Why YA is so Hot

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the Young Adult market and why it is so strong when most of publishing is struggling and why it is pulling in so many adult readers. Being a member of the Society for Children’s Writers and Illustrators taught me a good deal about the differences between picture books, easy readers, early chapter books, middle grade, and young adult. Being in an MFA program has sharpened my sense of how writing differs depending on the audience. My MFA has really brought into focus what it is about YA that makes it so special. These are my top five reasons YA is booming:

5. It’s easy to forget that when we are talking about YA, we are talking about a plethora of choices. There is something for everyone, as the saying goes: historical fiction, fantasy and sci-fi, contemporary realism, romance, etc. YA, because it defines a targeted age group, isn’t about the genre of the fiction, it’s about how it’s written.

4. YA is fun. There’s something about writing for teens that brings out the humor, parody, and irony trapped inside every author. Perhaps it is because we know that our audience will get it. Perhaps because we know that teens need to be entertained in order to stay tuned into the worlds we are creating for them. Perhaps it is a combination of these things, but I believe that YA writers are more aware of the necessity for fun in their writing than writers of fiction for adults.

3. YA authors assume responsibility and respect their audience. I believe that writers for children and young adults have a heightened sense of our responsibility to our readers in a way that doesn’t exist in fiction written for adults. We are not inviting them into our storytelling world. We are marching into their world and demanding their attention, and we know that if we are going to have such audacity, we need to respect our audience. We know that we can tackle any subject, but that doesn’t mean that we can ignore our audience’s needs in how we present our story. The developmental capacity to deal with a story must match the age of our targeted audience. Does that mean that every twelve or sixteen year old is developmentally at the same point? No, but YA authors understand that there are parameters of development that determine how we will address issues in our storytelling based on the age group we want to reach.

2. YA is, generally and ultimately, hopeful. Regardless of the losses a protagonist endures, most YA ends with a message of hopefulness for the future. Why? I think in part because the teenage years are the beginning, with lots of room to make mistakes, find your way, and time to get it right. But I think also because few writers want to embed despair into those who will carry the torches into the future. There are cautionary tales such as Feed, by M.T. Anderson, that do not offer much in the way of hope, but they are few and far between. I believe that this hopefulness in YA literature is one of the main reasons adults are being brought into the YA realm without shame.

1. In children’s writing there is a mantra: show, don’t tell. Anyone who has written for children will tell you that they respond well to storytelling that is shown to them in the moment, whether in past or present tense. They don’t want to feel as if they are being told something, being lectured about something. They want to experience it with the characters. The amount of telling that is present in fiction written for adults always amazes me when I attend a reading or pick up a volume at a bookstore that is intended for adults. It is vastly different than most YA literature and I think it’s not only teens that respond to this storytelling through showing. There is an element of old fashioned showmanship to it-drawing your audience in without them even being aware that you are doing so because the message is so animated.

These are my top reasons for why adults are happily turning to YA at a time when publishers are struggling to sell books, despite the fact that our general desire for storytelling hasn’t changed. What are yours?

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