Monday, August 14, 2023

Why is YA no longer booming?



Yo, Sharkly one.

Why is YA no longer booming?



Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, I was about 8 years old and got my first library card. I dove into the kids’ section with verve. Loved reading Homer Price, and Caddie Woodlawn, and trying to get my mitts on more Trixie Belden and Nancy Drew (which the library, being the upholder of rigorous reading virtue, did NOT allow to darken their doors.)


By the time I was 12, sixth grade or so, I still loved Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden but I was ready for bigger books that would expand my word hoard.


But there wasn't really a shelf or section of what we now call YA. There was the kids’ section, and the adult section.  So I migrated to adult books.  I read Gone With the Wind. I found Erle Stanley Gardner. I read romance. I even tried Dr Zhivago (but it was such a daunting experience I've never tried another Russian novel ... to this very day!)


Fast forward to 2004. I attended an event sponsored by the National Book Foundation with National Book Award nominated authors reading from their works.  The nominees in the Young Peoples Literature category just blew me away.


(here's the list in case you're interested)


I can still remember going to my office the next day and telling my colleagues that the best books there had been the "books for kids."  We didn't even call it YA then.


No one in our office was doing much in what would soon come to be known as YA. Picture books, and middle grade, sure, but not YA.


That changed a few short years later when I had a front row seat to several hotshot young colleagues who were selling YA like crazy. Big deals for big money.  Their careers were literally meteoric. And a whole lot of fun to watch.


Part of my job then was providing perspective, so I cautioned all of these amazing agents to be careful. Meteoric rises could lead to meteoric descents. Just ask Icarus.


But the stagnation of YA isn't because the readers are falling away.


It's because, 20 years in, there is now backlist.

GOOD backlist.


Were I 12 now, in 2023, and looking for bigger books, I'd have so many YA novels to choose from I wouldn't get to the adult section for years.


Here's the thing that a lot of people don't think about: people read faster than authors can write or publishers can publish.  So, when YA took off, there was a HUGE gap between inventory and demand. Publishers responded (mercantile beasts that they are) by buying, buying, buying.


And now, readers have all those hundreds (if not thousands) of titles to choose from when they want more. Books that were pubbed in 2008-2015.


There's almost no shortage.


Acquisition is no longer driven by lack of books; it's tempered by lack of space on the shelf.


There is some new space every year: books that don't sell well (a subjective measure at best) or series that the author stops writing (for whatever reason) go out of print.


That creates space on the shelf, but nowhere near as much as there once was.


Here's the metaphor. In 2004, the shelf was empty so publishers rushed to fill it with books.


In 2023, the shelf is full, but there's seepage, so publishers have to publish some new work keep the shelves full.


That translates to buying fewer debuts.


The flipside of this is some categories shrink (but for different reasons.)

I'm not sure the traditional Western will ever sell well again.

"New Adult" was a category that no one really knew what to do with, and it has tanked.

Vampires, sparkly or otherwise, had a falling off.


And 50 Shades of Gray was textbook meteoric. Both up and down.


What does this mean for you?

Even a saturated category needs fresh, new books.

This is why you need to know your category. You can NOT read every book, but you should be familiar with the ones "everyone" is talking about, the ones that win awards, the ones with 1000 reviews on Amazon or other online review sites. You should know what's a tired trope and have an idea about how to do something different.


Any questions?



E.M. Goldsmith said...

And write what you write. If you write for the market, by the time you finish, the market might have moved on. Knowing your category is necessary and daunting. How saturated is the fantasy market? Very. It is daunting. But it's what I write.

Just an aside - I took 3 courses in Russian Literature. I have read all of it -pretty much. And I wonder how my mental health got so bad. Ah well. Morning to the Reef and you amazing Reader fish.

BJ Muntain said...

This is interesting. I hadn't heard YA was losing momentum, but I don't write it. I know people who do.

So does this mean that YA is now being bought at the same rate adult books are? Or is it slower? Is the YA shelf smaller than the adult shelf? I suppose, since we're young adults for a much shorter time than we're adults, that could be the case. The customer base is limited.

But then, so is the customer base for MG and picture books. How does the market compare between age categories?

Luralee said...

Does anyone know if YA is still as popular with adult readers as it was a few years ago?

KimM said...

Luralee, as a fully grey-haired adult, I still (also) read YA. However, usually just titles that have been recommended to me by other omnivorus readers.

John Davis Frain said...

What a fascinating tale that totally makes sense after you lay it all out. My takeaway: I'm gonna create my own category, so the shelf is empty when I come along with my interrupter.

My new category: Softboiled Discomfort (It's the opposite of a hardboiled cozy, which I'm sure exists already).

BTW, if you're looking for a more contemporary Russian novel, you might try Natasha Pulley's The Half-Life of Valery K. It was wonderful. And I'm guessing way lighter than Dr. Zhivago, but it's no beach read either. But don't let me stop you from visiting a beach if you can.

Craig F said...

Yes, the markets run hot and cold.

My original plan was for an uber-plot that started with a couple of thrillers, moved into scientific discovery and then into sci-fi.

All would show the growth of my protagonist from struggling business man to the first human space mercenary.

Finished one thriller, which might have been the best book I have written, and there was no room on the shelf because I wasn't Brad Thor or some other luminary of that genre.

Decided to move to the sci-fi, maybe get a following, and start talk of how it all started.

Again, no room on the shelf, unless my name was Scalzi or started with N.K.

Contemplated trying the thrillers again, but re-read them.

They seemed too right wing for my political leaning. The world has changed mightily in the past decade and I will always a somewhat left leaning moderate, fiscally and in my so-called religious thoughts.

Buried that whole plan and started a somewhat cryptic YA. I will still finish because it is so different than anything I have seen and I don't like to leave things undone.

Beth Carpenter said...

This makes a lot of sense. I hadn't realized just how recently YA became a category.

John Davis Frain, I think you're onto something with that softboiled discomfort category, with MCs who are a little mushy in the middle, but they're uneasy about it.

Leone said...

I find it interesting that several recent best selling novels (Lessons in Chemistry, Where the Crawdads Sing) don't fit neatly into one genre.