Nathan Bransford, Author

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Young Adult Literature Stock Alert: Buy Buy Buy

Thanks again to Ex Publishing Insider for her very entertaining jaunt down memory lane as she recalled the life of an editor, which I'm told did not even land her back on the therapist's couch. Success! Hopefully we'll have some more inside glimpses into the life of publishing types, as availability permits.

For those financial types out there, I'm going to put on my Jim Cramer excited suit and tell you that you need to start buying stock in young adult fiction because they're on a big hot streak, beating the market and leading to talk of a golden age. I just bought 500 shares in KL Going's SAINT IGGY and I've got my eye on the paperback edition of IN THE BREAK. (If you think you can't buy stock in books, check out how Po Bronson awesomely sold shares for his novel BOMBARDIERS).

Is it a golden age? As this article from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (best newspaper name ever?) points out, teens are snapping up young adult novels like their parents told them not to. All the cool kids are reading! Haven't you heard? Illiteracy is like so lame.

The article gives a few possible explanations for the boom, including a growing teen population that grew up on Harry Potter and a rise in quality in young adult literature. I wonder if perhaps with the advent of internet we have become much more of a reading culture, and that is trickling down to books? Also, much of today's young adult literature is filled with real themes and edgy topics, which might make them more appealing to young people.

In any event, for an industry that usually fears that young people will up and stop reading books (and thus not grow up to buy books), this is ridiculously welcome news.

What do you think is behind the boom? Good books? More reading?


Anonymous said...

I feel like a lot of the young adult stuff is so unpretentious and fun that it may appeal to older audiences as well.

Anonymous said...

I was in B&N this morning, and surprised at the increase in space given to "graffic novels." Um, didn't we used to call them "comic books"? Okay, dating myself here.

I think the reason YA is hot right now is two-fold. Harry Potter books have encouraged a lot of young folks to read who didn't before, and now they want more. And just as young people today have become such great consumers of cell phones and ipods and cars, they also have money to buy books, and some of them do.

zylaa said...

Because young adult literature rocks our teenage multicolored socks.
Erm. I dunno, I've always liked reading, I can't speak for my generation as a whole.

Anonymous said...

Erm, I mean "graphic."

zylaa said...

Anonymous #2: I'm not sure, but do bookstores classify manga with graphic novels? That would really explain the increase.

Don said...

Ya, the manga's in (or at least next to) graphic novels which often also includes good old fashioned 32 page paperback comic books as well.

As for the dating yourself thing, boy are you: The graphic novel movement dates back to the late 80s (I remember reading a Batman/Superman graphic novel in a friend's dorm room back in early '89). Given how many people credit their love of reading to clandestine comic book reading, I say more power to 'em. Me, once I realized I could read, I read EVERYTHING, including every street sign on a family vacation. It's a bit of a miracle that survived that trip, looking back on it.

Christopher M. Park said...

I agree that it has to do with a lack of pretension in the modern YA market. I think that definitely opens up accessibility, and corresponds well to the rise of the Internet.

Speaking of books for young people, have any of you looked at textbooks recently? What amazing advances in the last 20--nay, even 10--years. They textbook publishers have figured out how to make the pages easily decipherable with graphs, headings and subheadings, boxes and bars for sidenotes, etc. Gone are the days of a dense wall of text, plus endnotes.

I think that connects much easier with the Internet generation. Right or wrong, it seems like they expect to have to do very little work to extract the basic meaning from any presentation that is made to them. Not to say that there can't be depth or complexity, but just that if the prose is muddled or unclear for whatever reason, they are going to lose interest.

Anyway, I don't write YA, but it's still very exciting for me to hear--they'll all be moving into the adult market 5 years from now, hopefully. Maybe the Internet will have a more positive effect on the publishing industry than anyone ever thought, who knows? It's certainly made a vast number of people into competent typists (gone are the days when this was a specialized skill), and modern industry is all about constant learning and training and improvement. Hopefully that will benefit fiction as well as nonfiction.


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Lauren said...

I love YA. And I know others around my age (26) whose reading lives have taken a similar path to mine -- we got fed up with the YA sections in our libraries in the early / mid 90s because they contained little more than series horror and cheesy teen romance, but returned to YA in our 20s because the books are just so freaking GOOD. I'm writing a YA novel and so it's with a little bit of selfishness that I hope this "golden age" lasts a long, long time. There are many YA books out there right now that deserve to become classics. Earlier this week I read a recent Horn Book article about the trend of literary YA (The Book Thief, Octavian Nothing, etc.). That, too, is a wonderful thing.

When I'm in the YA section at the bookstore, though, the only other people ever there with me are a.) girls, and b.) looking at Gossip Girl, The It-Girl, The A-List, and all their other clones. I'm sure the other, better stuff is being bought and read, but I'm going to stay a little bit cynical about who the readers are until I actually see some evidence of it.

original bran fan said...

Of course, one could be quite cynical and say that the boom in YA sales is because adults are buying those books to read for themselves because they are too impatient or uneducated to appreciate long and complex works.

But seriously, I think that YA has been the best kept secret in literature for years. Writers have been producing some amazing, groundbreaking stuff, of the sort that adult publishers wouldn't touch (too controversial, etc.) They got away with it by flying under the radar. Two examples. *Leaving Fishers* by Margaret Haddoxx is about a teen who is indoctrinated into an almost cult-like Christian group and has to get herself out of it. *Tiger, Tiger* by Lynne Banks is about an upper-class girl in ancient Rome who has a tiger for a pet. Part of it takes place in a gladiator fight, and part of it is told from the tiger's POV! Would anyone get away with a tiger's POV in an adult novel? Nope. But it works. Brilliantly.

Nathan Bransford said...

On the graphic novel/manga matter, according to the March 5th issue of Publisher's Weekly, sales of graphic novels in 2001 totaled $75 million -- in 2006 that was a whopping $330 million. 2,785 graphic novels were published in 2006. And 43% of graphic novels are published as manga.

ERozanski said...

Former YA Librarian weighing in here....

I'm old enough to remember when YA never existed. You moved from children's books to adult fiction, there was nothing in between.

When I took over the YA area of our local library I was given a generous budget and instructions to not only buy books for the shelves but to schedule programming and start a teen advisory board.

I doubled the size of the collection in 18 months. The advisory board is two years old now and my successor just had a "coffee house" night with live readings by the participants that drew a crowd of 79 teens.

The YA audience is growing and is here to stay. They are active readers eager for good stories and they leave the library with armfuls of books.

I'm not sure what has caused the rise in teen readers. I'm reluctant to pin it all on Harry Potter, even though a boat load of kids discovered reading because of the young wizard.

It may be two fold. Many of these kids are reading for school. They are enrolled in what is called Accelerated Reader or STAR programs. Reading is encouraged and rewarded. They get hooked.

Also, I think the wide variety of books available has a big part in this growing market as well. My oldest was never a big reader until she discovered, at my urging, Louise Rennison's "Georgia" books. I think the are a hoot and she did as well. Since she is waiting for the next one to come out, she has been reading Anthony Horowitz and Meg Cabot.

YA truly has something for everyone. I have to admit, even though I'm on sabbatical from the library, I still scan the YA shelves before I head to the adult section. I've got three new ones downstairs waiting to be read right now!

mig said...

I'm not sure it's all that clear that kids are reading more. The Seattle paper's article doesn't really back that point up with more than anecdotal evidence from a handful of interviews of kid readers. I wonder how much of the increase in children's book sales is due to adults like me reading more books aimed at the YA market than it is with more actual young adult readers.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

As a former teacher, I do think many schools teach reading well and it's had its impact. My son's friend, a 3rd grader, just told me he was reading HP 4, and this is a kid who struggled badly with reading just last year.

Personally, as a lifelong reader (I'm told I started at 3) I can't imagine my life without books. I did make a quick leap to adult books, but I found wonderful YA stuff back then, too, some of which I still have on my bookshelves.

Olga said...

Like Zylaa said, I can't speak for the rest of my generation. I know that a lot of people read only because of Harry Potter, but I was seven when Harry Potter came out, and I was already tired of things like Babysitters Club by that time.

I think the reason there's such a huge YA audience now is that writers caught on that they didn't need to talk down to us, and then teenagers started reading more books once they realized that YA stuff had gotten better.

Zen of Writing said...

I don't disagree with anyone's ideas of young adult fiction, but I do remember when I was a kid and kids could read current adult books, with few exceptions. There were young adult titles then, but it seems classic lit is usually readable by young people, even if they miss all the innuendos. I don't think that's as true now. I've just been looking for some sci fi books for a friend's easily embarrassed 12-year-old, and thinking, Who know's what's in there? I'm going with a gift card, instead. I'm not in favor of any kind of censorship. Just saying that social norms used to take care of that for kid readers.

A Paperback Writer said...

This is the long-time English teacher (18 years of it) speaking now.
There've been good YA books out there for years, even back in the dark ages when I was a kid. (Don't try to tell me that Freaky Friday by Mary Rogers isn't a good YA book.) However, hats off to JKR and all the rest who've jumped on the bandwagon (Cornelia Funke, Stuart Hill, etc.).
Before Rowling, my students, when reading for pleasure, chose Fear Street novels. (Pardon me for being rude about a highly successful author, but I've got 8th graders who write the same cardboard-character, predictably plotted junk.)
Then came the Boy Who Lived. Wow. The difference is immense now.
Yes, our school does Accelerated Reader (which I don't use because it tests only on a knowledge-recall level, and I prefer more thought-provoking questions.), but -- even though many in the series are on AR -- I haven't seen a kid bother with Fear Street in years.
I do "book of the day" in class to introduce kids to all kinds of stuff for what they CHOOSE to read (as opposed to what I assign for class). I've got kids interested in everybody from Zilpha Keatley Snyder (middle grade fiction) to Ian Rankin, as well as tons of YA authors.
Does this mean every kid loves reading now? Nope. But many more of them WANT to read now. I'm not joking. It's cool now to carry around a book to read when you finish your assignments in class. No kid did that in my school 10 years ago.
Many factors have contributed to this, but the difference in this particular junior high school BEGAN the day the book fair advertised Harry Potter for the first time -- and it sold out in under 30 minutes (even though most of us were hearing about it for the very first time).

ozal said...

Here's another possible reason why YA is selling more: time-poor adults like a good read too. And if you are looking in the adult sections, you find big fat novels you haven't time to read, novels that are part X of a series (yup, I read fantasy and SF), and novels that are aimed at the current trend of wall-to-wall sex. (And many that fit all three categories) Now, I don't mind sex, but the requirement for it limits the plot variety more than I like.
Or maybe I'm just too impatient and uneducated to read more complex works... ;0)

ian said...

I'm sure Harry Potter is a big part of it - last I heard, JK Rowling was outselling the Bible, and that's a pretty big deal by itself. Harry Potter has been enjoyed by children and adults alike. The movies likewise made the books more accessible.

The internet, though, has to be the big reason. Teenagers spend more time on the internet than they do watching tv these days. That means they read...a lot. When they're used to getting their entertainment in a printed format (even onscreen), they're going to be more likely to seek similar "portable" entertainment in the same vein - ie: books.

Anyway, it bodes well for those of us who write, because it means we've shaped a generation of readers (unlike the Gen Xers, who are a generation of reality TV addicts - I say while watching a rerun of Dirty Jobs).


Roxan said...

A smart YA writer realizes that the younger readers are not dumb and doesn't write beneath them. That has something to do with their success. IMO
I never read YA even as a teenager. I went for the classics and adult literature. My mother would have had a stroke if she knew what books I read. LOL

Demon Hunter said...

Not sure what caused the boom, Nathan. But for me, when I was in 5th and 6th grade, I read young adult, and in 7th and 8th grade, I read adult romance, and in high school, I read adult horror, sci-fi, and fantasy novels. Kids will read whatever and whenever they choose and parents should encourage it. A large percentage of the American population remains illiterate.

Jack Roberts, Annabelle's scribe said...

Oh yes!
No wonder my last beta told me to change them to teenaged vampires.

If it can just keep up a little longer until I can find that agent!

Ken said...

"Harry Potter" twisted antennas and magnetized young and old alike.
Harry took youngsters into a world of imaginative books that used to be. Oldsters couldn't resist the magic.

Ken said...

"Harry Potter" twisted antennas and magnetized young and old alike.
Harry swept youngsters off into a world of imaginative books that used to be. Oldsters couldn't resist the magic.

Ken said...

Oops-sorry. Didn't mean to post twice.

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