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Your genre of choice > The Age of YA Fiction, When Will it End?

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message 1: by Wesley (new)

Wesley Fox Whenever I research literary agencies, nearly all of their agents are looking for young adult fiction. If you look at the bestseller's list for science fiction/fantasy (SFF), it is dominated by YA novels. There is an enormous bulge in the distribution of new SFF for this middle age group.

My questions are
1. Why is YA fiction so dominant now?
2. Can YA be fairly compared to adult SFF?
3. Will the YA trend anytime soon?
4. Finally, is it a good thing or a bad thing for the genre?

I have my own thoughts but I figured I'd throw it out there and see how others felt.


message 2: by D.R. (last edited Aug 11, 2015 10:37AM) (new)

D.R. (woodhawk) 1. Why is YA fiction so dominant now?
Publishing companies are going to publish what sells best. Does this indicate YA books are better than other genres or that YA readers are more willing to spend their money?

As far as I am aware, the typical trademarks for a YA story are young heroes or heroines fighting against some issue and involves romance. Perhaps older readers who don't identify with that age group are as interested in reading as much as they once were.


message 3: by Charles (new)

Charles Hash Shouldn't we be glad that young people are reading enough to make YA one of the most popular genres?


message 4: by Wesley (new)

Wesley Fox I guess so. The strange thing is, I think a lot of readers ages 21-35 are reading YA fiction. Even stranger, some of my friends read Harry Potter while in college.

At some point, shouldn't readers gravitate toward adult fiction??? I'm not saying YA is trash, only that I'm worried the industry is neglecting adult fiction, turning sci-fi into a kid's genre. It should be more than just rebranded dystopias, love triangles, and unsupervised children imprisoned in mazes.


message 5: by Christina (new)

Christina McMullen (cmcmullen) | 1213 comments Mod
Wesley wrote: "I guess so. The strange thing is, I think a lot of readers ages 21-35 are reading YA fiction. Even stranger, some of my friends read Harry Potter while in college."

I was almost thirty when I read Harry Potter. I am... Much older than that now and I just went and had myself sorted into Slytherin house this past weekend, thank you very much.
As a child, I was required to read books that are not at all YA for school. My personal tastes graduated from YA into "this looks like it's got sex, violence, or something otherwise taboo" around the age of thirteen, which is far more typical than most people would like to think. The YA demographic is not the same as the age of the characters in YA. In fact, I would argue that most books starring characters between the ages of 13-18 are being read by kids age 9-13 and adults looking to escape the real world.

At some point, shouldn't readers gravitate toward adult fiction??? I'm not saying YA is trash, only that I'm worried the industry is neglecting adult fiction, turning sci-fi into a kid's genre. It should be more than just rebranded dystopias, love triangles, and unsupervised children imprisoned in mazes.

I did that in college. In fact, I pretty much shunned contemporary scifi as well because I was a literature major, not a pop pulp major.

However...

At some point, my tasted changed for the 348262nd time in my life and I once again enjoy science fiction, fantasy, and young adult science fiction and fantasy. So much so that I write all of the above. But as I said, it's an escape. Does it matter to me that the protagonist is sixteen or twenty six? No, not really, but if I'm looking for a light adventure, I'm less likely to encounter a graphic scene of violence in a YA book than in one that is more "mature."

As for the industry shunning adult fiction, you only have to browse what is available in scifi to see that there is plenty of "mature" offerings. More than twice as many as when I published my first scifi three years ago, in fact.


message 6: by Owen (last edited Aug 12, 2015 12:50AM) (new)

Owen O'Neill (owen_r_oneill) | 625 comments Wesley wrote: "Whenever I research literary agencies, nearly all of their agents are looking for young adult fiction. If you look at the bestseller's list for science fiction/fantasy (SFF), it is dominated by YA ..."

Who's bestseller lists? I only pay attention to KDP, and there, at least, I don't think that's the case. There do seem to quite a number of "YA blockbusters" out there. (Is Twilight YA? What about Hunger Games?)

A few months ago, I was having a discussion about how the market was dominated by dystopian fiction and how this was a radical (and not ever encouraging change) from the days of my youth. So maybe it's YA dystopian fiction? I have zero interest in either so I don't really know what's going on. And then again, literary agencies are irrelevant these days, so I am dubious that their tastes drive the market anymore.


message 7: by Wesley (new)

Wesley Fox KDP has a bestseller's list??? I'm a bit more conventional. I checked the ones on Amazon.com, NYT, Barnes and Noble, and once in a while go through the aggregate lists at Locus Online.

I should also clarify I'm using young-adult fiction as in the industry term, meaning books published and marketed to adolescents and young adults. The protagonists don't need to be teenagers, although it is pretty common.

My limited experience with literary agents is that publishing house demands drive their choices, not necessarily their own tastes. One recently commented to me that all presses are interested in YA when it comes to SFF.

Dystopias are everywhere! They've really had a golden age of their own since 2008. You could maybe stretch it back to September 11th when oblivion seemed a little more real.


message 8: by Christina (new)

Christina McMullen (cmcmullen) | 1213 comments Mod
I believe what Owen mean by KDP is Amazon's bestseller list for Kindle books, which at this time is the most accurate bestseller list, not just because it does not involve marketing teams buying their clients onto it, but because of the share of the genre market that ebooks (specifically kindle ebooks) holds.

What is being offered and what publishers are looking for do not necessarily line up. Publishers may be looking to ride a trend based on the popularity of YA books turned into films, but this does not reflect availability of books nor does it necessarily reflect reading habits of people who enjoy the genre.


message 9: by Wesley (new)

Wesley Fox I'm a little surprised the premise of the discussion is a point of contention. Without an agreed-on premise, I guess the topic is a nonstarter.

The idea was based on my own sense of the marketplace the past few years and the articles I've read about the business and how it has changed. Admittedly, it wouldn't hold up in court but I thought it was enough to make the claim about YA.

For example, here are a couple articles/sites I found on the topic:

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/ya-lit...

http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainm...

http://www.cnn.com/2013/10/15/living/...

In terms of reading habits, I don't know how to establish what readers are actually reading compared to what they are buying, and whether there is any difference.

Historically, from what little I've read on this, I don't think YA has ever had this much market share.


message 10: by Wesley (new)

Wesley Fox Just remembered, Goodreads has a "Most Read" page listing the books being read by Goodreads users. Obviously not scientific but maybe offers some guidance.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/most_r...

Harry Potter, Outlander, Divergent Series, Maze Runner, and Ready Player One are near the top.

In terms of SFF, there are a few adult titles as well.


message 11: by Christina (new)

Christina McMullen (cmcmullen) | 1213 comments Mod
At this point, I'm going to go ahead and call it: Harry Potter is not YA. It is a phenomenon that has been fast tracked into the category of classic literature.
I don't know much about any of the other books you listed above except that I was under the impression that Outlander was romance, and more of the shirtless hunk variety than the holding hands in school variety.

But to answer your original questions:

1. Why is YA fiction so dominant now?

It's always been a popular category, but until a few years ago, we didn't have a catchy acronym. The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, Judy Blume, Goosebumps, and the Babysitter's Club... I just named a solid fifty or so years of top selling YA and that's not even the tip of the iceberg.

I think the difference is that today, with the internet and everything being instantly accessable, it might just look as if there is a surge in popularity, just like it looks as if there is a surge in violence because we are plugged into 24 hour news stations.

2. Can YA be fairly compared to adult SFF?

Yes. Again, this has always been true. In school we were required to read some scifi, both young adult and mature. In both, we explored the themes and more often than not, the YA selections brought up some heavy themes that might have even been darker than some of the adult books.

My personal opinion is that often, YA authors, especially the contemporary indie authors of YA scifi and fantasy, are writing at a higher difficulty level than their adult counterparts because not only do they need a story that is engaging, but they have to weave in issues that are pertinent to those who are going through the most tumultuous years of their life.

3. Will the YA trend anytime soon?

I believe you are missing the word end? If so, then no. See my post above regarding my belief that this 'trend' is not new.

4. Finally, is it a good thing or a bad thing for the genre?

I will answer this by asking you: How can adding books with a universal appeal to the market ever be anything but good? When we start to question what "should and should not" be allowed, the conversation turns once again to standards and gatekeepers and that is a dark and depressing path I do not personally wish to travel.


message 12: by J.A. (new)

J.A. Ironside (julesanneironside) | 653 comments Mod
Very well put, Christina. I've had conversations with quite a few disgruntled adult SFF writers now and it seems that there is a bone of contention whereby 'if you don't write YA then you haven't got a hope of being traditionally published.' The implication being that somehow those writing for a YA audience (not necessarily teens!)are somehow cheating. This is obviously rubbish. It's been hard to get a traditional deal with SFF books for decades now. It's not a case of YA stealing the niche. Certainly if you were writing fantasy or some types of SF back when Louise Lawrence, Alan Garner, even Tolkien were writing,then you were writing for 'children' because there wasn't a big market for adult fantasy. That has shifted but it is still hard to get a SFF novel published because while there is a thriving market, it's still much smaller than the market for Crime - the biggest seller, or Romance - the second biggest. Publishers and consequently agents will make room for proportionally fewer SFF books on their lists. YA is selling well but SFF YA, while maybe having a slight edge at getting a foot in the door, still has to be better than it's competitors to get published. Perhaps the question we ought to ask for those writers of adult SFF who are struggling and feel it's because YA has taken their place is 'What need or requirement is YA filling that SFF adult is not? What is missing from the average SFF book?'

Personally I think there is an element of truth to a YA audience seeking an experience rather than just entertainment. Adult SFF authors, while possibly writing more accomplished work, often fall into the lazy habit of only providing the latter. This is never going to make you stand out in what is now a bloated genre. While YA is sometimes simpler and occasionally you get the odd dreadful YA book (you get dreadful books in all genres) there is a prevailing aim of emotional honesty in most of them which is often lacking from adult SFF.


message 13: by R.F.G. (new)

R.F.G. Cameron | 296 comments Hmmm, I suppose while I have a connection I'll comment (once moved I have to wait for a tech to find the house and telephone GPS won't work--living off the beaten path has a few drawbacks amongst many rewards).

When I was 9 to 10 years old I was reading YA. At 12 I was reading Dante. Through the years I've read many different types of fiction as well as non-fiction. In my early 50s I read the Parry Hotter series while stuck in Monterey, CA and during free-time at Ord Military Community (long story).

I still read authors whose work I read nearly fifty years ago just as I read new authors when I have adequate time (which is in short supply due to the tiny demon princess).

From what I can tell (as an old Information Analyst) YA SFF is popular because it appeals to a large segment of readers. Some MA SFF doesn't gain an audience due either to content (whether too much or too little sex) or the need for an advanced degree in order to understand the authors' points.

One reader (around my age) likened a book of mine to an entertaining romp starring a sex-crazed android -- the android in question was actually just trying to be all the human she could be. Other readers have been from their twenties to mid-sixties. The point is that while my work is geared more toward adults, most kids could understand the concepts with minimal or no use of a dictionary/degree.

If you craft your work in such a way it gently pulls readers in and then keeps them turning pages, it doesn't matter if it's YA, MA, or BDSM SFF, the readers will read. In short, it's more about how you write rather than what you write about.


message 14: by Owen (new)

Owen O'Neill (owen_r_oneill) | 625 comments Wesley wrote: "I'm a little surprised the premise of the discussion is a point of contention. Without an agreed-on premise, I guess the topic is a nonstarter."

Been missing this, but I'll comment briefly:

"For example, here are a couple articles/sites I found on the topic:
http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/ya-lit...
http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainm...
http://www.cnn.com/2013/10/15/living/..."

These are the most mainstream of mainstream news organs. Where do they get they data? My guess is that they to not comb through 10 of 1000's of books on Amazon or other outlets. I suspect they reflect what industry spokespeople tell them and they accept their figure uncritically. Is someone from PBS or CNN going to spend a 1000 hours tracking sales for two years so they can write an article? I doubt it. But that is the only way to answer the question.

I haven't a 1000 hours either (I don't think so anyway) but I have been tracking what's happening on Amazon regularly since early 2013, and while YA is certainly popular, so are many other things. I don't see what I'd call "dominance" there.


message 15: by Owen (new)

Owen O'Neill (owen_r_oneill) | 625 comments R.F.G. wrote: " In my early 50s I read the Parry Hotter series while stuck in Monterey, CA and during free-time at Ord Military Community (long story)."

That sounds like a great long story. Do you have a blog or somewhere to post it?


message 16: by Robert (new)

Robert Zwilling | 229 comments Owen,
Not sure why but none of those links bring up an article, instead 404, or something similar.


message 17: by Owen (new)

Owen O'Neill (owen_r_oneill) | 625 comments Wesley wrote: "Just remembered, Goodreads has a "Most Read" page listing the books being read by Goodreads users. Obviously not scientific but maybe offers some guidance."

Actually, no. What GR reflects is the "bandwagon" phenomenon. There are many books that a only a tiny number of people feel like expressing an opinion on. Then a book becomes a "phemon" and everyone jumps on the bandwagon, and this spikes the data. Ultimately, GR is not a "reading" site -- it's a social media site, and as such presents a small and distorted window into reading habits. (They also presented an article on reader habits not to long ago that was criminally neglect. I was tempted to sever any connection with GR over it. I relented.)


message 18: by Robert (new)

Robert Zwilling | 229 comments I am trying to find a reasonable definition of YA literature but only seem to be coming up with buzz words and the idea that it is targeted for youthful readers age 10 to 25. Which is totally meaningless as a definition as everyone is reading it.

One explanation was that it sought to tell the truth, provide role models and act as a factor in promoting positive teenage development.

Does that mean creating free thinkers or staying in the box away from the fringe territories?

Can anyone someone provide some good examples of YA science fiction other than Hunger Games, Divergent, Ender's Game. Do these describe the general format? Is it as simple as the characters are teenagers?

Murder and sex seem to be okay, but what about drinking and smoking cigarettes in YA?


message 19: by Christina (new)

Christina McMullen (cmcmullen) | 1213 comments Mod
Ah! Here we go with defining again! ;)

I think the issue with trying to define YA is that is means something different to those who are not fans than to those who are. For example: I have a novella that is dystopian zombie satire. It is not YA. The characters range from young adults up to senior citizens and every age in between (it is a done in a style that mimicks Bradbury's Martian Chronicles so there are multiple perspectives), yet two members of this group called it YA when they reviewed it because to them, it read as something for young people.

On the other hand, I've recently read a book that is labled YA, has a teenage protagonist, but delves into historical and archeological topics that likely would have put me to sleep as a teen.

Now on the subject of drinking, smoking, drugs, and any other taboo, again, it depends on how they are handled.
...and I'm being dragged away. I'll revisit this topic when I'm not pressed for time from the real world.


message 20: by Owen (new)

Owen O'Neill (owen_r_oneill) | 625 comments Robert wrote: "I am trying to find a reasonable definition of YA literature but only seem to be coming up with buzz words and the idea that it is targeted for youthful readers age 10 to 25. Which is totally meani..."

Good luck with that. I never thought Ender's Game was YA. (I don't think the term existed when he wrote it.)

One problem I see is that some people seem to want to define YA as a tool for browbeating ... indoctrinating ... educating teens in "acceptable" [ahem] modes of thinking and behavior. Others think of it as books teens like. But the first is misguided and the second useless, because teens read whatever one else reads (when they can get their hands on it).

We go out of our way to say our books are not YA, not because teens can't handle them or shouldn't read them, but because adults who like YA can't handle them and thinking they are YA buy them and then return them.

And it worked. As soon as we put up the notice that the books aren't intended as YA, returns dropped to near zero.

That doesn't help define YA much, I'm afraid, but it may say something about the a lot of the people who like to read it.

And 25 is a typo, I hope?


message 21: by Christina (new)

Christina McMullen (cmcmullen) | 1213 comments Mod
Okay, back on the subject: Deviant behavior. Yes, it can be allowed and not just as some sort of PSA that drugs are bad as it was back in my day (child of the "just say no" era here). Characters might drink to fit in or smoke due to their upbringing. Often characters who use drugs are trying to escape something awful in their life. That being said, I've mostly seen this and sex being brought up in contemporary or coming of age YA, not scifi and fantasy YA.

As for your question about good examples, I would say that none of the books you listed are necessarily YA science fiction. Harry Potter is fantasy and I'd argue middle grade. Hunger Games is dystopian, which I guess is a subset of scifi, and Divergent, I'll admit I know nothing of, but it appears to be another dystopian.

YA scifi is not popular with traditional publishers, but if you want good examples, browse the indie books being offered. You'll find everything from teens discovering a UFO, to clones and genetic engineering experiments, to space operas about teens learning the hard way that (space) war is hell, to a book by our own mod Richard that can only be described as the perfect scifi YA novel that is in no way the typical scifi or YA novel.

And that's where we run into the biggest issue with trying to define YA and to set boundaries: indie publishing makes it easier for us to bend, shape, or even smash into smithereens said boundaries. But the same can be said for 'adult' scifi now, can't it?


message 22: by Micah (new)

Micah Sisk (micahrsisk) | 563 comments I don't have any empirical data to say exactly how popular YA is, but anecdotal evidence indicates that it's very popular. I know a lot of adults who read it...I don't know many young people but the ones I do know don't read, they play video games.

In the adults I know who read YA a lot, it seems to be an escapist thing. They like them because of their entertainment value and the books don't require a lot of thought. That's actually what I've been told, not what I infer. I'm sure there are some that are more literary than others. (I know correlation isn't causation, but I have noticed that the adults I know who like YA also tend to be ones who really get off on Pixar films and everything Disney...which personally I abhor.)

All that said, I only read what we used to call Juvenile books when I was really young. At 13 I found Kurt Vonnegut and devoured all of his works that I could find. Then I was on to Dune, and then LotR (which I don't consider a YA, though The Hobbit certainly is), then Philip K. Dick, Greg Bear, Joe Haldeman. I've always enjoyed complexity and ideas.

I don't think YA's popularity is either good or bad for adult SFF. It could bring some people into reading more mature works, or it could be that adults who like YA will just stick with that because their lives are complex enough.

Amazon thinks my free short stories are YA (or at least they track them in the Kindle Store > Kindle Short Reads > XX minutes > Teen & Young Adult categories. Just because I didn't know they'd use the Grade Level/Age thing for this purpose; I thought those were to mark reading level rather than content. Droppin' the F-bomb in Teen literature! Booyakasha!!


message 23: by Robert (new)

Robert Zwilling | 229 comments Not finding any real answers I did more looking. Static definitions in google sampled books, real life examples in goodreads.

Basically it lets people stand in a young person's shoes without getting dirty, or imagine they are if they no longer fit the age requirements.

I'm sure there are official library standards and then there are commercial standards. In order to stay relevant they are probably merging rather than diverging.

Hard core YA has to be the real thing or the teenage audiences won't buy it. Plenty of adults might because they don't know what it's like to be in school or just being a teenager at this point in time. It's a social experience.

"the books don't require a lot of thought." That's only some of it. There are plenty of stories that don't require a lot of thinking. That is true in most fields.

Some of the YA is definitely juvenile, but some of it is serious mature rated X, according to the old standards, that is drawn from real life experiences... you can call that entertainment, but some of it I would call watching human beings self destruct.


message 24: by Patrick (new)

Patrick Bowron | 14 comments New to this post. But, I say anything that gets teenagers to read is great.


message 25: by Mathew (new)

Mathew Babaoye | 9 comments I agree with Patrick. Love anything that gets more people reading.

As for the question of when the age of YA fiction will end... well, perhaps when our national/internation obsession with youth ends. Or when people start being born as adults ;)

- Mathew Babaoye


message 26: by Richard (new)

Richard Penn (richardpenn) | 758 comments I write stories that I hope will make people want to get off this planet, like the classic sci-fi stories did when I was a kid. I don't focus much on violence or describe sex, mostly because I don't enjoy reading about those things. I hope my readers are young, though the ones I've heard from mostly aren't. My characters are certainly young, for the most part. I don't think it falls into the YA category, and I don't label it as such.

Judging by the examples, it's a category defined more by exception than by rule. In the Potter books, the characters grow up, and the tone gets darker, because JKR's model reader was her own child, who was getting older. In LOTR, the Hobbit, and the Narina books, the authors lived in a world where children were seen and not heard. The Hunger Games series, clearly promoted as YA, have some of the nastiest violence I've read. Philip Pullman, explicitly writing for children, has some very grown-up themes.

Is it all going to disappear? Of course not. The idea of writing for young people will always motivate authors, and really good books will always attract readers.

Is YA destroying SF? Is fantasy destroying science fiction? That's a hobby horse I'll ride out another day.


message 27: by Wesley (new)

Wesley Fox The question was not whether YA fiction would disappear after a long run of huge sales and widespread popularity. The question is whether we will see a shift towards more adult fiction, reducing marketshare of YA. In other words, it loses territory but doesn't vanish.

I think science fiction provides a fertile soil for YA stories in a way it couldn't decades before. SF was seen as the realm of awkward, single and desperate nerds with too much time on their hands.

Today, a growing number of young people and adults relate to SF in a way previous generations couldn't. Nerd doesn't have the same negative connotation it used to. There are more and more people who refer to themselves as nerds and express interest in the sciences and technology.

For most of the 20th century most Americans worked in factories, workshops, or small service outlets rather than in software companies, IT, health care, or research. Teenagers walk around with computers in their pocket more powerful than the ones NASA used during the Apollo Program. There are more people walking around with bachelor's degrees than at any point in US history.

American people are different, hence their kids are different. The new generation is open to reading YA stories set in sci-fi landscapes because it much more resembles reality.


message 28: by K.P. (last edited Oct 05, 2015 02:43PM) (new)

K.P. Merriweather (kp_merriweather) | 189 comments ehh, this was always difficult for me, since I was reading HS level in grade school, so my idea of YA and everyone else's are wildly different.

The stuff I wrote as a teen was considered too dark for the market 20 years ago now tame by today's standards. Also, was told to live a little more (well, I was a teenager after all) and now after a decade of trying just about *everything*, now I'm stuck trying to push my works through to teens today (the slang gives away its age meh).

YA is variable. It seems like it's whatever publishers slap a label on. Like how fantasy back then was considered for children and not adults and how the teen market wasn't even thought of until the late 70s. Some books were still considered adult though it had teen protagonists (for example chocolate war, a separate peace, catcher in the rye, turn me on, tuned out, craig & joan etc...)

Don't worry too much about it. Teens will catch on to books they like and it'll go from there. Getting their attention is one thing. Convincing their parents is another.


message 29: by J.J. (new)

J.J. Mainor J.A. wrote: "Personally I think there is an element of truth to a YA audience seeking an experience rather than just entertainment...."

Thinking back to my tween days, I would have to agree. Narnia series was popular, but I think most kids around me were reading Lion, Witch and Wardrobe and not going much further, but I loved the aspect of exploring the universe with new characters and their own new perspectives. I picked up a number of the Oz books and loved exploring the land through the eyes of different characters.

Some series tend to build a universe, using the same characters across all books. It's not a bad thing when we all love characters and want to see what they're up to next, but I loved those that give us a broader universe.


message 30: by Eugene (new)

Eugene | 74 comments I'm over 50 and I still read YA. There's something about the Coming of Age, the anxious discovery, the "not being the movers and shakers." When love was new and all-consuming. Also, I think, books written for teens tend to take themselves less seriously. Which is not to say the YA books aren't serious. Anyone who says that hasn't read Rainbow Rowell. Just that YA books are much more likely to focus on the story.

Here's an illustration: 2 by Neil Gaiman: American Gods and The Graveyard Book. Both are great books. The first is adult, it is epic, and interesting. The second is YA, folkloric, alive.


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