#80: A Sneak Peek at the Slice Literary Writers’ Conference: An Interview with G.P. Putnam’s Sons editor Stacey Barney, by Maria Gagliano
July 28, 2016
With so many adults reading YA fiction these days, writers crafting young characters might struggle to decide where their work falls on the spectrum. For publishers, the line between YA and adult fiction is absolutely clear—regardless of who the end reader might be.
We spoke with G.P. Putnam’s Sons Senior Editor Stacey Barney about her process for acquiring YA fiction. Stacey will also share her insights at our panel “But Will It Sell?” at the Slice Literary Writers’ Conference on Sunday, September 11.
A big part of your list is Young Adult fiction. Do you tend to run into submissions that straddle the line between YA and adult fiction? In those cases, how do you decide whether a book is better suited to an YA or adult list?
The line between what makes something young adult and what makes it adult is very clear. If it is from an adult perspective in any way, even if it is an adult perspective looking back on a childhood moment, then it is not Young Adult. The agents I work with know the difference and know what I am looking for, so I very rarely run into a submission that straddles the line. If it does, I send it back. My imprint publishes true Young Adult.
Building on the last question, many writers feel their book would appeal to both YA and adult audiences. They may be right and we see proof of this on the consumer side all the time (i.e., millions of adults read YA). What advice do you have for writers struggling to decide whether to pitch their project as an adult book vs. YA?
Again, the line between what makes something Adult vs. Young Adult is very clear. Adults may read Young Adult, but that doesn’t make it any less Young Adult, just as when teens read Adult novels, that doesn’t make it any less an Adult novel.
Your panel at the SLWC, “But Will It Sell?,” draws the curtain on how publishers decide whether a book will attract an audience. What factors typically play into this decision when you’re considering a submission?
This is a hard question to answer as each project is different, but generally you can determine an audience based upon market trends vs. market saturation. What’s working in other mediums like TV, movies, fashion, et al. can be a determining factor. But ultimately, I look for writing that isn’t just good, but outstanding, compelling, and timeless. There’s always a market for something that is truly good and standout.
How much do industry trends affect your decision to take on a book? For example, what if you have a beautifully written, page-turning vampire novel on submission? Would there be concern that readers are sick of vampires? How else would trends influence the submission process?
Trends do play a role, or in the case of vampires or other well-worn literary tropes, themes, or genres, I consider market saturation and reader fatigue. If I’m going to consider publishing a vampire or dystopian novel, there will have to be something exceptional and distinct about it that will rise above the saturation or fatigue. The passage of time also helps.
Stacey Barney is a Senior Editor at G.P. Putnam’s Sons, an imprint of Penguin Random House.
Maria Gagliano is a writer, editor, and Business Director of Slice. Her writing has appeared in BUST magazine, the Huffington Post, and Salon, among other publications. You can learn more about her work at mariagagliano.com.