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Author Topic: Do you avoid 'YA'? What does it mean?  (Read 13834 times)

Offline Overlord

Do you avoid 'YA'? What does it mean?
« on: July 09, 2014, 11:08:47 AM »
Interesting comments in the other thread I made: mainly about people wondering whether YA was just a marketing term. According to Bowker Market Research, 55% of young adult books purchased in 2012 were bought by adults between 18 and 44 years old.

As I imagine most of you will think, straight away my thoughts were: 'er... yeah... for their kids!' But according to the research almost 80% of those sales were made to be consumed by the person who purchased the book.

Check out the stats here: http://www.bowker.com/en-US/aboutus/press_room/2012/pr_09132012.shtml

My guess is that Harry Potter, The Hunger Games and Twilight are what make these stats so high, but I do wonder whether these books lead adults to checking out other Young Adult titles. Doug just posted about Joe Abercrombie's latest, that I thought was awesome, and that is being pitched as a Young Adult novel (Half A King). It is a book that proves that YA can be just as enjoyable as adult novels and that anyone not picking up YA because it is labelled by a publisher as 'YA' is missing out on some fantastic fantasy.

That said, I do see many differences in YA books and Adult books. One of the biggest things I see in YA books is the lesson of morals. In most YA books there seems to be a message relating to something you need going into adult life and it is often taught after the protagonist has been shown not to already know about it. For an adult reader this can be frustrating: seeing a young protagonist making a mistake they would never make. Younger readers, of course, would make this mistake and so can learn for it.

Nice quote on CNN from Shannon Peterson that suggests readers should enjoy this though:

Quote
"I don't think people are reading it just to relive their teen moments," Peterson said. "It's so interesting to see what happens when there is all of that living, emotion and the heaviness of all that emotion, without the experience. It's such a terrible and beautiful thing to witness."

What do you guys think though? Is YA really a thing? Is it just something made up by the publishers? Do authors write YA to get sales or do they just write and their books happen to be convenient for publishers to market to younger readers? Have you ever felt frustrated at a YA book?

Discuss!
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Offline JamesLatimer

Re: Do you avoid 'YA'? What does it mean?
« Reply #1 on: July 09, 2014, 01:07:47 PM »
I was originally going to say that I have never really read YA books (Harry Potter aside), but I think maybe that's a matter of definition.  I read a lot of what are probably more "children's books" (Narnia, Redwall) and then moved on to adult fiction, sci-fi and fantasy, some of which we would perhaps now think of as YA but hasn't specifically been marketed as such (Eddings, of course!).  A lot of traditional fantasy fills a bit of the YA niche in terms of themes, character ages and tone while sitting in the adult section of the bookshop (perhaps an element of its poor reputation in literate circles?). 

As an adult, I don't normally read YA because the plots and characters don't often interest me. I feel like a lot of YA books are for new readers (duh) who have not read widely, because so many of the plots and settings seem to familiar to me now.  For example, I picked up Hunger Games but didn't get it--the dystopian future seemed a bit simplistic, and we've all seen it before. 

But then I don't often go for 'adult' fantasy with younger protagonists any more--things like Name of the Wind aside.  Half a King will probably be an exception, but I have enough on the list that I'm not going to go trawling the YA shelves. 

This is all slightly contradicted by the fact that I appear to be writing a YA/coming of age fantasy right now.  Oops.

Offline Shadowhand

Re: Do you avoid 'YA'? What does it mean?
« Reply #2 on: July 09, 2014, 04:44:17 PM »
As a teacher of middle school English, it's practically part of my job to read YA lit. We had to define the characteristics of YA lit in one of my undergraduate teaching method courses. It really came down to two traits: a teenage protagonist, and the lack of competent adult figures. If you're interested in more detail, you can check out the blog post I wrote about YA lit after I learned that my novel Maiden of Pain had been classified by several libraries as YA.
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Offline Saraband

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Re: Do you avoid 'YA'? What does it mean?
« Reply #3 on: July 09, 2014, 06:50:03 PM »
I never grasped a clear definition of YA. To me, it generally implies the nonexistence of mature language and/or sex. But it is so vague, it actually tells very little about a book.
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Offline Phil Norris

Re: Do you avoid 'YA'? What does it mean?
« Reply #4 on: July 09, 2014, 07:16:28 PM »
I will admit that I used to see YA and think "yeah kids book" and avoid it - snob right?

But then last year I read Under The Empyrean Sky by Chuck Wendig - because, Chuck Wendig! - and realized that perhaps my misguided assumption was just that, an assumption that was totally misguided.

Then Joe Abercrombie started blogging about his new YA trilogy, and after reading half of Half A King in 3 days my mind has well and truely been changed and I will be more prepared to give YA a chance.

I'm not saying I going out tomorrow and buying the Twilight series because I've seen one of the films and I'll be honest that kind of story does not interest me. On the other hand I do intend reading the Hunger Games books and even though I've seen all the films I will one day read the Potter books.

YA is aimed at younger readers but that doesn't mean the books are childrens books, there is a whole difference between those two genres.
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Offline AzWingsFan

Re: Do you avoid 'YA'? What does it mean?
« Reply #5 on: July 09, 2014, 09:10:55 PM »
I tend to stay away from "YA" mostly because all you see is those repeat of repeat series. All have similar covers/plots. The vampire fad, witches...etc.. Although I will read Half a King and the Hunger Games trilogy. Harry Potter was way too childish for me.
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Offline Mark Lawrence

Re: Do you avoid 'YA'? What does it mean?
« Reply #6 on: July 09, 2014, 09:20:23 PM »
Just like 'grimdark', YA seems to be a word without a commonly accepted definition.

The things _I_ call YA are books written for Young Adults.

I avoid YA on the basis that much of it fits my definition.

My concern is that I may end up investing my time in a work that doesn't speak to its readers as if they had full experience of life. This may involve simplification, it may involved focusing over-much on things of primary importance to teenagers but less important to adults, it may mean leaving unused parts of the palette of a writer that are important to me.

There is common experience that a writer can draw on that is common to adults but not to YA. We will very likely have loved and lost and looked back at that through the lens of years, we may well have married, had children, know those bonds and how they feel and change over decades rather than in the hormone heat. We have watched people grow old. We have seen the world change and change and yet stay the same. I want writing that speaks to that, that assumes I understand and pulls no punches. That's why the only time I read YA is when reading it to my daughter.

I realize that YA is a broad church and there may be YA books that I would enjoy. However, non-YA is even broader and I feel I can easily find what I want there without risking my very limited time in less certain waters.
« Last Edit: July 10, 2014, 08:54:02 AM by Mark Lawrence »

Offline Fellshot

Re: Do you avoid 'YA'? What does it mean?
« Reply #7 on: July 09, 2014, 10:39:00 PM »
No, I don't avoid books that might be interesting because someone else decided I'm not their target audience. It just means I might interpret the material differently from the target demographic. Some people write to that demographic, some don't worry about it. Either is fine.

There are lots of reasons to read a book in the first place too. I have friends who teach who have read all of the Twilight books, not so much for enjoyment, but because they noticed their students reading them and decided to see what the fuss was about. It can't be uncommon for books in a house to get read by everyone in that house regardless of age, especially if there are younger people there (if only for the parents to keep up on what media their kids are consuming).

Point in fact, there are books which I read a kid that actually became more interesting when I got older and reread them (Baum's Oz books spring to mind). There are also books where I went "I read that? And liked it?! I was such an idiot!" That's okay too.

It might be more interesting to ask which parts of YA are speaking to a broader audience than getting the vapors over "the wrong people" are reading it.

Offline Elfy

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Re: Do you avoid 'YA'? What does it mean?
« Reply #8 on: July 10, 2014, 12:01:32 AM »
YA as a category is probably a lot wider and further reaching than many people seem to realise. A number of highly regarded fantasy authors have dabbled in YA, Jasper Fforde's Dragonslayer novels are YA, Neil Gaiman won the Hugo for The Graveyard Book which was YA, China Mieville's Un Lun Dun is YA. Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy is YA, in fact Pullman tends to write mostly YA work. Jonathan Stroud's Bartimaeus series is YA. A number of readers start fantasy by reading YA work, then move onto what is considered more 'adult'. Chris Wooding's Tales of the Ketty Jay books were given new covers and marketed as YA. Those are just some of the fantasies and I'm just scratching the surface.
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Offline Yora

Re: Do you avoid 'YA'? What does it mean?
« Reply #9 on: September 21, 2014, 06:00:44 PM »
I remember that my brother and I both started reading grown up novels when we were about 10 each. Granted, most Star Trek and Star Wars novels are not necessarily high literature, but I can remember for certain my brother digging through 300 page books in a weekend when he was in 4th grade.
We read so much Star Wars novels that I think at some point we had every book that had been translated to German. And I do remember when the Young Jedi Knights series, which was probably aimed at what is now the Young Adult market, we dismissed it as "kiddy-books" and never bought a single one of it. And looking up the release dates, that must have been in 1998 or 1999, when we were about 15 and 12. Now we might be an unusually literate family, but when we were just starting to enter the target audience group, we already considered ourselves much too old for it.
Overlord mentioned one defining element of young adult books being lessons and morals. Now it has been a few years since I was a teen, and I was far from being a rebellious kid, but "morals and lessons" still sounds to me as something that would make teens run away like nothing else. Maybe it works and they like it if you feed it to them secretly while disguising that you are doing so. But all the books aimed at teenagers I read in the 90s were just terrible at that. Using the term "young adult" seems to me like a step to avoid the problem, since the target audience appears to be actually "older kids". Not sure how well it is working out for publishers to label something as young adult, but I do see also a risk of maybe scaring away another audience who even might like the books if they would read them.
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Offline Ryan Mueller

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Re: Do you avoid 'YA'? What does it mean?
« Reply #10 on: September 22, 2014, 12:33:28 AM »
I don't avoid YA. In fact, I write YA occasionally (and sometimes even MG). I love fantasy and science fiction regardless of the age range. Occasionally, I run across books for younger readers that don't resonate with me, but most of the time, they're pretty good. YA tends to have faster pacing than adult, which is something I like.

Offline Elfy

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Re: Do you avoid 'YA'? What does it mean?
« Reply #11 on: September 22, 2014, 12:40:47 AM »
To be honest I can't understand why anyone would actively avoid a category of literature. If you see the book and you think you'll enjoy reading it, what does it matter that it's been marketed as YA. You also need to keep in mind that YA is a marketing category and it applies to most genres and is not confined to speculative fiction. I saw a few panels at Worldcon where more than one of participants (generally authors) had difficulty defining exactly what YA is and all agreed that it's a marketing category more than anything else.
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Offline Ryan Mueller

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Re: Do you avoid 'YA'? What does it mean?
« Reply #12 on: September 22, 2014, 01:53:39 AM »
Yeah, YA is a marketing category. Just like adult, middle grade, or children's. You can write any genre within an age category. Since many of my earliest fantasy and science fiction books were middle grade and young adult, I'll always have a soft spot for those stories.

Offline Elfy

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Re: Do you avoid 'YA'? What does it mean?
« Reply #13 on: September 22, 2014, 02:46:06 AM »
I think part of the problem is that YA's a relatively new category, and exactly what goes in there seems to vary from place to place and shop to shop. Then you have things that get recategorised. Rachel Caine's Morganville Vampires series used to pop up in both the YA section and the paranormal section of one of our local chains. Same thing happened with Gail Carriger's Finishing School books and in recent years I've seen David Eddings' books appearing in the YA section, whereas before they were always in the fantasy section.
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Offline Roxxsmom

Re: Do you avoid 'YA'? What does it mean?
« Reply #14 on: September 22, 2014, 03:09:00 AM »
YA is definitely a real thing, at least in the US. It's a marketing demographic, not a genre, and YA fantasy is quite popular. It seems like a lot of it is contemporary, paranormal, or urban, but as Abercrombie's new novel illustrates, it works in a secondary world as well.

Some of the "classic" fantasy and SF novels I grew up reading would probably be marketed as YA today (instead of being shelved with either children's books or with the adult SFF). The Harper Hall Trilogies by Anne McCaffrey come to mind,as do some of Mercedes Lackey's fantasy novels.

Some non fantasy YA stuff I enjoyed reading as a kid were KM Peyton's books. I don't think it was called YA back then, but I think they would be today. So were some of Judy Blume's books (the ones aimed at teens instead of grade school kids).

A good YA story can certainly appeal outside of the teen demographic. I've heard numbers ranging from 25%-60% adult readership for YA fiction. It probably varies by genre as well.

These are, I believe, the hallmarks of modern YA.

1. A teen-aged protagonist (usually between 12-18). This is a pretty firm requirement. The character shouldn't age out of the teen demographic during the story either. In the US, this corresponds to what we call middle school and high school aged protagonists, though of course a fantasy world could have a very different education system (or none at all).

2. The actions of the teen-aged protagonist should drive the story.

3. Told in the voice and perspective of the protagonist as a YA, not as an older, wiser version of themselves, and certainly not in the voice of an adult narrator who is judging and interpreting the teenager's values and choices. So deeper first person and third person narratives are common in modern YA (as opposed to mid grade which still sometimes has omni narrators). Harry Potter was interesting, because it started as MG but segued into a YA story by later in the series, but the author maintained her omni pov (though she did spend more time showing us Harry's thoughts and feelings directly than many omni narrators do).

4. Focuses on themes and plots that are relatable to teens. This can include coming of age stories, but other kinds might work too. The character is often learning to navigate the world as an adult. This doesn't mean there can't be danger, high stakes, or issues that are also interesting or relevant to adult readers.

5. Contrary to common belief, YA novels can have swearing, sex, drugs and other "edgy" stuff, at least if they're marketed to older teens. While there is often a message, it's not necessarily couched in preachy or black and white terms. But it may depend on the publisher or target market (there are YA Christian books, for instance).

I'll add the caveat that these are just my impressions that I've pieced together from talks I've attended and agent and editor blogs I've read on the subject. There are probably more specific things some people could add, and of course, different agents or editors might have slightly different criteria for what they personally want.