The Young Adult (YA) fiction genre is a category aimed at teens, but many of the books have an adult following, as well. For authors wishing to publish a book in the YA arena, here are some facts and figures about the marketplace for these books.
What Exactly Is a Young Adult Book?
According to the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA), a division of the American Library Association (ALA), YA books are those aimed at kids aged 12 to 18 years. In most (if not all cases), the protagonists of the novels fall within those age ranges, and the story is told through teenage eyes.
Twelve to 18 is a big spread in age, from both reading and personal developmental levels. There's also a big spread in subject matter. YA books are known to span all manner of worlds and topics — contemporary, dystopian, romance, paranormal, drugs, sex, gender issues, parental divorce, terminal cancer, bullying. Most topics are fair game, so long as it's somewhat relevant to teenagers.
But whether the protagonists are competing in Hunger Games or high school football, one thing that unites the most successful books in the YA genre is the high emotional stakes. Whether a literal life or death struggle or a school crush story, the emotional stakes and the emotional intensity are commensurate with the raging hormonal intensity of the genre's intended audience.
The YA Book Marketplace
The number of Young Adult titles published more than doubled in the decade between 2002 and 2012 — over 10,000 YA books came out in 2012 versus about 4,700 in 2002.
The number of Young Adult e-books published has exponentially exploded during the same period, due in part to the genesis and growth of the digital book market itself. But the percentage of growth in sales numbers for YA far exceeds the percentage growth in the young adult e-book sales, which showed a dramatic overall increase.
In other words, the Young Adult book market is thriving.
Who Reads Young Adult Books?
Um, young adults aged 12 to 18?
Actually, many adults confess to reading in the Young Adult genre — some obsessively. Again, the emotional stakes make the books appealing to a wide swath of readers of all ages.
By some market estimates, nearly 70 percent of all YA titles are purchased by adults between the ages of 18 and 64. Of course, some of those are parents, but, assuming that the majority of actual young adults, who are old enough to make their own book purchases, a lot of "non-young adults" are reading those teen books.
Which YA Topics Are Popular?
Like the adult book market, YA fiction has countless varieties, and popularity waxes and wanes — coming of age in a distinct time and/or culture (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, To Kill A Mockingbird); drugs and gangs (Go Ask Alice, Rumblefish, The Outsiders), vampires and paranormal (the Twilight series), dystopian (the Hunger Games and Divergent series), contemporary (The Fault in Our Stars, Eleanor & Park).
Writers who would try to write to what's popular in the market "today" are forewarned that literary agents and publishers often get flooded with the genre of the moment, but trends tend to peak and fade away.
What's Up With the Young Adult Movie Tie-ins?
Not only movie tie-ins (The Hunger Games, Divergent, The Fault In Our Stars) but television tie-ins (The Vampire Diaries, Pretty Little Liars) help drive more audiences to the book. Like any story-driven intellectual property with an avid (or, better, voracious) following, popular Young Adult novels are appealing to film producers and television execs.
But With So Much Digital Distraction, Isn't Reading Going the Way of the Dodo?
Humans still love a good story – and the digital revolution is opening up new platforms and ways to tell tales — like transmedia storytelling. And through social media and authors who blog and video, the internet has greatly expanded opportunities for young adults to connect with authors they admire and get more details on stories with which they connect (paging John Green).
And the direct-to-reader capabilities of the internet have spawned more opportunities for live connection with authors — the BookCon event is an example. And judging from the flood of young, voracious readers at BookCon events, the Young Adult market will be healthy for a long time to come.
Resources for Young Adult Writers
Many writers are turning their attention to YA and, if you're one of them, here are some resources that will help you more effectively write and market to a young adult audience.
SCBWI: The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) is a non-profit professional organization for writers and illustrators in the fields of children’s and young adult literature, magazines, film, television, and multimedia. They offer a wealth of resources including conferences, grants, and peer support to authors and writers who aspire to authorship.
YALSA and Teen Read Week: The goal of Young Adult Library Services Association division (YALSA) of the American Library Association is to engage YA readers — in other words, they share your YA writing goal of putting more books into teenage hands. As the sponsors of Teen Read Week each October, they offer resources for librarians and booksellers that support teen reading, libraries, books and, by extension, are a boon for YA authors.
Tap into your local events for research or offer yourself up as a resource for Teen Read Week, which will help grow your contacts and community of readers.
Learn more about how authors can get involved in Teen Read Week, to everyone's benefit.
Goodreads: This website, aimed at connecting like-minded book lovers of all tastes and persuasions, is a boon for both writing research and helping to build a community that can help make your writing better (for example, you can ask your Goodreads community for advice on the best books to research, or — when you get to know some of them well enough — ask them for feedback on your own novel). Your Goodreads community can also help you grow an audience for your own fiction. Learn more about how authors can leverage Goodreads to help find readers for their books.
Writers Digest: Both the magazine and the website have a wealth of resources for aspiring authors. Whatever genre you aspire to, this resource has a long history of practical tips, moral support, and great general advice for the writing life. Given the popularity of the genre, writers should subscribe or check back frequently for new content around Young Adult writing.
Young Adult Books: To write Young Adult fiction, you must first research. And by research, I mean "reading" — reading lots and lots of YA novels to see firsthand and understand the genre conventions, parameters, and ranges of tone, point of view, emotional pitch, and subject matter. Luckily, my colleague on the consumer side of Young Adult has plenty of advice to steer you to the literature that you're looking for to inform and inspire your own novel writing.
Book Publishing: Yes, I'm giving this site a plug. Since chances are that you got to this page via a search engine (I have statistics), it might not be top of mind for you to steer yourself to the wealth of helpful content about book publishing on this site. So, let me give you a bit of initial guidance and appropriate links:
- The Young Adult fiction genre and market: With this overview detailing the growth in the market, the subjects, and the storytelling conventions that make YA different from other novels.
- How to format your manuscript
- How to find a literary agent
- you plunk down your money before How to evaluate a book publishing conference : Is that particular event worth your time and energy? Will you find the contacts you need?
- How to create a marketing and publicity plan for your novel: Even before your novel is finished, you should start thinking about how you'll find readers.
What Defines the New Adult Genre of Books?
A relatively new genre of fiction, New Adult emerged as a term in a 2009 contest by St. Martin's. Filling the gap between Young Adult and Adult Fiction, NA's target is readers between the ages of 18 and mid-20s, times when new adults are first feeling independence and finding their place in the world.
New Adult stories are often geared toward young women readers, which causes some to lump it in with Romance or with Chick Lit — but the New Adult genre has conventions, which distinguish it both of those.
New Adult Subject Matter
New Adult subject matter is adult in theme but geared toward readers who (like the books' protagonists) are encountering adult situations for the first time.
Sex generally plays a role and can be graphic — but (unlike in erotic fiction, like Fifty Shades of Grey) the sex isn't necessarily the central reason for existence of the work, rather just one important facet of the protagonist's journey of self-discovery.
As with the New Adult time in real life, other key areas of the characters' journeys to self-knowledge are job and career, first apartment, and finances.
New Adult Tone and Settings
Like the hormonally-charged YA, New Adult also features deeply-felt high drama. But — again, unlike Romance or Chick Lit — the endings frequently reflect the knowledge that the character has not developed — that this is part of the protagonists' story, not necessarily the conclusion.
Often the setting for contemporary New Adult books is a college campus. Like those who read the books, the protagonists are away from home and the strictures of parents for the first time. They are exploring, testing their values, losing and trying on boundaries and stretching to discover themselves, their limits. First jobs and first apartments are also sometimes featured.
Like Romance and Speculative Fiction, New Adult can fall into a number of categories or sub-genres, so non-contemporary stories may also take place in historical settings or in paranormal worlds. The New Adult-focused website naalley.com parses the genre into categories like "sweet," "steamy," "multicultural" and more.
The Publishing Genesis of New Adult
The existence of the New Adult genre got a boost from the DIY publishing arena, where these books appeared long before traditional publishers realized there was a gap in the marketplace.
As with many DIY romance authors, some New Adult authors were "discovered" by traditional book publishing houses after their sales numbers (and the profit potential that implied) were high enough to land them on best-seller lists and to warrant attention.
Key New Adult Authors
Examples of self-published New Adult writers who later got traditional book contracts are:
- Cora Carmack, author of Losing It
- Jamie McGuire, author of Beautiful Disaster
- Colleen Hoover, author of Slammed
Other well-liked New Adult authors include Tamara Webber (Easy), Abbi Gines (Too Far series); Jessica Sorensen (The Coincidence series); and K. A. Tucker (Ten Tiny Breaths series).
Since the genre has become popular, many established authors have crossed over to NA — for example, J. Lynn is the New Adult pseudonym of bestselling YA and Adult Romance author Jennifer L. Armentrout.
New Adult Publishers
As mentioned above, a number of successful New Adult authors got their starts by going DIY.
For the traditional-minded, here are some examples of the major publishers that have a New Adult line or acquire New Adult titles for their Young Adult or Adult Fiction lists.
- Avon Impulse
- Bloomsbury Spark
- Grand Central Publishing
- Random House (their Flirt imprint features New Adult fiction in a digital-only format)
- St. Martin's Press
- Random House