Saturday, 28 July 2012

RIP YA - Tamsyn Murray

YA books - sadly missed...
I heard a bone-chilling rumour the other day - Young Adult books were on their way out. The bubble which has made it the fastest growing area of children's publishing in recent years has burst and the big booksellers are wary about ordering large stocks of upcoming titles (unless it's a no-brainer - you didn't need to be Mystic Meg to have predicted that The Hunger Games would fly off the shelves this summer). Publishers are becoming more nervous than ever about taking a chance on something new - some of them, like Frances Lincoln, have closed their YA list altogether - and I hear that contemporary romance is as about as welcome as a dose of glandular fever. Bloggers are tired of paranormal romances (see here), which have been the big success story of the last few years, thanks to those pesky bloodsuckers and their werewolf 'mates'; they're starting to question the proliferation of these titles. And prizes specifically for YA writers, such as the Booktrust Teenage Prize, seem to be falling by the wayside. All in all, there are worrying signs that the whispers might be true: YA is gasping for breath and may not last the night.

It was certainly news to me. In the US, YA appears going from strength to strength. New titles are constantly appearing, featuring a rich diversity of genres and sub-genres. Here in the UK, fellow writers are working on exciting new novels for teens, blissfully unaware that they might not be of interest to publishers. The audience is still there - a lot of teenagers love to read, as any author making school visits will tell you. And perhaps bloggers aren't tired of YA novels, they're just a bit jaded with a constant diet of paranormal romance. I can understand that - wouldn't you be, if it was all you were offered to digest? Let's not forget, though, that there's heaps more to YA than vampire books and publishers like Hot Key Books are investing heavily in building a strong and varied teenage list. So why the rumours? I don't want to come across as paranoid but does everyone else in the publishing world know something authors don't?

Personally, I think we can hold off on the wailing and gnashing of teeth just yet - there are positive signs that YA books will defy the naysayers. New awards are appearing - the Romantic Novelists Association gave its first ever prize for YA Romance this year, won by Caroline Green's Dark Ride. Regional prizes across the UK continue to celebrate books for teens. Websites like UKYA are springing up, doing their best to pimp the brilliant diversity that the British teen market has to offer and lift it out of the shadow of our American cousins. Independent booksellers (or at least the ones I know) continue to be supportive of new and existing authors and enthusiastic about future titles. And anyone who has been into a Waterstones or WH Smiths recently knows that their YA selection is usually vast, if often skewed in favour of books coated in black and featuring sharp-toothed cover stars.

So are many of YA's symptoms down to the fact that we're in the grip of the worst recession for fifty years? Publishers aren't just anxious about teen books, they're nervous across the board. And it might be no bad thing to see fewer paranormal romance books on the shelves of bookshops - I'm all in favour of kick-ass heroines who don't rely on anyone else to make their destiny. The boys have been doing exactly that for years, after all. Bloggers are still reading and still blogging. And, most importantly, teenagers are still reading (along with some -ahem - teenageds).

Perhaps YA authors should be paraphrasing the excellent Mark Twain when asked about the state of YA in the UK today - rumours of its death have been greatly exaggerated. Because as long as our audience is there, we have a duty to write for them. Even if it does involve vampires.

Tamsyn Murray
www.tamsynmurray.co.uk
@tamsyntweetie

14 comments:

Anne Cassidy said...

I've been writing YAF for over twenty years against a background of rumours that YAF had had its day. I don't believe any of it. A good story will find its way through. My worry is that when a particular genre becomes fashionable then many people jump on that bandwagon instead of following their own instincts. That means that that genre is then overwhelmed with stuff and then devalued. My 'crime' writing has never been fashionable so ...... it hasn't been a problem for me. Maybe one day...

Tam said...

That's spot on, Anne. I quite often get asked by aspiring authors what's hot in YA. What they should really be doing is writing the story inside them.

And yay that YA has the constitution of an ox!

Karen said...

Yes, Anne Cassidy is living, breathing proof that YA defies trends. The YA market is deservedly strong with some fabulous writing. If booksellers have become jaded with paranormal romance, I'm not going to lose any sleep over that. Teenagers have come to expect and relish publishing dedicated to them, and long may it continue. I suspect it will...

Lisa said...

I am a HUGE fan of YAF and really agree with Anne - it's when a genre becomes 'fashionable' that instincts for a good story go out of the window and mass producing 'similar' titles kicks in. A good story is a good story and some of the very best are found in YA - hurrah for YAF!

Tam said...

Karen - I think your comment about teenagers expecting dedicated fiction is the key thing. Thank goodness for them!

Lisa - another problem is that by the time a fashionable idea hits the shops, it's an old idea and publishers have moved on. That didn't happen fast enough with vampire stories and so we have reached saturation point, along with claims that YA = Paranormal Fiction = Death of books for teens

Jackie Marchant said...

I'm definitely a teenaged! I love that word! I love reading YA a well as writing it and I think it's the older (erm aged) readers that will help keep this market going. It is definitely not dead yet.

Jackie Marchant said...

I'm definitely a teenaged! I love that word! I love reading YA a well as writing it and I think it's the older (erm aged) readers that will help keep this market going. It is definitely not dead yet.

Tam said...

You might be right, Jackie. Three cheers for the teenageds!

Penny Dolan said...

Well said, Tamsyn!

Tam said...

Thanks, Penny!

Liz Kessler said...

This is a really interesting piece. I recently had a discussion with my publisher about the possibility of doing some YA books, as well as the middle grade ones I do. I thought that YA was where it's all happening, but they told me I was wrong. They said the market is totally overcrowded, it's really hard to get a book out there that's going to get its head above the others, and also that they've scaled back their new YA imprint quite heavily from the numbers they started it with just a couple of years ago.

My conclusions - from this conversation and others - is that YA isn't dead or even dying. It just became something that an awful lot of people jumped on in such huge numbers that the market couldn't cope with it, and it's now scaling back to a more realistic level. Where exactly that ends up...who knows, but I don't think the appetite for good YA books will ever go away, especially now that so many brilliant recent books have whetted it so well!

Kate Harrison said...

I love to read as well as write YA - but I do think it's currently a very crowded 'marketplace.' Hopefully Liz is right, that there won't be a backlash but instead a levelling so the books readers love can still be found, without everyone feeling overwhelmed.

Great post, Tam!

Tam said...

Great point, Liz. I also think that a great story will find its way through. It has made me reconsider what I'm writing next for YA, though.

Tam said...

Thanks, Kate. Hope you and Liz are right :)