Checking in on YA

In a publishing climate that seems to be moving at light-speed, sometimes it’s incredibly useful to take a step back and broadly assess where things are relative to the past. So I was really struck by Sue Corbett’s excellent article in this week’s Publishers Weekly on the current state of YA. For anyone looking for a good, simple picture of both the recent history of YA and where we are today, it’s well worth a look, especially since Corbett quotes agents and publishers for views from both sides of the desk. Plus, it’s heartening to see that many of our colleagues still honor two of the well-worn adages of our industry:

1) Publishing is built on optimism (paranormal fatigue—what paranormal fatigue?); and

2) Nobody knows nuthin’ about nuthin’, especially when trying to predict the Next Big Thing (and that’s a good thing).

For me, Corbett nails what I saw as an editor during the “YA decade,” particularly the seismic shifts in YA shelving and marketing, as well as the evolution in packaging. And I think she’s right, too, on the current scene, that Dystopian isn’t quite played out yet, though it does seem to be getting tougher to sell.

But here’s the missing piece—what do the writers think? How does Corbett’s picture of the current YA scene square with your impressions/experience? Please, let’s discuss and complete the picture!

7 Responses to Checking in on YA

  1. Josie R. says:

    I think there’s a HUGE difference in what’s lagging with editors and what’s lagging with readers.

    Sure, an agent/editor who sees 15 angel books/per day, 14 of which are either awful, derivative, or requeries from other days, can say they’re tired of angel stories, but to the reader who only ever sees the published ones, they’re not tired of them yet.

    ** angels are only an example. I’ve not read a full angel novel. myself, but tons of people do, and love them.

    Paranormal has a huge following, and it’s not a following that necessarily tires of reading about supers just because editors are tires of reading about them

  2. Rachael says:

    As a writer, I found the article encouraging because I write neither paranormal fiction nor dystopian, and it seemed that there was hope for other writing in the near future to again be popular. I also found the packaging analysis very interesting as an adult who frequently reads YA fiction myself. The only thing she didn’t address that I would have been interested in was the trends in quote-on-quote regular YA fiction. To me, every thing I pick up that’s not paranormal, fantasy or sci-fi, is a romance. And I can’t help but think of the books I read as a teenager – only a little more than a decade ago – that were solid fiction without a heavy romance story line or heavy genre plot line. Is there no room for more literary YA fiction anymore?

    • Rachel, I agree about your literary ya fiction comment. I am actually disappointed when a book turns out overly romantic when I didn’t expect it to be? My recent example is The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer. I just did not expect half of what that book was about; I wanted it to be dark and twisty, and to be fair a lot of it was, but the relationship parts were more central to the story than I expected. Also the prologue set me up for things that never even happened.

      Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly is probably the most recent YA I’ve read that I felt encouraged by b/c it was not focused so much on romantic relationships but concepts with higher stakes, moral questioning, etc.

  3. It was interesting the article noted paranormal fatigue contrasted with what’s coming out in 2012: a bunch of paranormal series. But as an agent, I realize you’re searching the slush for what’s next for 2014, not next year. It’s fun to see what people will guess as the next big thing, but I personally think it takes a specific work to change trends. We all know Twilight isn’t great literary writing, but it hit a chord. For whatever reason, Stephenie Meyer got a sweet book deal, she clued in to an online fanbase early on, and she was extremely lucky to get a movie deal. I don’t think you can predict those factors, it’s almost like the wind needs to blow the right way at the right time with a million other factors included.

    I read a lot of blogs, and over the summer I read through several pitch contests, as well as pitch and query contests on WriteOnCon’s site. I thinkj 75% are paranormal this-or-that. I got tired of reading the one sentence pitches. A really solid work doing something creative with a stale concept will probably get the attention it deserves, but I agree the fatigue is overwhelming! I flagged (to myself) the pitches I was interested in, and I noticed when the agents chose the “winners” most were not the tired paranormal love triangles. I think it pays for writers to do research of what’s out there and what’s overdone.

    Sorry to write so much: but I was at YA lit event for educators and found dozens of new authors that are writing incredible books beyond what’s often hyped in the bookstores. It gives me hope that what sells doesn’t necessarily have to be about a hybrid being or someone’s magic powers switched turned on when they turn 16!

  4. Carrie-Anne says:

    I’ve been taking part in a number of online blogfests, pitch sessions, etc., too, and I agree about at least 75% of them being paranormal or dystopian/post-apocalyptic. All the other entries seem to be fantasy. I’m always the only one doing historical fiction, or else one of only a handful writing in that genre. (I do 20th century historical fiction and a little bit of soft sci-fi.) I have to admit my eyes kind of glaze over the minute I see the genre listed as “paranormal romance” or just plain paranormal. All the synopses start to sound the same after awhile. Whatever happened to writing about real people in real situations, and writing for all time instead of for a current fad?

  5. The thing is, we never really hear about readers bemoaning the wealth of paranormal YA. There’s clearly appetite for these stories. People like a bit of magic (little ‘m’) in their entertainment. Look at the top 100 movies of all time in the USA*. In fist 20, we have 18 stories about hobbits, lightsabers, shreks, aliens, nemos, dinosaurs, superheroes, and pirates. The other two? Titanic and Passion of the Christ. So really, we have eighteen movies that are thematically aimed at a younger audience and two “adult” films. (Though I might even consider Titanic a YA Historical, by book standards.)

    So, why should YA literature be any different?

    It’s about escape. Really, that’s why I write. And as a writer, it would be irresponsible for me to not know what is hot right now in the industry I’m trying to take part in, but it has no play on what I write. Heck, I wish I had that kind of foresight to know what will be sparkling in the sunshine a year from now, but I don’t. So, instead, I simply write what I like and hope that I have good taste.

    That said, I don’t envy editors and agents. I’m sure it must be mind-numbing to needle through the paranormal haystack, looking for that One Book. But in the end, someone has to give the people what they want. Looking at sales, I’m happy (thankful, and/or relieved) to say they still want paranormal.

    *source: http://www.imdb.com/boxoffice/alltimegross

  6. Greg says:

    The YA readers I know IRL are tired of paranormal– and if editors aren’t acquiring it, they’re probably doing so on the advice of their marketing department which has access to the sales numbers.

    Look at “Starcrossed” by Angelini. They paid, what, a million bucks for it? It probably would’ve been a huge seller a few years ago, but now it’s a bust.

    Methinks paranormal writers are just in denial.

    Something spectacular will sell whether it’s in or out– it just has to be spectacular.

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