The Golden Years Of Young Adult Fiction Sophistication of an audience
By G. Kyle White
YA trend, not yet finished, according to industry experts continues to surge.
As recently as 2002, the shelves at any bookstore were lined with formulaic novels aimed at teenagers. These cookie-cutter, soda-pop romance and adventure stories had long been a staple of the industry, so why change?The answer is simple. Sales numbers plummeted to the point that several publishing houses investigated eliminating their young adult (YA) lines.
It would be easy to proclaim the Harry Potter books as the saviour of the genre, but while the boy wizard played a part, the reason that YA is the hottest category today has more to do with the risks editors and writers were willing to take.
"Thanks to the media and current fashion trends, kids are exposed to much more adult content at an earlier age. They are demanding more sophisticated material.
"Consequently, publishers are providing more options, from racy chick lit to fiction dealing with serious subjects (rape, homosexuality, etc.) to dark fantasies," says YA author Betsy Haynes (www.betsyhaynes.net). With numerous books to her credit, Betsy has seen the genre change dramatically over the years.
"The media has made it impossible for teens to ignore what's going on all over the globe – genocides, car bombs, boy soldiers, child prostitution, and, here at home, school shootings. Teens want to understand how these problems happen, and to find some direction should they become victims."
While she never set out to write a novel for young adults, first-time author Rosemary Clement Moore (www.rosemaryclementmoore.com) was attracted to the genre by the many universal themes that influence the relationships between the characters.
"Look at the media: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Veronica Mars, and Supernatural. Even Roswell, which was ostensibly a sci-fi show, was full of romance and relationships. Gilmore Girls appeals to both teens and their moms.
"Likewise, the pre-YA-boom books that stand out in my mind are Robin McKinley and Madeleine L'Engle:with young characters that aren't so teen that they aren’t relatable to both younger and older readers."
There are primarily two factors that have influenced the growth in the YA market. First, the current generation of teenagers – an estimated 30 million strong – trails only their baby-boom parents in sheer numbers. Secondly, teens have greater buying power than their predecessors, and they are willing to spend their money on engrossing, well-written fiction. In fact, sales of YA novels rose an amazing 25% between 1999 and 2005.
Industry experts predict that the YA market will continue to push the envelope to meet the growing demand with several trends emerging.
According to Betsy, "An exciting trend is the use of innovative formats and high concept. Examples of innovative formats are titles such as: Crank by Ellen Hopkins, a free-verse narrative about a teen's addiction to crystal meth, TTYL by Lauren Myracle, told completely in instant messaging, and Monster by Walter Dean Myers written in movie script format.
"High concept is a term borrowed from Hollywood. Its innovation comes in its subject matter. The Book Thief is a high-concept novel because it is told by Death."
Another developing trend is that of established authors in the adult genre venturing into the YA genre. Rosemary comments, "You see a lot of authors who are already published on other shelves now writing books for YA – James Patterson, and fantasy authors, Kim Harrison and Rachel Caine for example. The hotness of the market isn't a reason to write YA. You have to have a story to tell that fits."
Betsy agrees. "Established authors of adult fiction are getting into the YA market partly for the money. The YA novel is the fastest growing and most exciting fiction genre in publishing today. Publishers are paying high advances (upper six figures) and printing enormous first-print runs because they believe kids will buy the books."
A final trend that is changing the face of the YA market is the introduction of graphic novels geared toward teenagers. Betsy elaborates, "Readers are snapping up books such as An American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yung. Today's kids are the first generation to grow up more accustomed to the digital screen than the printed page. Publishers are competing with TV and video games."
As with everything, there are areas of YA that have fallen out of favour. According to Rosemary, "The fantasy type books aren't going anywhere, but I think you'll continue to see a blending of real world problems with fantastical ones."
For writers who wish to enter the YA market, both Betsy and Rosemary suggest extensively reading the genre first to understand the topics that interest young readers. Know the world that they live in, and learn what issues are important to them. Observe their interactions. (Malls are great places, but be careful not to be too obvious). Go digital. Read teen blogs and bulletin boards. One of the biggest complaints editors have with YA submissions is that the writers are out of tune with today's teens.
While Betsy's novels have spanned the whole gamut of YA themes, her newest book, The Lazarus Sign, ventures into the paranormal. A heart transplant patient is contacted by her new heart's former spirit and given an important task to perform.
Rosemary's second novel, Hell Week, comes out in February. It tells the tale of a teen's first year of college as she works to stop a sorceress sorority from taking over the world.
G. Kyle White is a freelance writer and photographer who lives in Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas. His work has appeared in regional and national publications. He can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.