Feature Friday: The Making of a Young Adult Bestseller

By Michelle Ann Cullen

Some of the most engaging minds in the children’s publishing arena convened at Wix Lounge on Wednesday evening as part of the WNBA-NYC’s panel on the Making of a Young Adult Bestseller.  The panelists represented the entire spectrum of the publishing industry, including Hannah Moskowitz (YA/MG Author); Jenny Bent (Literary Agent, The Bent Agency); Susan Katz (President and Publisher, HarperCollins Children’s Books); Joy Peskin (Editorial Director, Farrar Straus & Giroux Books for Young Readers); and Marisa Russell (Publicity Manager, Penguin Young Readers Group). Moderated by the incredible Betsy Bird, the panelists were on a mission to unveil the mystery behind YA Bestsellers: How do you know when you have a hit on your hands?

The expert panel on the making of a bestseller!
Photo credit Galo Delgado.

There was no explicit formula for a Bestseller, but there was clearly one ingredient in all the recipes. Yes, it’s totally cliché, but the thing that all the panelists identified was passion. According to the professionals, passion is a huge part of a Bestseller’s foundation, if not the foundation itself.

A Bestseller begins with a writer’s passion for both project and audience, then moves to an agent’s passion for its potential. This fervor is shared with an editor, who must have their own conviction to champion the project. This lights a spark in the publisher, motivating them to purchasing a project. Infatuation for the project passes from the marketing and sales teams, down to the ever-growing number of enamored readers. Fans.

It’s not just this string of passionate people that is needed. Each person is a link in the chain of success, and they must fall in love from the first word, and have a strong desire to carry the torch for that project throughout the life of the book.

A large crowd gathered at Wix Lounge to pick the brains of the industry professionals.
Photo credit Galo Delgado.

The experts agreed that it was tough to put a thumb on the exact je ne sais quoi that made a Bestseller achieve such incredible heights, but they seemed to feel that it required a unique idea that is just “special.” Everyone has to feel drawn into the piece from the start, and compelled to spread it as far as they can. According to the panelists, a book that doesn’t hook readers in from the very first page, or even the first word, will likely never make it to the Bestseller list.

Most books never become Bestsellers. But to be in the running, authors should build their professional platforms and online presence, reach out to and connect with their target audience, and most importantly be authentic, and embed that authenticity in their writing.  Focus on building relationships with industry professionals who will be your champions and partners, rather than those who would throw the most money at you. Above all, patience and persistence are the most useful tools for success.


  1. Danielle sanseverino

    Well I’m drawn this article alone. Written with passion for sure, it’s got my attention as an educator and lover of books. Thanks for sharing Michelle Ann Cullen. Looking forward to more features from you!

  2. On a personal note, I just wanted to say that Betsy Bird was an INCREDIBLE moderator! Amazing job, Betsy!

  3. Aw. Thanks for the kind words. Though, to be fair, if I’m not smiling in that top photo it’s because I didn’t think I was actually in the shot. Hence the leaning away.