Guest Post: Celebrate the Mass Market Paperback Series

Hi guys, Sooz here! Today we have a guest post from editor Jordan Hamessley London. Take it away, Jordan!

Most publishing industry professionals have a pitch. The pitch is how you introduce yourself.

If you’re at a convention or a networking event, and you meet an author or agent for the first time, you launch into your pitch. My pitch goes something like this: “Hi! I’m Jordan Hamessley, an editor at Grosset & Dunlap, the mass market imprint of the Penguin Young Readers Group. Our list is half original paperback series fiction and half licensed tie-ins.”

Occasionally, when I get to the phrase “paperback originals” the author or agent suddenly spots someone across the room that they absolutely must talk to. I have grown accustomed to this phenomenon. Sure, mass market lacks the glamour of hardcover, but people sometimes forget that young readers crave series that they can go back to again and again, series that play in genres they love, and series that speak to their specific interests. What is most remarkable about mass market paperback originals is that there are so many varieties. Here are three examples.

1. THE PREMISE. A great mass market paperback series tends to have a solid hook that works across many books. Take a look at one classic paperback series, The Babysitters Club. While each book focused on a specific girl in the club, the friendships and relationships that were set up in Kristy’s Great Idea (BSC #1) continued to evolve throughout the series.  That said, even if I didn’t read books 5-15, I could easily read book 16 and pick up on the story and have an enjoyable read.

2. THE EPISODIC. I currently edit the FRANKLY, FRANNIE chapter book series about a young girl who is desperate to be a grown up and get a job. Each book follows Frannie’s attempt at a different career. She has been a restaurant critic, a veterinarian, a fashion designer, and more. While there is a small bit of continuity throughout the series, each Frannie book stands on its own by focusing on the job at hand. It’s kind of like a TV series, where you see the same characters you love solving a different problem every episode. The experience is best if you read each book, but you don’t have to in order to enjoy the series.

3. THE BRAND. In some cases, there is no continuity between books in a series at all. GOOSEBUMPS is the obvious example. Though the characters and the creepies are different in each installment, when you pick up a GOOSEBUMPS book, you know what you’re going to get—spooky stories. Scholastic’s Candy Apple books are one-offs about girls, friendship, rivalries, and crushes. Candy Apple even had a spin-off series called Poison Apple that featured similar stories with a paranormal twist.

Many authors hope for a big hardcover book deal, but there is something special about affordable paperbacks that young readers can find in a book club or at the store and buy for themselves. When I was a young reader, the majority of books I read I bought with my allowance. Mass market paperbacks were what I could afford. In elementary school, I was a competitive figure skater, so I read every book in the Silver Blades series. It was affordable and I felt like it had been written “just for me”. If you visit the paperback section of bookstore, without fail, you will find multiple series for kids who love horses/ponies, sports/camping, ballet/dancing, theatre/drama, etc. Mass market paperback is where kids can find a book that speaks to them AND is affordable.

When you were growing up, what were your experiences with mass market paperbacks?

Was there a series that you read every single book?

What are some of your favorite mass market books that are out today?

Awesome post, Jordan! I have to say, I never thought about mass market series—but I LOVED The Babysitters Club!<

What about you all? If you leave a comment telling us, then you can enter into a GIVEAWAY for Angel of the Battlefield, the first book in The Chest Series—a series which Jordan works on! The contest is open internationally, and we’ll contact the winner in a week!

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JORDAN HAMESSLEY LONDON is an assistant editor at Grosset and Dunlap, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers where she edits Adam-Troy Castro’s middle grade horror series Gustav GloomLiterally Disturbed (an upcoming collection of scary stories from Ben H. Winters), A.J. Stern’s Frankly, Frannie series and more. She is on the editorial team for Ann Hood’s middle grade historical time-travel series The Treasure Chest. When not editing, Jordan can be found on twitter (@thejordache) talking about books, scary movies, and musical theater.


35 Responses to Guest Post: Celebrate the Mass Market Paperback Series

  1. Amie Kaufman May 14 2012 at 6:47 am #

    Oh man, Babysitters Club was it for me. I still remember saving up to head down and buy the next one, and those books were my reward for passing a piano exam, my comfort present when I got extra sick or my treat to take away on a holiday. Even when I finally bequeathed them all to a young relative, I hung onto a couple of the Super Specials. Jordan, you’re absolutely right — I thought those books were written *just* for me.

    • Jordan Hamessley May 14 2012 at 9:28 am #

      I loved Super Specials! I spent many hours in my local library as a kid reading the entire Babysitters Club series. I love that you passed your books along to a young relative. Keeping the series alive!

  2. Ange May 14 2012 at 7:28 am #

    While everyone around me was reading The Babysitter’s Club, which I found completely boring since I’d never bsbysat and didn’t intend to start, I was burning through every “new” Nancy Drew paperback mystery I could get my hands on. At the time this probably seemed blah, but looking back now I can see w/my librarian vision that this series opened the door for me to my love of reading which had started to disintegrate…after Nancy Drew, I read all the Agatha Christie, Dick Francis, and Sherlock Holmes mysteries I could get my hands on. I even begin swipping my mom’s Phyllis Whitney books which was possibly the beginning of my love of paranormal. Great post Jordan!

    • Jordan Hamessley May 14 2012 at 9:32 am #

      Nancy Drew has had a such a long life. The original stories are still in print in hardcover, but I love how Nancy has grown with the times over the years. Last I heard she had a cell phone!

      You make a great point about paperback series leading to a love of reading. I was obsessed with Goosebumps as a young reader and when I felt too old for those I moved on to Lois Duncan and ultimately King by 8th grade.

  3. Jasmine Stairs May 14 2012 at 7:48 am #

    I read every single mystery series in our library, when I was smaller, but my favourite was probably Enid Blyton’s Famous Five series. Well, I say that, but I also loved the Bobbsey Twins, and Nancy Drew, and Hardy Boys…

    • Jordan Hamessley May 14 2012 at 10:05 am #

      Mysteries are a great example of episodic series. You love your detectives and stick with them through case after the case.

    • Amie Kaufman May 15 2012 at 9:46 am #

      Enid Blyton! I still have a huge shelf of those. I chomped through them (and still do from time to time)!

  4. jodimeadows May 14 2012 at 8:15 am #

    Yessss! I totally read all the BabySitter’s Club books! Well, more the Mystery series, because I kept hoping there’d be more like #3 with the ghost cat — and that the ghost would be real. That’s one of the books that really got me loving to read, though. It has a special place in my heart, fake ghosts or no. 🙂

    Ah! The rest of the post. Yes, these kind of books are special. I loved going to the bookstore every month for the newest BSC book. Ooh, and I got into Animorphs later, and wanted to get into Silver Blades, but I couldn’t reliably find them before I started getting into books for an older age group. I hung onto my monthly series books for a long time, though. They still have such a special place in my booky heart. 😀

    • Jordan Hamessley May 14 2012 at 10:11 am #

      The Babysitters Club managed to tell fantastic friendship stories AND produce some really creepy stories. The second book in the series was Claudia and the Phantom Phone Calls!

      Oh, Animorphs. That was a series I always wanted to get into, but it was ALWAYS checked out of the library.

  5. JoSV May 14 2012 at 9:36 am #

    Love the post, Jordan! Great intro to readers about this section of the industry.

    I was totally a Goosebumps and Fear Street girl growing up. Read every one of them, probably twice!

    • Jordan Hamessley May 14 2012 at 10:20 am #

      Thanks, Jo! Spooky books are the best!

  6. RachelSeigel May 14 2012 at 10:07 am #

    Great post Jordan! I love Frankly Frannie- she’s such a refreshing character and a lot of fun! It’s amazing the stigma that series fiction holds with many librarians, and yet, series are often the most popular titles in my showroom! When I was around 8, I was totally into Trixie Belden. I remember scouring store shelves looking for any volume I could find so I’d have the complete set. I was also of the Sweet Valley High generation, and read those all through middle school and into grade 9!

    • Jordan Hamessley May 14 2012 at 10:34 am #

      Yay! So happy to hear that you are a fan of Frannie! I wonder if series are so popular because they typically aren’t assigned by a teacher. The readers find it themselves or hear about it from their friends and feel a sense of ownership and independence by reading every book in a series. I certainly felt that way in elementary school. I adored many of the books I assigned by my teachers, but I really loved sitting in the library with my Goosebumps.

  7. Kat Zhang May 14 2012 at 10:33 am #

    Lovely post, Jordan! I was just wondering the other day about the difference between mass market paperbacks and paperback originals. I guess they’re the same thing, then? I think there are different kinds of paperbacks, though (especially in foreign sales)? Hmm…

    Anyway, I didn’t read any BSC growing up, but I did read quite a lot of the Animorphs series! 🙂

    • Jordan Hamessley May 14 2012 at 10:39 am #

      There is a difference between mass market paperbacks and trade paperbacks, in terms of price point, but I feel that difference really starts to show itself in the YA marketplace more than middle grade/chapter books.

      The Vampire Academy series started out as a trade paperback original series, then transitioned into hard cover, and recently published a mass market edition of the first book. The mass market edition is a different trim size and a lower price point than the original trade paperback edition.

  8. Julie May 14 2012 at 11:08 am #

    Hey Jordan! What a great post! Thank you so much for clarifying a very murky area of publishing for me. 🙂

  9. Julie May 14 2012 at 11:10 am #

    Oh, and to answer your Q, I’m pretty sure I read every single Judy Blume book in mass market paperback. 😉

    • Jordan Hamessley May 14 2012 at 1:14 pm #

      Thanks, Julie. Judy Blume’s books are fantastic.

  10. Lynn May 14 2012 at 12:02 pm #

    I’m probably showing my age, but I started reading the BSC when there were only about five books in the series. For the next couple of years, I devoured them! I couldn’t wait for the new one to come out each month. I also loved the Super Specials. I also read, but was less devoted to Sweet Valley Twins (for some reason I never got into SVH, but liked the historical Sweet Valley Sagas, and, when I was older, the SVU series – and back then, that stood for Sweet Valley University, not Special Victims Unit.) Other favorites, included Nancy Drew (the original, the “new”, and the Nancy Drew Files) and The Saddle Club.

    • Jordan Hamessley May 14 2012 at 3:32 pm #

      I was never a big Sweet Valley reader. I think I was intimidated by the beautiful blonde hair of the twins. They always felt so much older and sophisticated than me. Haha.

  11. Leigh Bardugo May 14 2012 at 12:40 pm #

    Fantastic post, Jordan! I was another Sweet Valley girl!

    • Jordan Hamessley May 14 2012 at 3:33 pm #

      Thanks, Leigh!

  12. Ileana A. May 14 2012 at 1:36 pm #

    Romantic mass market serieas are my favorite! My favorites are:
    Lisa Kleypa’s The Wallflowers series and The Hathaways series!
    Julia Quinn: The Bridgertons series!
    Thanks for the chance!

    • Jordan Hamessley May 14 2012 at 3:42 pm #

      Romance is a key area for mass market in the adult division. Do you still read the paperbacks or have you made the switch to ebooks? Many in the industry think that adult mass market books won’t be around much longer due to the readers choosing to read the books digitally.

  13. JJ May 14 2012 at 1:37 pm #

    Sadly, mass market children’s books were banned in my house as I was growing up! Wasn’t allowed to read Babysitter’s Club, Boxcar Children, Sweet Valley High, or Goosebumps as my parents though that mass produced fiction was “trash”. I still sneaked home Goosebumps from the school library though. I think I read every single one.

    Great post, Jordan!

    • Jordan Hamessley May 14 2012 at 3:48 pm #

      That is a stigma that mass market books will always have to struggle with, but I’m glad you found a way to read Goosebumps when you were growing up! Mass market books are fun and a great way to reach reluctant readers.

  14. Vanessa Di Gregorio May 14 2012 at 3:53 pm #

    LOVE this post, Jordan!

    I might not have been a Babysitter’s Club or Sweet Valley High kinda girl, but my childhood WAS full of Goosebumps, Animorphs, and Everworld (also by K.A. Applegate) – and they were all mass market paperbacks! My shelves were just packed with them! They’re still sitting on a bookshelf somewhere in my mom’s house.

    I’m sure I read other MM paperbacks, but I just can’t remember what they were called (one was a series of MG girls and had something to do with angels – but nothing like today’s angel stories. Clearly, it’s not a series that really stuck with me since I don’t remember it!).

    I actually want to reread Everworld. I remember being so fascinated by it!

    • Jordan Hamessley May 15 2012 at 1:28 pm #

      Thanks, Vanessa. I really love that MM paperback series can really fit any child’s interests. Aren’t a fan of ponies? How about some Animorphs? So glad to see you were such a MM PB fan!

  15. Llehn May 15 2012 at 12:17 am #

    Hunger Games!

    • Jordan Hamessley May 15 2012 at 4:05 pm #

      The Hunger Games is an extremely addictive series that is getting a new life in paperback thanks to the release of the movie, but it was originally a hard cover release. That said, I love those books.

  16. Marie Lu May 15 2012 at 12:33 am #

    I loved Goosebumps when I was growing up! Some of my fondest childhood memories involved those mm paperbacks. <3 I was also a Sweet Valley fan, and I'm not sure if these were ever in hardback but I devoured the mm paperbacks of Marguerite Henry's horse books!

    • Jordan Hamessley May 15 2012 at 4:09 pm #

      Goosebumps, Sweet Valley, and BSC seem to be the books most of us adored as young readers. Horse and pony books are mass market paperback constants. I predict that you will always be able to find a mass market series featuring horses/ponies.

  17. Biljana May 15 2012 at 1:53 pm #

    Great post, Jordan! It makes me all grinny to see people defending paperbacks; I used to eat them up as a kid and though I’ve strayed away from them, there’s something super nostalgic about thinking back to all my favourite recurring characters… 🙂

    • Jordan Hamessley May 15 2012 at 4:10 pm #

      Thanks! I’m happy to defend paperbacks! I loved them as a kid and I love working on them as an adult.

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