“Reading for Writers”
Recently I attended a writing conference in Reno, Nevada where an agent for children’s and YA spoke about the upswing in interest in books for the Young Adult age group. Young adult girls are big buyers and especially enjoy series books. Of course we all know what series they are reading. The Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer is still at the top of the list and all the copycat vampire series that have seemingly taken over the market. However, not only YA girls are reading these books. This category in publishing is becoming increasingly popular among mainstream adult readers as well. There is a serious need for books that would appeal to boys at this level. In response to this announcement a gentleman in the audience, who happened to be a middle school teacher, mentioned that boys in the middle school and older age group are only interested in adult books or in most cases aren’t reading at all because they don’t find anything that meets their interest. Sounds like a call to all our writers!!!
When I was still reviewing last year for the NYS Charlotte Award, I read The Hunger Games (2008) by Suzanne Collins. This was a YA book that went mainstream very quickly. It is now part of a trilogy with the sequel Catching Fire (2009) and the last book in the series, Mockingjay coming out in August. This is the ultimate survival story of young people who are part of a futuristic nation. It is the story of trying to maintain your humanity while facing very inhumane conditions. Through a lottery system representatives from each district are chosen to compete in the brutal hunger games which is required television viewing for all the citizens. Collins is commended for her characterization in all the reviews which have been fantastic in the first two books. I would guess there may be more adults than YA reading these books.
Libba Bray’s Gemma Doyle Trilogy has also gotten rave reviews. This series is about 16 year old Gemma who has special powers of vision. It begins with The Terrible Beauty (2005) where she is in a Victorian boarding school and is followed by Rebel Angels (2006) and The Sweet Far Thing (2009). These books are described as a combination of fantasy, light horror, historical fiction and romance. Sounds like everything a good YA book would want!!
Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (2008) was both a New York Times Bestseller and won the National Book Award. The story focuses on a 14 year old Indian born with disabilities. He has a talent for drawing and after many struggles is able to lift himself to overcome his dismal start. This story is largely autobiographical as Alexie himself was born with similar handicaps. He has won numerous awards for many other novels and short stories based on life on the Spokane Indian Reservation.
The Book Thief (2007) by Markus Zusak is another YA title that went big in the mainstream fiction market. This book has been used by just about every book group I know and is still popular on the bestseller list. This story is set during World War II with the main character of Liesel, a young girl living with a foster family who begins to steal books. As she faces tragic losses of family members she begins to learn to read from her stolen books. The story is told by the character Death.
Another series to take note of as it is a bestseller on the YA list, is I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You (2007) by Ally Carter. Sophomore Cammie Morgan attends an exclusive boarding school for spies. Having to keep her real identity secret results in many interesting subplots. This popular first book in the series is followed by Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy (2007), Don’t Judge a Girl by Her Cover (2010) and Only the Good Spy Young (2010). Great character and plot idea here. Wish I had thought of this first!
We can’t forget that the vampire theme is still holding on in the YA market. Big sellers are the Vampire Diaries series by L. J. Smith, Vampire Academy series by Richelle Mead, and Morganville Vampires by Rachel Caine. If you are thinking a vampire series would be the way to go for a promising publication offer, forget it. The word is the vampire fad is on its way out. Don’t start writing one now.
Laurie Halse Anderson has long been known as one of the most popular YA authors with probably Speak (2006) and Fever 1793 a work of historical fiction, as her best known works. Another more recently published book is Chains (2008). I loved this story about two young black sisters set during the beginning of the American Revolution. The historical detail and characterization provide a satisfying story with enough suspense to keep you from putting it down. Wintergirls (2009), her newest, is about a girl facing an eating disorder.
Ellen Hopkins is an author I met last fall at a SCWBI workshop. I had not heard of her books at the time but she is quickly making a name for herself with some very timely and unique books. She writes books about serious teen issues such as drug addiction, prostitution and suicide and she writes them in rhyme. Her first book was Crank followed by Burned, Impulse, Identical, Glass and her newest one coming out soon will be Fallout. Ellen told me that she has based at least one of her books on experiences with her own daughter and she also did a great deal of research by interviewing teens to prepare for her writing. She has a gained a lot of popularity with readers and talked with me about the huge number of letters she receives from teen readers which helps her assess the impact of her books. Interestingly enough, her books raise a few eyebrows among adults and she had an author presentation at a public school canceled after parents objected to the content of her books. Sounds like a good way to get even more teen readers after getting that kind of exposure.
In the past five years there has been a growth in the publication of graphic novels. These are some sort of cross between comic books and novels. During my time reviewing young adult books over a two year period I saw a fair number of these books and none of them really caught my eye or anyone else’s on the committee. I cannot find any titles to recommend and heard at the recent conference I attended that they are not great sellers. Sorry to disappoint if any of you are thinking it might be your idea for publication.
Don’t overlook reading some great YA books and think about writing for this level for a greater chance at publishing.
Last minute addition: As I was just about to send this to post, I received an e-mail announcing that The Hunger Games has just won the NYS Charlotte Award.