Children’s & Young Adult

Chloe Seager: What makes a successful children’s book


I’m a big believer in the power of good books over trends, so I’d hesitate to be too prescriptive in what I’m looking for in a manuscript. It can be difficult sometimes to say ‘what’s working’ in a certain area, when something new and different can take the publishing world by storm, moving us quickly in another direction.

That said, there are some recent changes that I’ve noticed children’s publishing. For instance, when I started out a few years ago I paid less attention to middle-grade with animal protagonists, purely because no one seemed to be actively looking for it. But with the standout success of Podkin One-Ear and Pax, animal protagonists for older readers seem to be having a moment. (One of my authors Anna Fargher has written a beautiful book featuring a wonderful cast of animals, The Umbrella Mouse, which will be published by Macmillan next year for 8+ readers.) I’ve been hearing more and more editors asking for animal protagonists, so the love for animals seems widespread!

In children’s non-fiction, Rebel Girls is the obvious standout success of the past few years. A lot of similar titles have been published since that are doing really well, too. Whilst I think the market is probably saturated in that area now, we’re starting to see more female characters going on a wider range of adventures in fiction, too, which is brilliant.

Humour is something that always does well, but that we still need more of. In my opinion, good humour is hard to find and never goes out of fashion, so that’s something I look for across the board. Although we’re seeing a good amount of middle-grade humour, there seems to be a real gap for older, funny fiction that currently isn’t being filled. I’m hoping to see funny YA on the rise soon. Similarly, something that editors constantly ask me for is ‘clean teen’ fiction – again, it’s something that not many authors seem to be writing, but it’s something that readers want. For instance, Holly Smale’s Geek Girl series continues to do amazingly and I’d love to find something in that area.

In YA, The Hate U Give has taken the publishing world completely by storm. Exploring timely and important topics is something that’s always desired in YA, and THUG also happened to be a brilliantly written, gripping page-turner.

Something publishers are also continually conscious of is putting certain characters in genres you might not have traditionally expected.

Books that include characters with mental health problems, for instance, don’t just have to be about the mental health problem. It’s important to see characters with a MH problem as the main character in a thriller (like White Rabbit, Red Wolf which I just read and is brilliant) or in a Louise Rennison-type book, like Holly Bourne’s Am I Normal Yet? This is something I like to see in fiction across all ages.

There are so many areas to discuss, and I can’t cover them all in one 500-word blog post. But I’d just like to finish up by saying that whilst there are always market considerations, I do believe a truly original, well-written book in any genre, written by someone who knows and loves children’s books, will find its place on the shelf.

By Chloe Seager

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