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View Full Version : What's the deal with YA - and Fantasy for that matter?



Chiquita Banana
05-04-2009, 01:18 AM
As I'm sure you all know, if you go on the Query/Synopsis SYW page, practically 90% of the work being critiqued are queries for YA and/or fantasy novels.

What's up with that? When I was a YA (am in my 30s now) I really don't think there was much of anything being geared towards my demographic. I suppose I went straight from Sweet Valley High (which is more middle grade) to Gone With The Wind, the Bronte sisters, and as far as new releases, Bridget Jones. Did Harry Potter/JK Rowling create an entire generation of rabid readers? That's wonderful if it's the case, but with all the high-tech distractions in the world today, I find it a little hard to believe that there are a hundred times more teen readers now than there were in the '90s.

Also the massive amount of fantasty stories on this board seems a bit odd too. Most of the agencies I have my eyes on specifically state that they aren't looking for fantasy!

Maybe the prevalance of YA/fantasy is simply down to the fact that the people who are writing these stories enjoy the genres and are writing about things they love?

Anyway... just something I'm wondering. Any thoughts?

Parametric
05-04-2009, 01:23 AM
I've noticed the same prevalence, although as a huge fantasy fan I enjoy it - I'd rather crit fantasy queries than non-fic or thrillers or whatever.

One possible explanation: fandom. There are huge, absurd numbers of young people active in online fandom right now, writing Harry Potter fanfic and slashing the Winchesters, and when you're reading and watching and writing fanfic for SFF fandom, it's not a big jump to filing off the serial numbers and writing your own.

Another possible explanation: outcasts. My (subjective, personal) experience is that young people who are maybe a bit introverted and bullied in school (the avid readers and writers) are attracted to the fantasy and YA fantasy genres, which tend to centre around the outcasts - the freak, the person with weird powers, the isolated and lonely. People write what they identify with.

Just a couple of theories.

SPMiller
05-04-2009, 01:32 AM
Another possible explanation: outcasts. My (subjective, personal) experience is that young people who are maybe a bit introverted and bullied in school (the avid readers and writers) are attracted to the fantasy and YA fantasy genres, which tend to centre around the outcasts - the freak, the person with weird powers, the isolated and lonely. People write what they identify with.I support this theory; however, I think you should take the theory one step further: many such stories end with wish-fulfillment, whereby the protagonists finally achieve the acceptance they sought.

My stories generally don't end that way...

Kathleen42
05-04-2009, 01:37 AM
Also the massive amount of fantasty stories on this board seems a bit odd too. Most of the agencies I have my eyes on specifically state that they aren't looking for fantasy!


Perhaps people are writing the stories they wish to tell rather than trying to play to agency trends.

As for the YA I think it's less of an issue of more teens reading and more of publishers realizing that there is money to be had by selling teenagers stories they can relate to and characters closer to their own age.

Like you, I graduated from Sweet Valley to adult titles around age twelve or thirteen. I rather think I would have liked having a wealth of stories about other teenagers to read.

Parametric
05-04-2009, 01:39 AM
I support this theory; however, I think you should take the theory one step further: many such stories end with wish-fulfillment, whereby the protagonists finally achieve the acceptance they sought.

Absolutely. The wish-fulfilment heroic saviour role is another perennial favourite in fantasy.

Harry Potter pulls off a fascinating dual role in this regard. On the one hand, he's a superstar within the wizarding world -- the prophesied saviour, stalked by paparazzi, all the girls want him desperately, etc. On the other hand, he's a lonely, misunderstood outcast whom this kind of reader can identify with. When he's finally vindicated for the beliefs and actions which made him an outcast, the reader is vicariously vindicated through him.

Chiquita Banana
05-04-2009, 01:45 AM
All so interesting. I'm glad I asked!

Parametric
05-04-2009, 01:47 AM
Another important factor? YA fantasy is selling really, really well. :tongue

SPMiller
05-04-2009, 01:48 AM
Pssh. Money. Who cares about that.

Karen Duvall
05-04-2009, 02:01 AM
I was at Barnes & Noble this morning and ventured back into the teen section. They've added more shelves and the number of books sitting on them was astounding!

Today's YA is mature and sophisticated compared to the teen fiction of yesteryear. Lots of adults read it now, probably more than teens. The stories are wonderfully written, poignant and heartfelt. When I read YA, I'm transported back to the days of my youth and I like that. :)

Parametric
05-04-2009, 02:09 AM
On reflection, I attribute about two-thirds of the YA fantasy rush to the scarily accomplished Twifties (http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=128770). :tongue

Toothpaste
05-04-2009, 03:15 AM
I also think the definition of YA has changed greatly in the last decade or so, so that books which otherwise might have been categorised as "adult" are now being given their own genre in YA (no doubt "The Catcher in the Rye" would be YA if published now). YA is not Harry Potter (well maybe the last few books are), Harry Potter is middle grade, and many books that were once considered YA are being categorised now as MG. YA is more mature, more "adult" in nature, dealing with real subjects teens face, and not the through the adult lense looking back filtered issues. There is sex, violence, profanity . . . it is a complicated category that is starting to understand that teens have always read up. Heck as a teen you study adult literature in high school. Authors and publishers are now realising that it is possible to write books directly for these sophisticated teen readers.

It's a brand new genre and for that reason one of the most innovative these days. Authors of adult books are seeing the potential in YA. The freedom in YA. The ability to explore is a huge draw to that market. Add onto it the infinite possibilities with fantasy, and you've got a very exciting genre. I'm not the least bit surprised so many authors are writing both.

NeuroFizz
05-04-2009, 03:42 AM
Don't know about YA, but at least a couple of times in the past few years a thread has asked for each member's primary genre/area of fiction, and Sci-Fi and Fantasy totally dominated the responses--way ahead of the other genres.

Chiquita Banana
05-04-2009, 03:47 AM
Ooh, I'm inspired to start reading YA novels and see if I might be able to venture over into this market at some point. (Actually I wrote what sounds like the beginning of a YA novel back in my undergrad. My professor said I'd never be able to publish such a thing because my characters smoked pot. But that was back in '98 or something.) Hmm.

Could anyone recommend some good YA novels to start with? Shameless self-promotion is welcome. :) Preferably not fantasy, though. I've just never been all that into it except Harry P. How interesting that's considered middle grade!

Kathleen42
05-04-2009, 04:20 AM
It's a brand new genre and for that reason one of the most innovative these days. Authors of adult books are seeing the potential in YA. The freedom in YA. The ability to explore is a huge draw to that market. Add onto it the infinite possibilities with fantasy, and you've got a very exciting genre. I'm not the least bit surprised so many authors are writing both.

Agreed. My current WiP is based on an idea I had some years ago but shelved because I wasn't sure there would be a place for it. The expansion of the genre was what convinced me to dust the idea off.

Kathleen42
05-04-2009, 04:22 AM
Could anyone recommend some good YA novels to start with? Shameless self-promotion is welcome. :) Preferably not fantasy, though. I've just never been all that into it except Harry P. How interesting that's considered middle grade!

YA titles range almost as far and wide as adult titles. It's hard to recommend without a better understanding of what you like to read. That being said recent (non urban fantasy) reads which I enjoyed were Cracked Up to Be and Looking for Alaska.

Chiquita Banana
05-04-2009, 04:43 AM
Hi Kathleen.

Thanks for the two you mentioned. I looked them up on Amazon and took it from there, looking at other YA novels they were linked to. ('Customers also bought...'). So I think can manage it from here.

It's insane. I've been on here multiple times a day since January and I always assumed YA was Sweet Valley High for the next generation. Now I feel like there's a whole new set of possibilities out there.

So thanks to all who helped me to see the light.

CheshireCat
05-04-2009, 04:54 AM
One possible explanation: fandom. There are huge, absurd numbers of young people active in online fandom right now, writing Harry Potter fanfic and slashing the Winchesters, and when you're reading and watching and writing fanfic for SFF fandom, it's not a big jump to filing off the serial numbers and writing your own.


Slashing the Winchesters? Ah, jeez, I didn't need that image in my head!

Parametric
05-04-2009, 04:55 AM
Slashing the Winchesters? Ah, jeez, I didn't need that image in my head!

If you haven't encountered Wincest you're not a true Supernatural fan (and you definitely haven't watched 4x18, The Monster at the End of This Book). :tongue

Bubastes
05-04-2009, 04:58 AM
Could anyone recommend some good YA novels to start with?

Speak and Wintergirls, both by Laurie Halse Anderson. I don't read much YA, but these two books were stunning. I need to read more of her books.

Little Bird
05-04-2009, 05:16 AM
I hope YA is selling well, since my agent just informed me my novel is YA. As for the OP's question on why we chose to write YA, in my case it was an accident. Hopefully a happy accident.

suki
05-04-2009, 05:28 AM
Could anyone recommend some good YA novels to start with?

There's lots of lists of great YA books - every year YALSA, the YA division of the American Library Association recognizes great YA books. So you can check out:

The annual Printz award winners here:
http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/yalsa/booklistsawards/printzaward/previouswinners/previousmichael.cfm

The annual Best Books for Young Adults lists here:
http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/yalsa/booklistsawards/bestbooksya/bbyahome.cfm

Some of my faves:

Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
Fat Kid Rules the World, by KL Going
The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier
How I Live Now, by Meg Rosoff
I am the Messenger and The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak
Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson
Luna, by Julie Ann Peters
Hard Love, by Ellen Wittlinger
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, by E. Lockhart
Sweethearts and Story of a Girl, by Sara Zarr
Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist and Naomi & Ely's No Kiss List, both by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan


I could list many more, but these are the top of my head, at this moment suggestions for some of my favorites. The Chocolate War is credited by many as being the first YA novel. Published in the 1970s and still a really powerful read.

You can also always go to a library branch with a YA librarian - they are almost always full of recommendations.

~suki

bethany
05-04-2009, 05:55 AM
Wants to do blatant self promotion, can't quite muster the stomach for it, today. :D

Sage
05-04-2009, 06:01 AM
I hope YA is selling well, since my agent just informed me my novel is YA. As for the OP's question on why we chose to write YA, in my case it was an accident. Hopefully a happy accident.
Two different agents recently told me that YA is hot hot hot, so that's a good sign for you :)

Mad Queen
05-04-2009, 06:54 AM
I started a thread a while ago asking why there is so much fantasy:
http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=123140
Most of the replies said that fantasy seems popular because fantasy fans are numerous on the Internet, but the most popular genre is actually romance.

CheshireCat
05-04-2009, 07:04 AM
If you haven't encountered Wincest you're not a true Supernatural fan (and you definitely haven't watched 4x18, The Monster at the End of This Book). :tongue


Wincest ... Eeewwwww!

I'm a major Supernatural fan. Of the show. Of Dean and Sam.

And, yes, I did see The Monster at the End of this Book -- and loved it.

How could anybody not love the Prophet Chuck. I mean, seriously.

But no slashing Dean and Sam. My fantasies tip in the other direction.

Mind you, I find the whole slash thing rather disturbing personally. Kirk and Spock? When I first heard about that, ages and ages ago, I was totally creeped out.

I have copies of fan fiction written back in the day -- but no slash. I love characters as close as possible to how they were presented by their creators, thank you.

Parametric
05-04-2009, 07:06 AM
I'm easy with the Winchester slash. Two incredibly hot guys with a powerful emotional bond and screwed-up family relationships desperate to save each other? Yeah, it begs the slash. :tongue

(That episode was awesome.)

Cassidy
05-04-2009, 07:57 AM
Hi Chiquita,
You might want to check out the YA forum-- there are a couple of threads that might be useful for you-- one on what YA books people are reading now and another on YA book recommendations... And also lots of folks with lots of opinions on everything YA-related. Come visit us!

Some of my favorite recent YA novels are Meg Rosoff's books (all of them), Peter Cameron's Some Day This Pain Will be Useful to You, Zusak's The Book Thief, Beth Goobie's The Lottery-- not that recent but good (and Canadian)-- and my friend Pat Schmatz's wonderful novel Mousetraps. I should be able to come up with dozens-- but I'm ridiculously tired and my head is full of all the bedtime stories I just read my little guy. Nice, but definitely not YA!

And... ahem. I write YA. Not fantasy. My newest teen novel Inferno is my avatar- how's that for shameless self-promotion? It just came out a few weeks ago. And I have a 2008 teen novel called A Thousand Shades of Blue. If you are curious, I have posted first chapters on my website.

bettielee
05-04-2009, 07:58 AM
Me likey the fantasy.

Phaeal
05-04-2009, 05:08 PM
Slashing Sam and Dean? Bah, that was way too obvious. Slashers get more prestige points for searching out the unlikely pairs, like Dumbledore and the giant squid. Um, assuming that the giant squid is male. (Or, even if it isn't, it does have all those tumescent appendages...)

Back to the original topic, I think YA is a marketing concept rather than a discrete body of literature. I dunno, maybe kids and their parents feel more comfortable with age labels. But if parents think the kids are getting sweetness and light in their YA fic, they're not paying much attention. YA can be as tough as OA (Old Adult.) The chief defining factor seems to be a teen protagonist. Otherwise, looks like anything goes.

I read YA, or OA, or MG. Doesn't make any big difference to me, so long as the story's good and the writing doesn't make me go "Ouch." And the writing in OA is as likely to produce an "Ouch" as the writing in YA, in my experience.

Parametric
05-04-2009, 05:13 PM
Slashing Sam and Dean? Bah, that was way too obvious. Slashers get more prestige points for searching out the unlikely pairs, like Dumbledore and the giant squid. Um, assuming that the giant squid is male. (Or, even if it isn't, it does have all those tumescent appendages...)

I see your Dumbledore and the giant squid and raise you Harry and his father's corpse. For serious.

Nakhlasmoke
05-04-2009, 06:14 PM
I see your Dumbledore and the giant squid and raise you Harry and his father's corpse. For serious.

I could raise you that Draco and Lucius story that takes scullfucking to new heights (depths) but my brain is never going there again. (And neither apparently, is Draco's)

Parametric
05-04-2009, 06:16 PM
I could raise you that Draco and Lucius story that takes scullfucking to new heights (depths) but my brain is never going there again. (And neither apparently, is Draco's)

Hahahaha. I'm running out of horrifically traumatising fanfiction. Um ... Celebrian?

Shady Lane
05-04-2009, 07:33 PM
YA fantasy is selling really well. Realistic/contemporary YA? I'd say it's just as hard to sell as an adult contemporary book right now.

Soccer Mom
05-05-2009, 02:16 AM
Porting off to YA land!

Red.Ink.Rain
05-05-2009, 02:32 AM
On reflection, I attribute about two-thirds of the YA fantasy rush to the scarily accomplished Twifties (http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=128770). :tongue

:D

I agree with the point about wish fulfillment - fantasy literature is the ultimate escape. Reading in general is a form of escapism, but with fantasy you get to explore an entirely new world - a world where the weirdoes and freaks are often the heroes.

History_Chick
05-05-2009, 02:40 AM
Urban fantasy seems to be exploding ever since twilight. Now there are a ton of those types of books. some good some not so good.

I'm glad fantasy is coming into its own. I have more teen girls reading it now which I think is awesome.

But I think the whole YA market is big, and I think that rocks. Much like the first poster I cannot recall any YA books when I was a teen. In fact I dont think we had any. All I had were the classics.

thecraftteens
05-05-2009, 07:22 PM
I think there is a sudden surge of Fantasy because if you look at the last three big series, they are all fantasy in some way: Eragon, Harry Potter, Twilight.

I write Fantasy as my main genre...but I'm kind of worried now that by the time I go to query, agents will be so tired of Fantasy that I'll ultimately get rejected.:cry:

Becky
05-05-2009, 07:41 PM
I think it's possibly because, like someone said earlier, books are no longer just being written through an adults perception of what teens should be reading. Previously, I think those writing for the younger market have been writing the way they "remember" or think they remember acting as a teen, and how they expect teens to be acting. Now, many of these expectations have been lifted, and so a new genre is born - the things teens actually face and actually want to read. If someone writes what they think teens should be reading, it's more likely to come out as MG; if they write what they would to read (assuming their not teen writers, like me!) then it'll come out as adult.

As for why it's fantasy, I think thecraftteens has a point: Harry Potter and Twilight have been such huge sellers, that they not only inspire more people to write, they also show what is proven to be a successful genre. That's not to say it's the only successful YA genre (I hope not, I write Romance!) but it's shown it can be successful, and people want to emulate that success!

Claudia Gray
05-05-2009, 08:26 PM
A lot of slash is dramatically out of character (and I'd put Wincest in that category), but not all of it. And I have never been sure why altering one particular fact about a character in fanfic (their sexuality) is automatically so much more troubling to people than any other alteration.

To get this back sort of on topic: Scifi and Fantasy naturally draw people who are of a creative bent as readers, and this means you probably find a larger percentage of readers who are also would-be writers. YA is mostly hot right now because the publishers have only recently caught onto it as a category, but I think reading is also more popular among teens than it was 10 or 20 years ago (largely due to HP and Twilight). Also, YA isn't as strict with genre divisions as most adult fiction, where thrillers must follow certain formulae, just like romance, etc. I think this helps a lot of YA books find a broader audience.

History_Chick
05-06-2009, 01:28 AM
Teens will read if they find something that interests them. And I do think the market is growing, which I think is great. :)

Without a doubt Harry Potter and Twilight have helped the YA fantasy market, but they were also great cross over novels too. I know the Gemma Doyle series crossed over as well, though not to the same extent. So I wonder if sometimes publishers want that cross over fantasy novel.

And I think more girl oriented fantasy is being written, which I cannot recall from my childhood. Back then it was guys running around with swords and the women were a backdrop. Now that has changed and girls are starting to read more fantasy fiction because we see females as the main characters. So maybe fantasy has new readers..teen girls.