What are some upcoming trends?
Right now in the young-adult market, publishers are paying top dollar for fantasy series; though these books will continue to publish over the next few years, we’ll probably see fewer large fantasy deals in 2018 as the market becomes saturated. Grounded, hard-hitting contemporary realistic [fiction] remains a very robust corner of the market, dealing with the real-life social issues teens experience in their own lives every day. Editors are also asking for high-concept manuscripts that incorporate a fantastical or speculative twist into an otherwise character-driven story. In 2018, I’d expect a big spike in big middle-grade deals, as publishers continue to expand their lists for this younger age group. I also anticipate more comic-book crossover titles, like Jason Reynolds’ Miles Morales: Spider-Man and Leigh Bardugo’s Wonder Woman: Warbringer.
What book/genre/topic would you like to see cross your transom?
I’m always avidly pursuing own-voices projects from authors in marginalized groups. I’d love to see more contemporary realistic as well as speculative fiction from these writers. An editor recently told me she was looking for a young-adult book similar to the film Get Out, and I thought that was a fantastic idea. I’m a huge fantasy and sci-fi fan, so I’m always eager to read projects in these genres that feel original and fresh. I’ve also got a soft spot for anything culinary—so stories set in restaurants, food trucks, and cooking classes are a personal favorite of mine.
How are you working with self-published writers?
Most of my authors are established with traditional publishing careers or are debut authors, however some have gained popularity on platforms like Wattpad. Though I don’t represent books that have been previously self-published, I’m always eager to see a self-published author’s next project for the middle-grade or young-adult market.
What do you want to change about publishing?
I’d like to see publishers devote more resources to book publicity across their lists. I understand why certain projects get a bigger slice of the publicity budget, but I think more can be done to help midlist titles reach a larger audience. At Folio Literary Management and Folio Jr., we’re partnering with dedicated book publicists to help our authors create publicity strategies to supplement their publisher’s sales efforts. I think we’ll see more agencies taking an active role in book promotion in the coming years.
What is unique about your corner of the industry?
No one works in kids’ books just for the money. Everyone in our corner of the industry loves what they do and is passionate about stories for young people. Young-adult especially is also home to one of the most progressive and forward-thinking author communities in publishing.
Anything else you’d like to add?
No matter your political beliefs, this is a tumultuous and scary time for our country and the world. Young people watch the news, they’re active on social media, they know what’s going on, and I think many kids and teens (many adults too) feel threatened, uncertain, and vulnerable. Kids need to be able to see themselves in the characters they read about and find stories that represent their experiences, no matter their background or identity. I hope this doesn’t sound cheesy, but I think in this way publishing is more than just a business. It’s our job to entertain, comfort, educate, and empower.
John Cusick is a literary agent with Folio Jr. / Folio Literary Management representing a diverse list of iconoclastic voices, award winners, and New York Times bestsellers. His focus is young-adult and middle-grade as well as a select list of author/illustrators. He began his career in 2007 as an agent’s assistant. A top dealmaker for young-adult and kids’ books, John is a former young-adult author, essayist, bookseller, and lit-mag founder.