For a while now it's seemed that YA is the market to be in. Writers whose usual stomping grounds are certainly not in that arena have been throwing their hat in the ring—Joyce Carol Oates, James Patterson and now John Grisham. Even Rick Riordan, of PERCY JACKSON & THEY OLYMPIANS fame was not originally a YA/MG author.
The market shift can easily be spotted in the changing genre coverage of agents, as well. At least twice a week I get emails in my inbox from QueryTracker, alerting me to an agent who has expanded their area of interest. More often than not, they're adding YA to the mix.
It's easy to name the catalysts—J.K. Rowling, Stephenie Meyer—but they wouldn't be household names if people weren't reading the books. There are plenty of excellent writers with original plots out there—across genres and readership-age—who haven't initiated worldwide culture shifts.
So what gives? Why did your local Barnes & Noble knock down a wall to expand the teen section?
Recently, I had my college buddies over for yet another Twizzler and Dove chocolate fest. Books came up, and everyone turned to me for recommendations, since I spend 40 a week surrounded by them. I tossed off three or four titles, pens started scribbling and I said, "Sorry guys, I just realized everything I'm telling you is YA. It's pretty much what I'm reading right now."
To my surprise, this group of above-average intelligence, thirty-something women all said, "Oh—us too, it's totally cool." Since I had a captive audience I picked their brains—why? Why are adults reading YA? I have to admit, it's kinda been killing me. And their answer echoed what I had come up with on my own:
Because we didn't have any.
Readers in my age frame had to leap across a massive gap in our early to late teens. We went from R.L. Stine to Stephen King, Sweet Valley High to Danielle Steele, Nancy Drew to Kinsey Milhone. With few exceptions (God bless you Lois Duncan, Judy Blume & Christopher Pike) there wasn't a market for edgy, intelligent YA—definitely not in the numbers we're seeing now. As a teen, I had to search out titles that interested me in my age range. As an adult, I'm saturated with YA books in the TBR pile, and the bedstand is hating life.
Teens are reading in massive numbers. I speak from firsthand experience when I say there has been a major shift in the way pleasure reading is viewed in the high school where I work. The quarterback is carrying around the same book as the mousey girl with glasses, and he's not trying to hide it underneath a copy of Men's Fitness, either.
Adults are reading those same books. There's a reason why Sweet Valley was trending on Twitter days after the release of SWEET VALLEY CONFIDENTIAL: TEN YEARS LATER. Heck, it's even been released with a super retro cover. It's 'cause women like me were happily throwing down our college degrees and rolling around in some trash-awesome. Am I vicariously attempting to recapture my youth?
Or am I trying to fill a fifteen-year-old gap?