Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Young Adults Keep Getting Older Too...

The other day, I talked about how books published for teenagers, and their audience, was skewing younger. But there's another shift that has taken place in the world of teen literature over the past several years -- adults are now reading these books in record numbers. We can thank a certain wizard for making the Children's and Teen sections of the book store a must-stop for most readers. I'm grateful, not only for the increased sales, but also because it makes me look a little less creepy for trolling around the chapter book section.

With adult readers comes adult bloggers and influence. Influence in the publishing world translates into buying power, then into sales, and from there into editorial. On the surface, it would appear the adult presence would counter the trending toward younger books, but it doesn't always. Because the one thing I've noticed frequently is that most adult readers of YA fiction tend to get angry when the characters behave...well, like teenagers.

I see it all the time; a review by an adult reader that thinks such and such character behaves stupidly, or that such and such character drove them crazy. Perhaps that's because a real teenager would drive them crazy. The truth is, the life a teenager can be frustrating and confusing, and that's what realistic teen fiction tries to present. An adult reader doesn't necessarily want to dwell on those difficult times. And as I get older, it's remarkable how easily most adults forget completely what it was like to be a teen. Therefore, what is presented as realistic teen fiction today is kind of far from the reality of most teens.

So basically, where does that leave us? You have the more fantasy, fairy tale publishing for the younger readers (and some of the older readers too) and the more Chicklit Lite for the older readers (and some of the younger ones too). And to be clear, I don't think there's anything wrong with this. Readers enjoy it. They can be enjoyable books. However, what there seems to be lacking is a real sense of books for teenage readers of literature, not simply fiction. There's not much out there for that 15-17 year old who wants to read about their lives. And what is out there is poorly stocked in stores and hidden among the paranormal romance picks of the month.

Basically, the readers who brought the genre back from the brink a decade ago are being shut out once again. Which is really saddening. On the other hand, it's kind of nice to see that YA has become a genre as diverse as adult fiction. It's not simply problem-novels and Sweet Valley High anymore. There's a world of publishing from fantasy to romance. I just hope it doesn't devour itself with too much of the same old, same old.


  1. I LOVED Sweet Valley as a kid (and as a younger teen). But as much as I loved the series back then, I don't think I can pick them up and read it now. As a child, it was beyond entertaining, now, I see it as just formula fiction. But, I still love the twins. ;)

    I also agree with some of the other points you bring up. It's a risk when you pick up a book that is meant for an audience younger than you. I sometimes feel like the characters a little too flat for my liking. But then again, there have been some VERY GOOD YA novels I've read.

    I'd also love for non-fantasy and non-paranormal romance YA books to get more exposure.

    Great, insightful post! I really enjoyed reading it. :)

  2. I've tried submitting literary fiction for young adults - the agents aren't interested.

  3. I get where your coming from. When i go to the book store the sections i always go to is labled TEEN, and although i'm just a few years over being a teen i sometimes feel like i shouldn't be in that section. And there has been times when i've picked up a book and it's been about a 13 year old and i've out it back because i dont feel as though i can relate to it as well. However on the same note there have been times when i get the book with a 13 year old on it because its nice to escape into a world where the problems aren't so strong as the ones i'm facing.

    No matter how old i get though i dont think i could ever pass up one of your books on the shelf!

  4. Agents are simply following publishing trends. They only want to take what publishers are buying from them. It always changes.

    good point Karrissa about being able to relate. I would say that a good writer can make any character, regardless of age and circumstance, relatable.

    Elle- totally agree that realistic fiction needs to get more exposure. That's where the blogger need to come in.

  5. Books for adults containing only adult characters and dealing only with dysfunctional relationships are, well, overdone, boring, and formulaic. Books for teens containing only teen characters dealing with teen problems: the same. The time has come for us writers to write books for serious readers (of any age) and dealing with people of all ages and kinds truthfully and compassionately, with something of universal importance to say. To do this we will have to break out of marketing demographic "genres." After all, the success of Harry Potter came precisely because it was NOT like other books.

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  6. I agree with you, however as writers, it's hard to find publishers willing to take something that doesn't fall into these marketing categories. That's a real issue writers must face.

    I would however strongly disagree with your assessment of Harry Potter. It's actually an extremely unoriginal book. It's a Disney version of Roald Dahl. I find it to be typical Upper Middle Grade fantasy. Only after the huge success of books one and two, when it was already a worldwide phenomenon, did it attempt to expand it's universe and break convention. But to get that to that point, it followed an old formula.