your editing work with your own writing work (and find time for it all)?

A: I usually try to write for a couple of hours early in the morning, before I begin editing. (I almost always have an editing job on the go.) But if I've just finished writing something, I'll focus on the editing for a while, and if I've just finished editing, I'll see if I can squeeze in a couple days of just writing.

Q: What are you working on now as an author?

A: Writing-wise, I'm currently writing a short romantic comedy (geared to adults), with the intention of submitting it to Entangled.  (I'll keep you posted!)

Thank you, Bev! (I feel so much smarter now.) Questions, anyone? Ask away in the comments below...


  1. Hi Bev. *waves* We came up together in the early 2000's and I agree with your outlook on sweet YA. Because my books were "urban" even in 2007 my book had a tough time competing with YA street-lit. Do you think the reality is that sweet YA/light, fun YA basically HAS to be a romance novel? Because honestly if it's not contemporary (i.e. literary) or paranormal books like mine/ours don't seem to have any place these days. I've never thought of my books as romance but am feeling that may be their only home. Which would change my writing angle.

  2. Yes, unfortunately, sweet/light/fun YA is essentially done as far as the traditional publishers are concerned. If you have a manuscript like this, you have to rewrite it for the middle grade market. Which is difficult for some of us. Humorous teen romances are hard to sell to traditional publishers, too. Deeper romances with a bit of humor can sell well, though...

  3. *sigh* I've been told my books are more MG but I'm one of those authors that find it difficult to write for that market. My books have always been a hybrid. They're sweet but the intricacies of relationships are still a bit mature for a true MG market (which is what...9-11).

  4. Paula, I am no expert on the MG market, except that I have an 8-year-old daughter and a 12-year-old son, and they are reading at either end of that category. There's such a range within MG, it would seem there'd be room for stories with some relationship intricacies in the older MG. In my previous interview with MG author Natalie DIas Lorenzi, who is also a teacher & librarian, she said students reading MG are asking her for romance. So... maybe the upper MG/almost YA is the place for sweet/light/funny? (I hope there's a place for it!)

  5. <>

    True. I hope so.

    I've always valued Bev's insight because she straddles both sides of the industry. This post has really got me thinking about my current WIP in a new way.

  6. I think you and Natalie are right on there, Sharon. And Paula, I think your books and mine were both sort of 'tweeners'--between MG and YA. Publishers still don't know where to put those books, in MG or YA. Personally, I think they do better in MG. My daughter and her friends were just over 13 when Popsicle came out, and they were already so over that kind of book! All my fan mail came from 11-year-olds, even though my book was shelved in the YA section. Which makes me think I missed out on a lot of readers...

  7. Yes, Bev, you're exactly right. My concern, though, was my first two books were perfect for 11-12 year olds. But it was a series and by the third book the material had a different tone. It was more mature and serious. But in the end, those are marketing issues. Right? I need to get my mind around that I'm really writing for an MG audience though I've always aligned myself solidly with YA. I really appreciate this post and dialogue.