Earlier this month, I attended BookExpoAmerica on behalf of the Intergalactic Academy. I was quite excited this year–the catalog of YA SF titles that publishers were offering up promised to be wide, and two of the titles featured on the YA Buzz panel–Genn Albin’s Crewel and Kat Zhang’s What’s Left of Me–were of a science fictional bent. For sci-fi fans, this was a marked improvement over last year’s panel, which featured three fantasy/paranormal titles and one contemporary thriller.
But did the convention live up to all that promise?
In some ways, it did. Highlights included booth signings with Malinda Lo (at the SFWA booth, in the association’s first appearance at BEA), MT Anderson, and Walter Dean Myers. There was a sizable crowd of debut YA sci-fi authors in attendance as well, including the aforementioned Kat Zhang and Genn Albin, Dan Krokos, Lenore Appelhans, Liz Norris, and Jessica Khoury. Some of YA sci-fi’s biggest names also appeared. Intergalactic Academy supporter Veronica Roth signed as part of Harper’s Dark Days tour, and the giant red bubble promoting Ally Condie’s Reached was easily one of the best promo pieces at BEA.
However, in some ways the tensions between bloggers and publishers were strongly felt–tensions which proved to make obtaining certain titles difficult. The vast majority of publishers put out their ARCs on strict, and poorly advertised schedules. In some cases, it was unclear when or how certain books could be obtained. Penguin gets props for clearly advertising their ARC and signing schedule. In contrast, Scholastic was notable for keeping out a chaotically steady stream of books, creating an atmosphere redolent of BEAs of year’s past–complete with violent elbowings.
Scholastic’s booth unfortunately stood out for another reason. When I asked one employee if they had any sci-fi titles, she answered with a flat, crisp “No.” This, despite the fact that she was standing in front of a stack of Jeff Hirsch’s Magisterium. It was only when I pressed, asking if she had any dystopian titles, that she finally relented and gave me a copy of Hirsch’s book.
On the other hand, Egmont’s publicity representatives seemed particularly plugged in to the genre aspects of their list. When I told one about the Intergalactic Academy’s particularly narrow focus, she assured me that it was no problem. She excitedly told me about Mike A. Lancaster’s Human.4, one of Egmont’s backlist titles, and gave me an ARC of the sequel. The Future We Left Behind features a cover with a mechanical insect and strong sci-fi styling. It’s clear Egmont is not afraid of attracting genre readers.
That’s not to say Scholastic is–however, I’d wager that the worst answer a publisher can give a potential reader, bookseller, or industry professional is “We have nothing to your tastes.” While Hirsch’s title might not be straight-up sci-fi like Human.4, it certainly has potential appeal to sci-fi fans.
Meanwhile, most other publishers offered at least one title with clear science fictional appeal. Macmillan–perhaps more genre-friendly than most, as they count Tor among their imprints–offered a nice stack of KA Applegate’s and Michael Grant’s Eve and Adam, with strong sci-fi styling that, in a way, reminded me of the bold cover design of Animorphs past.
Finally, I wanted to give a shout-out to Lee & Low books. I chatted with two of their representatives while waiting near the sprawling Dark Days tour signing line, and they assured me that they recalled the Intergalactic Academy’s coverage of Karen Sandler’s Tankborn. They talked up a forthcoming multicultural dystopian anthology from Tu Books called Diverse Energies, edited by Tobias S. Bucknell and featuring stories from Ursula Le Guin, Paolo Bacigalupi, Cindy Pon, and Greg Van Eekhout. Though I’d heard about the anthology before, I now can’t wait to get my hands on it.
Speaking as a genre reader, if I had one piece of advice for publishers after this year’s BEA, it’s to focus on this sort of thoughtful, targeted hand-selling. Although perhaps it seems as if bloggers and blogs are a dime a dozen, most actually work very hard to cultivate a list of novels we’re passionate about for coverage. We appreciate hand-selling just as much as your average bookseller or librarian–even if it’s a backlist title or something that might appear initially to be beyond our comfort zone. It’s meaningful to us when you remember our coverage of your books, and makes us more excited about promoting your titles in the future.
All-in-all, it looks like 2012 is going to be a promising one for YA sci-fi readers, if BEA is any indication. Though some publishers are still quick to deny the science fictional appeal of their books, most had at least one worthy of consideration by any self-respecting YA sci-fi fan.