What is it about YA books: A look at its popularity and fandoms

Over a decade into the boom in Young Adult Literature and 2014 looks like it is still yet the year that the Young Adult genre is going to be cemented as a true force.

There were 30,000 Young Adult titles published in 2009, which is a massive increase from the 3,000 titles in 1997. In the same year, publishing companies’ total sales for YA exceeded $3 billion and it has been publishers’ favourite bet ever since. To add, according to an artice in The LA Times, more than a dozen publishers has launched young adult imprints. And finally, with websites such as Epicreads releasing lists of “The 15 Most Anticipated YA Books Coming” every month since September in 2013 to date, it is evident that YA popularity is as strong as ever if not growing even stronger.

The genre mainly targeted at teenagers has become so popular in the past years that it has been recognized as a separate genre from Children’s and stores and libraries started having entire separate sections with rows of shelves entirely dedicated to YA.

Reading on the Rise, a report published by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) in 2009 reported a 21 percent increase in young adult readership. The increase began in 2002 and continued through 2008.

The YA Literature Convention in London, which took place the previous weekend 12th to 13th of July, is also a testament to the continuing popularity of the genre. Matt Imrie, Chair of Youth Libraries Group (YLG) London, said: “I don’t think anyone is in denial about the thirst for YA titles. I think the YALC will simply test whether there is a large enough market to support a future stand-alone YA Con as this year it will form part of the London film and Comic Con.”

This is thanks to the “mega-hits” such as Harry Potter, which sold around 500 million copies around the world; The Twilight Saga with around 120 million; The Mortal Instrument with more than 24 million; and The Hunger Games at about 12 million. Add to that the recent success of The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, which put the YA author on top of Amazon charts and New York Times bestseller list and sold more than 9 million copies internationally.YA are not just bestsellers anymore; the popularity and huge audience are also making them Hollywood hits.

Associate agent Laura Zats, who is also the Content Strategist and Editorial Manager for Wise Ink Creative Publishing, said: “The big bestsellers are making fans of people who wouldn’t normally look for YA, which grows the chances of success of mid-list books. The big difference between now and then, I think, is that more adults are reading YA.” In fact, Bowker’s statistics revealed that 55 percent of the buyers of YA books are adult and 78 percent are buying the books for their own.

The editor of the The Mortal Institute fan site, Amber Pruitt said: “Many of the followers I have on the site are older teens and people all the way up into their 30s and 40s.” She said that YA break down lots of age barriers. “I’ve seen senior citizens book clubs reading The Mortal Instruments series,” she added.

Nevertheless, the age prejudices and stigma around the genre still lingers. According to Campbell’s Scoop: Reflections on Young Adult Literature by Patty Campbell,  “experts have struggled to define young adult literature.” Terms like “adolescent literature”, “juvenile literature”, “book for teens” and even “children literature” are commonly use to describe this genre, which shows how the genre is being defined by its target age group rather than being categorised based on its content. Additionally, criticisms like “dumbed-down material”, “just another Twilight”, and “secondary category of child­like storytelling” are often thrown at YA books and used to chastise their authors.

Although English Novelist Martin Amis is widely vilified for his stance “If I had a serious brain injury I might well as write a children’s book”, school librarian Matt Imrie still thinks that there are a number of readers who love YA but feel ashamed of reading it out in public. He said, “Similarly there are adults who feel that all children’s books are beneath them and are totally lacking in literary merit.”

On the contrary Zats thinks that after the success of Harry Potter, The Hunger Games and Divergent, any stigma associated with YA books is diminishing. “YA is more consistently seen as high quality literature now, and is a valid choice for anyone to read,” she argued.

Summer Lane, author of the national bestselling YA novels in the Collapse Series said: “My books are pretty much considered YA, but my reader base is incredibly diverse. I have a huge readership from tweens, teens, twenty-somethings, middle-age readers and seniors! I think it’s because my story is relatable and accessible for all ages.” She identified the emergence of cross-generational reading. “People might identify YA as children’s fiction, but YA stretches from children to adults. It’s so diverse. Look at books like The Hunger Games, Eragon, and the Divergent series… Cross-generational reading,” Lane added.

Teacher and YA blogger Valeri Fink shares these views. According to her, there is no judging on age when it comes to a good book. “I do think my students are often surprised that I’ve read books they love,” she said. “Nonetheless, when I talk to other adults about YA books I’ve read, they don’t know the book but they don’t seem critical about me reading them.”

It is also important to note the growth of fandoms along the rise of YA books. Zats commented on this by pointing out that it’s a product of two things. “One, people are relating to and loving the books. Two,technology has involved in such a way that now there aren’t book audiences, there are communities created around books. Authors and readers interact, and influence each other. That’s the very purpose of fandom,” she said.

Lane thinks that “the fandoms are awesome.” She said: “All authors are appreciative of the fans, and ‘fan girling’ in particular is usually pretty passionate. I love seeing readers get attached to the characters.”

Another YA author Jack Croxall describes fandom as extensions of the reading experience. “It’s another way for readers to get excited about their favourite books. I always think of it as a kind of new wave book club,” he said. “If people are discussing your books, it’s great marketing for you. Fandoms also come with fan-fiction, which I know some people are very wary off, but I encourage it; if people feel the need to get involved with my characters, that’s wonderful,” Croxall added.

Agents, librarians, book bloggers and authors all agree that the market for YA still appears to be growing steadily. The paranormal and dystopian trend in YA has particularly gone out of control while Sci-fi and Fantasy publishing houses are now opening up teen imprints as well. This means that there’s going to be more genre specific YA on the market without curbing the amount of contemporary that’s published. It looks like Young Adult books are not going to go away anytime soon. It might be well worth embracing the trend too.