The Business Behind Young Adult Novels
Many of us were SHOCKED this week to learn that Vampire Diaries author L. J. Smith has been fired from writing forthcoming books in her popular series. How can an author possibly be fired from writing her own books? Well, it turns out that Alloy Entertainment, a book packager, actually owns the rights to the Vampire Diaries as well as a few other of the hottest franchises in Young Adult literature like Gossip Girl, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, and Pretty Little Liars.
So what do Alloy and other book packagers do? In a nutshell: they develop ideas, hire writers, and sell the finished products to publishers. A 2009 article in The New Yorker, “The Gossip Mill,” outlined the process at Alloy, whose target audience is young women and girls. They have weekly meetings where ideas are pitched, often reworking successful adult stories for younger audiences (examples cited in the article: a reverse of the movie Taken where a teenage girl has to rescue her kidnapped parents and a suggestion for “Shaun of the Dead for tweens.”). If they decide to go forward with a pitch, an editor will flesh out the idea before asking a writer to create a sample chapter. If they like the writer’s work, s/he will be put on contract to write the first act of the book, although plotting is a collaboration between the writer and editors at Alloy. The first act and a mockup of a potential book cover are then pitched to publishers. The process is described as being similar to the way a TV show is developed and written.
It’s not a new practice; packaging books for teens goes back to the days of Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, and even those 80s staples, the Sweet Valley High books (fun fact: Gossip Girl author Cecily von Ziegesar wrote some of the SVH books). More recently, James Frey and his so-called “fiction factory,” Full Fathom Five, have made headlines as the creators of the YA book I Am Number Four. The movie based on the book was produced by Steven Spielberg and Michael Bay, and will be in theaters next week.