GRETCHEN HAERTSCH ON: THE YOUNG ADULT NOVEL
It wasn’t that long ago that the young adult (YA) market for books was pronounced all but dead. That is certainly no longer the case. Call it the Harry Potter factor or the baby boom bounce, but teens are reading and buying lots of books. There are approximately 40 million people between 13 and 19 in the United States; a recent survey shows that over 60 percent of them read books for pleasure. Of course, publishers are well aware of this trend and do all they can to snag an increasingly larger share of this audience.
Social networking has had a huge effect on YA book sales; a hot book becomes boiling hot very quickly when teens blog or post on Facebook or Twitter. Some agents who used to deal only with the adult market have switched to children’s books and YA. And formerly adult-only authors are now trying their hand at the YA novel and reeling in new readers and hefty sales. It’s arguable, but some critics believe that there is more experimentation and creativity in this market than in standard adult fare. That attracts the best writers and, in turn, the prolific readers – both teens and adults, for there is now a sizable cross-over market, which means that adults are reading books originally marketed for YA. Switch covers, shelve the books in the adult section, and you’ve got a new supply of potential readers.
So if you’re a writer, what’s the difference between writing a young adult and an adult book? Both can have gripping plots and feature young adult or teenage protagonists. Yet there are a few points that differentiate the two:
* In YA novels, your protagonist must be a teenager.
* If you’re writing YA, keep to a limited, adolescent point-of-view. Even when it has a teenage protagonist, an adult novel contains a narrative voice that betrays adult perspective.
* YA novels often – but not always – are shorter in length. Though character-driven, they have lots of dialogue and page-turning action.
* Though they can be gritty and no-holds-barred realistic, YA novels usually leave the reader with some hope.
All this concerns me, not only because I write YA and have just completed an historic novel for this market, but also because in my college teaching, I’ve met so many students who love this genre and aspire to write compelling YA fiction. I always encourage them to polish their craft and to keep a close eye on the publishing industry, primarily by joining organizations like the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators – the standard for the industry.
When you’re a writer, keeping an eye on the publishing market can feel a bit like selling out; it feels too far from the business of creating gripping stories. Yet we can’t afford to ignore what’s going on in the publishing world. As much fun as the creative process is, we also want readers consuming what we produce. That’s a lot more likely if we keep abreast of the trends.