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November 16th, 2011, 06:58 PM #1
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Young Adult Novels Besting Adult Novels?Young adult novels heating up the charts
Publishers, stores embracing trend
Recently my Barnes & Noble bookstore moved the sci-fi/fantasy section back and the YA section forward. I've noticed that the selection of teen books seems to be getting larger and more of them are in hardbacks. And I'm beginning to see more writers of popular adult fiction putting out YA fiction.
YA books have been bare of what I think of as "real" SF - stories where advanced tech and science are important parts of the stories. Most teen SF is post-apocalyptic or steam punk - apparently teens are not smart enough to handle the hard stuff!
The one shining counter-example, to my mind, is David Weber's A Beautiful Friendship. It was placed on the Teen's New & Exciting table when it first came out, and is now in the New Teen part of B&N's YA shelves. It is billed as "A stellar introduction to a new YA science-fiction series." and subtitled "A Star Kingdom Novel" on its cover.
It makes me wonder if the next Shapechanger title I plan to put up on Amazon should be classified as YA. Which it is for the first third or half of my book, until my heroine gets into her late teens and early twenties. Here is how I bill it on my Web site.
Until she died, 17-year-old Sasha Canaro was bound for the Olympics. Recovering from death, she finds she is an immortal shapechanger, faster and many times stronger than an ordinary human.
Competition in the Olympics would now be no competition. The goal she had aimed for since she was five would be boringly easy. What goal can she replace it with? Fighting crime, perhaps? There is plenty of it.
To find out go to ...
November 16th, 2011, 08:43 PM #2
I can't read the Globe article, due to asking me to give them money and subscribe (not going to happen), but from what I can tell about the markets, it comes down to a combo platter of issues.
First, a lot of young readers don't get science, at least partially courtesy of the U.S. education system being in the toilet. So to use science and technology, you have to explain it in the book. This is very difficult to do well, because you can't get too long-winded on the subject (and thus wander away from the actual plot) without boring a lot of readers.
Secondly, Harry Potter has ended. An entire generation has grown up with those books, and it makes sense they look for more of the same. Since the Potterverse doesn't run on very strongly defined rules for the setting (particularly the magic), the generation that grew up reading it isn't looking for that, and in fact may be turned off by worlds that run with a stronger logical element. Add that to the fact that many new writers also grew up thinking these books were good, and copying how Rowling handled world-building...
Third, it's easier to write YA novels. Because the protagonists are young, it's easy to hand wave them as not knowing much about the setting they are written in. This allows for easier handling of exposition. Sure, it's really formulaic, but it works, so we see lots of it.
As for me, I don't go way out of my way to include YA themes, or market my book as such. I can see it being read that way though. I'll just write the best stories I can, and if they appeal to the YA market, they appeal.
November 16th, 2011, 11:09 PM #3
They're about ten years behind the times. This article would have made more sense in 2002. Also, any article that thinks YA markets and adult markets are in competition with each other doesn't understand those markets.
On YA SF, it's only post-apocalypse and steampunk now because that's what authors are browsing into and teen readers are browsing out towards. They worked through most kinds of fantasy -- all of which is still in place -- and are working their way through types of SF. We're already seeing more space adventure YA SF coming out and there will be more alien contact stuff. Really hard SF is harder to do with teen protagonists, but expect a fair amount of cyberpunk thrillers. Robots are percolating everywhere. This is normal ripples. This is why SF was not dying in the first place. The Hunger Games movies are going to give it a rocket boost because it will bring in new readers, some adults, mostly teens.
November 17th, 2011, 02:34 AM #4
I don't know if it's any indication of what teenagers are actually buying, but even though the YA area at the biggest library near me is a fraction of the size of the adult and children's fiction sections, all the series books look like they've been read to rags. The number of new books that come in seem to equal the number they buy for adults and considerably more than the books they buy for children. So I'm guessing that the reason the area is smaller is because more of the books stay in circulation.
It seems to me that more teenagers are avid readers than was the case when I was growing up. They may be mostly girls reading Twilight clones, but they are reading. Kids read books and talk about them and pass them around. Openly. Only the odd ones with no social skills did that in the early and mid- 1960's. (At least in the places where I lived.) Not until LOTR had its big burst of popularity near the end of the decade did that begin to change.
November 17th, 2011, 04:53 PM #5
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It's a common attitude that YA is an inferior genre. I suspect it suffers from the same kind of syllogism SF suffers from.
If it's science fiction, it can't be good.
If it's good, it can't be science fiction.
I've been a fan of YA for well over a dozen years. Some of it is still about young girls crushing on boys or being picked on by mean girls. But during that time I've seen an increasing number of very serious issues addressed, including the following.
- rape - by parent, teacher, coach, date
- school murder and violence
- emotional abuse
- drug addiction
Not only is the substance of YA fiction often MORE ADULT than much adult fiction, the style of it is as well. Writing YA does not mean you can pay less attention to craft. It may even demand that you give your YA books more care.
November 17th, 2011, 05:58 PM #6
I don't know if anyone read my review of A Beautiful Friendship, but if I'm brutally honest I feel it was mislabelled. Yes, it had YA themes, but it was stuck between being a teen book and a Weber-esque technoporn (to use Modesitt's term) affair. YA is often seen as being between maybe 11 and 16, right? Maybe 11-18, I forget the figures, but going by the science curriculum of this country, Weber talked about things that aren't covered in schools until sixteen, perhaps later. To me, that goes against what YA is. To contrast, I've also read the whole of Scott Westerfeld's teen/YA dieselpunk Leviathan series, and found the science in it basic but it worked.
You don't need technoporn to make a "hard sci-fi" book work, and the chances are you're going to confuse or bore one reader whilst getting another rather hot under the collar with the descriptions and explanations. In adult fiction I think it's fine to a degree, but in YA? No, it kills the pacing and can be very confusing.
I think in some aspects, YA actually suffers for what it is. You can easily round up a group of adults who equate YA with children's books, and as such won't read anything YA. My mum is one, which makes me giggle because she'll read The Hobbit but not Philippa Gregory's upcoming YA historical series. Ahem. I digress.
I agree with your last post about YA arguably being more adult than adult fiction itself, but in another way it's just a label. How many books have been rebranded as adult fiction or vice versa? Harry Potter and His Dark Materials had "adult" editions published, whereas Chris Wooding's books have recently had YA editions announced. How many books have been split for "YA" audiences? I know Robert Jordan's first two(?) Wheel of Time books were, and I have a feeling that's part of the reason why Feist's Magician is split in the US.
The thing with "adult" authors writing YA/teen isn't new, though. Terry Brooks is a great example, as is Sir Pratchett. Both have a main adult series, but they have written a series and/or books for a younger audience too. It's perhaps not as common in genre fiction, but I would hazard a guess that it's not uncommon in other parts of the market.
Sorry if I'm not making much sense. It's past my bed time
September 26th, 2012, 01:28 AM #7
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Teenagers are a modern concept. In Medieval times you used to be a child until age 7 and them BAM! adult. No transition stage. Slowly they started to put more categories into the progression, starting with these new-fangled things called "Teenagers" in the 1950's or something. Then in the 90's, Teenagers suddenly had money, and even then books were a bit slow to cater to teens, such that my local library at least seemed to have sport-related books, Buffy and Sweet Valley High, with only a handful of others (notably, Everworld by K.A. Applegate). It was growing, but wasn't exactly a publishing power-market. Nowadays you have about 20 divisions of young people, from Tweens and Pre-Teens to YA which means 18-25 now (and thus you can have sex, swearing, alcohol, drugs and violence ) and all sorts of stuff in between. It's slowly become a powerhouse hot market, and I think Harry Potter was the single solidifying element that pushed it into the highest commercial success it's ever seen. Suddenly, it's the widest-selling book in all time, and publishers realise that there's something to writing for young people.
But yes, I do wonder if you really need to dumb it down for teenagers, not have any hard science (or magic, or horror), and just have teen drama dressed up in wizard robes and wands that do literally anything. It seems simple, but doing it that way does fly in the face of the golden rule: Don't Talk Down To Your Readers. Talk about Child Exploitation! (and the power of Throwing A Tantrum Unless Your Parents Give You The Shiny Thing).
I think it's definitely more talked-about, more noticed, than adult markets - just because of its newness and the Power Of Teens Having A Voice. 10 years time, who knows what'll happen?
November 28th, 2011, 02:00 AM #8
November 28th, 2011, 11:15 AM #9
So if you sell your rights to a children's publisher or imprint, then your work will be assigned an age group and if it's for teens, it will be YA. If you sell the rights to an adult publisher or imprint, then it will not be given an age group and it will not be YA. The YA books are sold for regular retail customers in the YA section of the bookstores in those countries that have children's areas and YA sections. The adult books are not sold in the children's section. (If they are considered classics that fit junior high/high school curriculums, they may be marketed to the schools as teen level works.)
This did not used to be a big issue in retail trade because YA was tiny. Now YA is huge in some countries like the U.S. and makes lots of money. More adults read YA titles than they did before. But the age group system for children's and educational publishing has not changed.
There are three ways where you might write a book with a young protagonist intended for an adult audience and end up in the YA section:
1) You sell your rights to an adult publisher in your home country/territory. You try to sell your rights abroad to other countries, but the publishers most interested in it are that countries' children's publishers for YA. This frequently happens when foreign authors are selling to the U.S., such as Alison Croggon. It's not necessarily a bad strategy as you can greatly increase the size of your audience. But again, it's you the author selling to a YA publisher, so you know that you are marketed as YA in that territory.
2) You sell your rights to an adult, large publisher that has children's imprints. Because of scheduling issues, imput from major booksellers and maybe early reviewers, they want to move you to one of their children's imprints, publish it in YA and cross-market to adult. This is happening a bit more often now that YA is huge, but it's not going to happen a lot in fantasy because a large chunk of adult fantasy has teen protagonists and teens buy adult fantasy books and so it's not really necessary (although you may have a better shot at a film deal in YA.) But if they think they can get good interest from the schools, it may be proposed.
3) You sell your rights to an adult publisher who is cross marketing it between YA and adult, in which case you'll likely be in both sections of the bookstore. This is basically what Baen is doing with Weber. Weber had an idea, wanted a YA title and Baen doesn't have a YA line but they may be testing doing one, so working with their long time bestselling author Weber is ideal; they cross market and if it sells well in YA, they do more titles like that and eventually start a YA line, like Tor did.
So largely the author controls where it goes and largely the titles are separate in their industries but because YA is lucrative, titles that can work as YA may find a better audience there to start and there may be cross-marketing schemes, usually in cooperation with the author. Because the author of the YA title has to do certain things -- you have to hit up certain reviewers, you do signings at kid bookstores, you may have to go to libraries and schools, you are going to be dealing with teen fan mail, etc. There are YA promotional channels that are going to be used if your book is being pushed in that age group.
So sell it to Scholastic and you're YA. Sell it to Tor YA and you're YA. Sell it to Bantam Spectra, and you're adult. The more important thing is to connect with readers whether they are teens or adults and to hit as many potential audiences as possible. (And the teens frankly are more loyal. )
November 28th, 2011, 11:22 AM #10
I really don't get it, Kat. I'll explain.
I've got YA on my shelves from Del Rey (Landover), Harper Voyager (Seven Realms, Abarat, arguably Riftwar), Tor (Great Alta), Pan Macmillan (Un Lun Dun), Gollancz (Wizard Knight) and others. None of those labels are YA in nature, but they have YA imprints - but these aren't labelled as such. I've got Scholastic, Hodder Teens (I think), Atom and I think some others that are clearly YA.
So I really don't get it. Are some of those titles YA only because people have said they're YA, or what?
November 28th, 2011, 06:06 PM #11
Interesting issue. Kat's discussion is very enlightening. I do wonder, though, about the part of the conversation that was brought up earlier and that was, at least in the background, a part of the OP. Is YA less serious than Adult? Is it less advanced topically? Does a YA label on a book equal a disappointment for an author? Does a book's labeled audience degrade its content...to say it bluntly.
I have enjoyed thoroughly several YA books and I've never quite agreed with the idea that books about children and youth or books for children and youth are inferior. Often times, they aren't even all that different. Adults absolutely can learn from the tales of the young, just as a young person can learn of life through the story of an elder. Also I think sometimes the things children face are just as profound or difficult as the things adults face and not just because they are young.
On the other hand, in my own writing I am playing with how to make my book, which has a teenage protagonist, appeal more to an adult audience. I'm not sure if I would be disappointed were my book published (I would be absolutely thrilled if my book were published no matter what) as a YA book, though I would hope adults would also read it.
November 28th, 2011, 06:48 PM #12
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As for me, I'm still debating which category to pick when I put my next book online. Here is my cover in the sizes used by B&N and Amazon for each book. I wonder if it would appeal to teenagers.
Are there still fans for futuristic Star Wars kind of sci-fi? Or have they all gone over to the dark side - fantasy?!
November 29th, 2011, 02:06 PM #13
At a YA level, Pullman's Dark Materials trilogy actually deals with moral ambiguity--an issue with which even many adults are uncomfortable. It's my own belief that young people are quite able to deal with complex thought, as long as the characters and the story appeal to them.
Last edited by Window Bar; November 29th, 2011 at 03:55 PM. Reason: sp.
September 24th, 2012, 07:57 AM #14
I'm not sure if I represent anything, but even as a teen I read adult fiction and never liked YA/teen fiction back then, and even less as I got older. For example, I stopped reading Harry Potter after maybe 30 pages.
Teenagers aspire to be adults, so having adult-facing (not adultering) characters can be a good direction. Not necessarily dwell in the world of teen or such, but be somewhat younger plunged in the world of adults. There are enough real life examples for this.
September 24th, 2012, 06:29 PM #15
I haven't seen any Spider-man YA books lately. I suppose there probably are some. I do, however, have a teenager who reads some adult books (she's working slowly through Song of Ice and Fire,) but also reads tons of YA books. She's a firm fan of Harry Potter and Percy Jackson. Her favorite author is star of YA John Green (not a SFF writer.) She's annoyed because she lent her copy of The Perks of Being a Wallflower to a pal and now can't read it before the movie comes out. She studied the YA SF novel Feed by M.T. Anderson in school. She is planning to start the YA Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare. Many of the writers doing YA also write adult SFF, or have their YA work sold in the adult market in different countries. Some of the YA is being written for 12 year olds, like Harry Potter, and some of it is being written for sixteen year olds. It's a very wide market.