Monday, May 16, 2011

Why YA? Why Now?

For those of you who follow me over at From the Write Angle, you'll know this is a repost.  But it's worth reading twice... right? :)

For a while now it's seemed that YA is the market to be in.  Writers whose usual stomping grounds are certainly not in that arena have been throwing their hat in the ring—Joyce Carol Oates, James Patterson and now John Grisham.  Even Rick Riordan, of PERCY JACKSON & THEY OLYMPIANS fame was not originally a YA/MG author.

The market shift can easily be spotted in the changing genre coverage of agents, as well.  At least twice a week I get emails in my inbox from QueryTracker, alerting me to an agent who has expanded their area of interest.  More often than not, they're adding YA to the mix.

It's easy to name the catalysts—J.K. Rowling, Stephenie Meyer—but they wouldn't be household names if people weren't reading the books.  There are plenty of excellent writers with original plots out there—across genres and readership-age—who haven't initiated worldwide culture shifts.

So what gives?  Why did your local Barnes & Noble knock down a wall to expand the teen section?

Recently, I had my college buddies over for yet another Twizzler and Dove chocolate fest.  Books came up, and everyone turned to me for recommendations, since I spend 40 a week surrounded by them.  I tossed off three or four titles, pens started scribbling and I said, "Sorry guys, I just realized everything I'm telling you is YA.  It's pretty much what I'm reading right now."

To my surprise, this group of above-average intelligence, thirty-something women all said, "Oh—us too, it's totally cool."  Since I had a captive audience I picked their brains—why?  Why are adults reading YA?  I have to admit, it's kinda been killing me.  And their answer echoed what I had come up with on my own:

Because we didn't have any.

Readers in my age frame had to leap across a massive gap in our early to late teens.  We went from R.L. Stine to Stephen King, Sweet Valley High to Danielle Steele, Nancy Drew to Kinsey Milhone.  With few exceptions (God bless you Lois Duncan, Judy Blume & Christopher Pike) there wasn't a market for edgy, intelligent YA—definitely not in the numbers we're seeing now.  As a teen, I had to search out titles that interested me in my age range.  As an adult, I'm saturated with YA books in the TBR pile, and the bedstand is hating life.

Teens are reading in massive numbers.  I speak from firsthand experience when I say there has been a major shift in the way pleasure reading is viewed in the high school where I work.  The quarterback is carrying around the same book as the mousey girl with glasses, and he's not trying to hide it underneath a copy of Men's Fitness, either.

Adults are reading those same books.  There's a reason why Sweet Valley was trending on Twitter days after the release of SWEET VALLEY CONFIDENTIAL: TEN YEARS LATER. Heck, it's even been released with a super retro cover.  It's 'cause women like me were happily throwing down our college degrees and rolling around in some trash-awesome.  Am I vicariously attempting to recapture my youth?

Or am I trying to fill a fifteen-year-old gap?

9 comments:

octoberdaniels said...

My thoughts often turn to the same subject: the big, "why?"

But your post makes sense to me. And gives me hope as a future market participant! Thanks for sharing!

Stephsco said...

That's a good point. When I rediscovered YA a few years ago I marveled at the section of Borders for teen books. Now it's even larger. My local independent bookstore is half children's/teen and they bring in the best and buzziest authors. It's exciting! I just went to an event where some girls had stacks of books they bought to have signed by the authors. It's definitely exciting. I'm glad to see dedication like that among the news of bookstores constantly closing.

Angela V. Cook said...

From a cultural standpoint, our society is obsessed with youth- now more than ever. It just makes sense that the trend would transend to books.

I also agree with you. YA storylines have gotten deeper and more edgy (thus, more appealing). The only YA I remember reading as a "young adult" was the Sweet Valley High books (the ones that came after the middle-grade Sweet Valley Twins books), and those were the farthest thing from deep and edgy.

Jen Daiker said...

I love that everyone has started to embrace YA and those who haven't are missing out on some fabulous break the mold kind of reading.

I love the places you get to travel. With teens the possibilities are endless. We wanted the world to move mountains and when we get older we realize how unrealistic is. However as teens we still have those hopes and dreams. I think for me it has all to do with where you can go in such amazing worlds ;)

Mindy McGinnis said...

Ladies - absolutely! I embraced the revolution first as a librarian, and then (I admit, reluctantly) made the Duh-that-only-makes-sense move into writing it. Like you Jen, I found out that I liked it b/c of the possibilities. There's a lot of passion and freedom in YA.

Sarah LaPolla posted in a similar vein over on Glass Cases this morning:

http://bigglasscases.blogspot.com/2011/05/ya-then-vs-now.html

Bethany C. said...

I love this post.

I used to venture into the YA section at the library as quickly as possible. Make no eye contact with anyone. Keep your head down. In & out, nobody gets hurt. I had this "idea" of what I was supposed to read because people my age read "grown-up" books. Then I realized that grown-up books aren't always good.

I love reliving first-times the way you do in a good YA book. Tingles, nerves, fears, anticipation...yeah--that's the good stuff.

elizabeth seckman said...

At my kids' school, starting in kindergarten, they are forced to read and accumulate AR points (computer quizzes have replaced book reports. Maybe early mandated reading helps reading become a habit. Let's hope!

Bethany C. said...

@ Elizabeth,
my kids have that, too--though it doesn't start until 2nd grade. I was as hopeful as you, though my 8 year-old destroyed my dreams early on. "Mom...I need 37 points. Let's get this overwith..." or something along those lines ;)

Jenny Phresh said...

I like 'em cause I get lots of ARCS at the office! They make for great train reading. But I have wondered, too, what about the writers of "literary" adult fiction and such? One doesn't see them on QT so much. I feel as if the books I read as a child affected me more deeply than anything else I have read, because I was young and blown away with wonder. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, etc. However, a really amazing series read as an adult (e.g. Philip Pullman) proves that this genre is powerful and enduring.