What Sells in YA Lit?

Now that we know more about how to get published and the different types of publishing, I think it’s important to ask “What sells in YA literature?”  I found an excellent post by Nolan Feeney on The Atlantic’s website (the full post is on http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2013/10/the-8-habits-of-highly-successful-young-adult-fiction-authors/280722/).

One part of the article that I found really interesting is that YA lit actually often sells more to adults than to teens.  The growth of YA lit is insane; according to Feeney, “The number of YA titles published grew more than 120 percent between 2002 and 2012, and other estimates say that between 1997 and 2009, that figure was closer to 900 percent.”  But, more than half of YA sales are made to adults!

After reading this article, I’m not so sure I’ll be successful at writing a YA book.  One of my biggest pet peeves about this genre is the teenagery angst that so often appears.  But according to the article, that’s what you have to have in there.  Author Rachel Cohn says that if the writing is “like an adult observing something” it’s not YA.  The teenage foolishness and sometimes even helplessness annoys me as a reader and it would definitely annoy me as a writer.

While the article isn’t necessarily talking about making your characters the way I just described them, you do need, according to author David Levithan, characters who exhibit “emotional truth.”  He says that “Even if we’re not the same as the characters we read, they are all dealing with things—issues of who they are, who they should be, what they should and shouldn’t do—that we all deal with, in their own ways.”  This makes the audience connect with your story and gets you that bestseller you’ve always dreamed of.

Another interesting suggestion the article made was that pop-culture references and use of slang can get a little dicey.  If you take five years to write your book and in the beginning of your writing process you mention people, words, and technology that were cool then, it may be completely obsolete or, even worse, hated now.  I think that’s why a lot of students (myself included) often have a hard time relating to classic literature.  There may not be pop-culture references, but the way of life has changed so much it’s hard to relate to at times.

The article also had a spot-on reason for why so many adults like YA books: “YA authors are freer to take you on a ride instead of constructing overwrought sentences and impressing you with their skill.”  YA books are a fun read, and that’s why I love them!

Feeney’s article is a fairly long one, but I truly do hope you go check it out.  It has so much great advice from bestselling authors and this blog post only scratched the surface of what it all had to say.  Even if you’re not interested in what to write for a YA book to make it sell, it is still an interesting read because you can see how the authors you read think.  Just in case you missed it the first time, here’s that URL again: http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2013/10/the-8-habits-of-highly-successful-young-adult-fiction-authors/280722/


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