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Youngish editors help Alloy churn out teen lit

August 02, 2008|Alana Semuels

Forget J.K. Rowling, the writer of the Harry Potter series, who famously set up in an Edinburgh cafe to write the books all her own. Today's most popular literature for teens and tweens is written by book factory Alloy, which has ground out more than 1,000 titles.

How does Alloy do it?

Ideas for books are generated in biweekly brainstorming sessions in which youngish editors toss ideas back and forth. They're looking for plots that "reflect teenagers' lives," said Sara Shandler, an executive editor at Alloy who has worked on book series such as "The Luxe," "Peaches," "Gossip Girl," "The Clique" and "Pretty Little Liars."

Sometimes that means writing about characters having sex or drinking alcohol -- things that would have shocked traditional young adult fiction characters such as Nancy Drew or Anne of Green Gables (if they were tempted at all).

But preachy books don't do well, Shandler said. After all, "sometimes, it takes a lot of sugar to make the medicine go down."

It can be tough to figure out what will appeal to teenagers, especially since Alloy has already produced so many story lines: rich teenagers deal with back-stabbing best friends in 19th century New York; rich teenagers deal with back-stabbing best friends in modern-day Westchester; rich teenagers deal with back-stabbing best friends in modern-day New York.

And Alloy can be picky about concepts. Katie Schwartz, 23, who got a job at Alloy right after graduating from college, once pitched an idea for a series about superhero horses.

"We had been trying to think about horse ideas," she said. "Horse series do really well."

Editors weren't interested.

-- Alana Semuels

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