Posted on May 2, 2008 Posted by John Scalzi 104 Comments
Cory Doctorow takes a moment to remind folks going into the bookstore to get his book Little Brother that they need to go into the Young Adult section, not the science fiction section, and then talks about the YA section of the bookstore being something of an undiscovered country, where cool things happen because no one is looking. I think this is an interesting description of the situation because, from a retail point of view, it’s really got things backwards — if we’re comparing which section of the bookstore is the undiscovered country, Young Adult or Adult Science Fiction/Fantasy, it’s SF/F by far, because the simple fact of the matter is that YA kills Adult SF/F, not only in general sales, but specifically in sales the bestselling science fiction and fantasy books in their respective sections.
I have a friend with access to BookScan, which tracks book sales through stores and retail outlets, who at my request checked the aggregate bestseller list sales of adult fantasy and science fiction against the sale of YA fantasy and SF. Without mentioning specific numbers or titles, my friend says that last week, the top 50 YA SF/F bestsellers outsold the top 100 adult SF/F bestsellers (adult SF and F are separate lists) by two to one. So 50 YA titles are selling twice as much as 100 adult SF/F titles. The bestselling YA fantasy book last week (not a Harry Potter book) outsold the bestselling adult fantasy book by nearly four to one; the bestselling YA science fiction title sold three copies for every two copies of the chart-topping adult SF title. And as a final kick in the teeth, YA SF/F is amply represented at top of the general bestselling charts of YA book sales, whereas adult SF/F struggles to get onto the general bestselling adult fiction charts at all.
That serious adult science fiction/fantasy readers don’t seem to know any of this is a) a feature of the opaque nature of book sales, in which no one publicly talks about actual units sold and b) a feature of the apparent short-sightedness of adult sf/f readers, who are missing a genuine literary revolution in their genre because the YA section is a blank spot on the map to them, if not to everyone else. “Here there be dragons” has been replaced by “Here there be pre-teens” or something of the sort. This attitude is especially puzzling when you consider how many SF/F readers got their start with books like the Heinlein juvies, the fantasies of Susan Cooper and John Christopher and Madeleine L’Engle and so on.
I’ve said it before and I’m sure I’ll say it again: The most significant SF writer right now is Scott Westerfeld, whom it seems most adult science fiction fans still have not read and indeed barely know exists. In a sane world, Westerfeld would be a hero to adult science fiction readers, because he’s pretty much single-handedly flown the flag for science fiction to teenagers, thus saving the genre’s bacon for another 20 years. But: He’s YA. So he doesn’t count.
Now, don’t feel sorry for Scott because of this. He’s crying all the way to the bank, he is, because by any sane measure he’s almost certainly the single best-selling science fiction author out there right now. The people to feel bad for are all the adult science fiction readers who haven’t read his Uglies series and by extension are missing the formative SFnal experience of an entire generation of readers — which also happen to be excellent books. Why Scott hasn’t even been nominated for a Hugo yet is unfathomable today, and I expect will be seen as unforgivable in 20 years, when many of his readers have become published writers.
To get back to Cory, I think it might be possible that he’ll miss a few early sales by some of his adult fans not going into the YA section. But I also and strongly believe that he’s going to make those sales up, and pretty quickly, as he’s introduced to a new and very avid set of readers, who are primed for more thought-provoking science fiction (it’s absolutely no coincidence one of the front cover blurbs for the book comes from Westerfeld). Cory’s potential audience has just gotten a lot bigger. It helps his book rocks.
Ah, now we know why you wrote Zoe’s Tale, you say. Well, I won’t lie to you. A couple of years ago Patrick Nielsen Hayden and I were talking about the possibility of me writing something that would be teen-friendly, because it’s good business sense, and also because I’m a huge fan of the idea of writing smart science fiction that younger readers will enjoy. When OMW readers started asking for a story with Zoe, it seemed like a natural fit. I didn’t write it specifically as a young adult book, but I did write it so that we could go to young adult booksellers (and librarians, and readers) and say “this could work for you too.”
Now, inasmuch as don’t believe we’re marketing ZT as YA, at least at first — when you go to the bookstore to find it, it’ll be in the SF section, not the YA section. But who knows? Maybe they’ll be a chance for cross-pollination there. If Cory can help get the adult science fiction/fantasy readers to venture into young adult, maybe I’ll be lucky enough to help convince some YA readers to take a trip to the science fiction and fantasy section. I would be happy to be part of such a tag team. And lucky, frankly.
At least in NY, the F/SF *writers* community recognizes Westerfeld. He’s read for at least one of the two regular lit events here in the city.
Also, Neil Gaiman does some remarkably cool teen/pre-teen books.
When we got to the bookstore to get Little Brother, Puppy was all, “MO-OOOM, it’s not going to be there [“there” being the science fiction section], it’ll be back HEEERE.” And he was right.
And while we were back there, we bought two or three other YA SF titles.
I thought Uglies was a GREAT book. The rest of the series are sitting a little farther back in my to-read pile, and Puppy is going to read them once he’s done with Little Brother.
Yeah yeah yeah.
(Full disclosure: I’m a YA librarian. So.)
There’s Scott Westerfeld. Meg Rosoff. Susan Beth Pfeffer. Jeanne DuPrau. M.T. Anderson. If science fiction is still a viable genre 20 years from now we’ll have these people to thank.
I go to the adult science fiction section, and don’t see that much to make me really truly excited. I go to the YA section and I get excited.
Well, you know, Emily. Some of the stuff in the adult SF section is good. I’m just sayin’.
To my surprise, I’ve found that I’ve enjoyed the reads in the YA section more, lately, than many of the ones in the “Adult” SF/F section.
There’s a certain energy there which is often lacking in the “oh, no, we’re serious business here” Adult books.
(Yours excepted, and I’m not just sucking up. OMW was an enjoyable read, one I’ve repeated often. I can’t say that about the Hamilton book I threw across the room after the first third.)
I always feel like I need to rent one of my friends’ kids to wander back there. More from the standpoint of “a guy in his late 20s trolling the YA section could be a creep” than any fear of the content of the books being somehow beneath me.
Oh well, Amazon has more or less solved that problem for me.
This is one of the things that continues to confuse me about Brick and Mortar bookstores, and even B&N Online/Amazon. This rigid sectionalism, why do they not stock some of these books in both places? Well I have actually found that they do, but they are completely different editions.
“Enders Game”, “Sword of Shannara” and a few others can in fact be found in the YA/Teen section, but with a completely different cover and formating. On the Flip side in a few stores “Eragon”,etc can be found in SF/Fantasy section in a few intelligently stocked stores where the its obvious that they have a manager with a clue since in other local stores in the same chain that book is not in that section.
Online almost never will the releases for books like “Uglies” be listed in the SF/Fantasy lists, which is a shame.
There are stranger separations that always confuse me and again they seem to vary store by store even within the same chain. In some Horror is lumped into SF/Fantasy, while I don’t completely agree with that its closer than when its in the general fiction section. The most intelligent stocking I have seen is when the two are separate, but side by side. There is cross over here, King’s Gunslinger books are just one example, stocked with his other stuff in Horror, but clearly SF/Fantasy in nature. If they are going to be in different parts of the store why not stock in both sections?
Wordy McWord. It’s so nice to see the market grow and change, and so weird to look back on reviews from books published in the 1970s and 1980s — books that would be YA today — and see reviewers discussing them as children’s literature.
There seems to be a certain flavor of adult SF fan who shows up to discussions of modern YA to whine that YA in their day was drear and dreadful, and can it have changed so much? and oh, gosh, gee. Sigh.
They’re missing out on so much — and yet somehow, I can’t bring myself to feel all that sorry for them.
I’ll add my name to the grupps-who-read-YA list; there are a lot of books there that are very good, and (more helpful for me) almost everywhere I’ve been, the librarian who is picking the YA stuff is hip to good SF/F and the librarian who is picking the grupp stuff is not. Oddly, this is true even when it’s the same person.
YA SF/F is why my wife and I got into the online children’s book biz (shutterered at the end of last year, but few tears).
We grew up on YA SF/F: The Dark is Rising (Susan Cooper), Narnia (CS Lewis), Tripods (John Christopher), Pyrdain (Lloyd Alexander), Mrs. Frisbee and the Rats of NIMH (Robert C O’Brien), Mushroom Planet (Eleanor Cameron), Danny Dunn (Williams and Abrashkin), E.B. White’s mice, pigs and swans, Andre Norton’s space operas, etc. etc. We were both lucky to have great librarians — my middle school librarian was very fond of SF, and had Heinlein’s “Star Beast” right next to “Stranger in a Strange Land” in a school district where Huckleberry Finn was considered controversial and nearly removed.
More recently, there’s Garth Nix’ Abhorsen trilogy and Keys to the Kingdom, Scott W and Justine L, Daniel Pinkwater (whose picture books for the very young are also delightfully wacky). Harry Potter hasn’t hurt (although we sold few since we couldn’t match Amazon and Wal-Mart), and brought people into His Dark Materials and other books.
In marketing YA though, we had a problem: few teens, especially young teens, have their own credit cards, and do NOT want parents buying books for them. We also never really got into Manga in our online store, which may have been a fatal error.
That’s actually one of the things I like best about Amazon–it makes recommendations based upon what I like. So I’ve discovered on several occasions upon trying to find more books by an author, that I can’t find them because they’re in the YA section.
Also, I love the fact that there’s far less boinking. Romance is fine. In depth details about who put what bit where and when? No thanks.
Though I have to say I don’t particularly like to peruse the YA section, because I don’t want to turn off some teen or pre-teen to a book, just because some OLD PERSON was looking at it.
I could be wrong, but I suspect that the library I went to regularly when I was ten and eleven shelved all their science fiction in the young adult section. Good thing, too; if they hadn’t, I would never have discovered The Left Hand of Darkness.
One more thing to keep in mind, for those headed to the book store or library after this:
If you focus on the YA area you’re still going to miss out. You also have to go all the way into the children’s section (the two are normally separated by some space or physical barrier), because there is actually a third place to look for good books, called “Middle Grades” or “Middle Readers” in some stores. That’s where you find L’Engle and Cooper, and the Heinlein re-issues, and Rowling, actually. The likes of Terry Pratchett, Diane Duane, Phillip Pullman and Garth Nix are all there, among many others.
I’ve been reading YA for ages (I’m in my 30s), and I love it. Exciting things are happening in YA, and it amazes me that so many adults ignore the genre. Today’s YA is fast-paced with great voice and lots of action and humor. I read adult fantasy and SF too, but sometimes it feels plodding in comparison. The concepts in today’s YA SFF are sophisticated and interesting, and the fast-paced style feels to me like a more efficient delivery of story to brain.
I love Westerfeld’s YA books – actually, I’d say at least half of what I read is from the YA section, and in the past year, I’ve nudged my sister (a librarian, I might add) that direction, too. She just finished “Specials” and can’t wait to pick up “Extras”. And we both loved “Peeps” and “So Yesterday”.
What annoys me is that I so often find myself having to defend the fact that I read so much YA – no, you don’t get it, these are really well-written books! Complex characters! Intriguing plots! Believable settings! As if a book not written specifically for adults can’t possibly be any more interesting than See Spot Run.
Those are the same types of people who, if I mention that the writing wasn’t as good as I had hoped in some other YA book, say things like “well, it’s just YA, what do you expect?” Grrrr.
Auspicious choice of catchphrases there, John… ;)
When I started pitching HERE, THERE BE DRAGONS (I know Wil is reading it now, so you could ask him for an objective opinion on it), I didn’t even consider the YA market. All of my connections were in the regular SF/F trade. But my managers’ connections were all children’s and YA, as were my (eventual) producers’ for the film-in-progress (their last series was by someone named Rowland or Gowling or something like that).
The thing is, it was a YA editor who liked it the best. And he made a great offer – which my manager told me to consider carefully. “Remember,” she cautioned, “if you say yes to this, you’ll basically be painted as a children’s book author from here on out.” I took one look at my own bookshelves – and noted the respective career success of the YA authors represented there – and said “yes”.
And that has made all the difference – because we discovered that YA can easily be marketed UP to older readers; but the reverse is practically impossible. (Well, at least very difficult). My books are being championed by YA booksellers and librarians, while still being sold in the venues they would have been in anyway. And the fact that they were designed as a series…well, my publisher is pretty happy about that.
But in terms of perception, there’s been a funny sideways observation: while I do have a few young characters, I may be the only YA writer around whose principal characters are all middle-aged men – but the readers (read: mostly YA) don’t notice, and don’t care.
Personally, I’m thrilled that Cory has written this new book – because I hope it draws readers to his other works they might not have looked for. And I hope the same goes for ZOE’S TALE!
Bless you, Scalzi. I was just starting to write the exact same post inspired by the exact same boingboing post. Only I don’t have the bookscan numbers your friend has. You have saved me work.
You the best.
I try to make life easy for you Justine, I do.
Oh, thanks a lot, Scalzi! I just went to my library to reserve this book from Scott Westerfeld, who I’d never heard of. 18 reserve holds already ahead of me.
In the future, please email your reading suggestions to me first, thanks.
PS: A big fat vote for MT Anderson. Feed was probably the best cyberpunk book I read that year.
There was an interesting YA Crossover panel recently (what makes a book “YA?” What makes a book a “crossover YA/adult book?” What are the pitfalls/implications of categorizing?), and someone made the interesting observation that some of the greatest “YA” novels were published at a time without those categorizations.
To Kill a Mockingbird, Catcher in the Rye, The Outsiders, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn…
The question was asked: if the manuscripts for those books came to a publishing house today, what would happen? How would publishers categorize them? And more importantly – would those novels have done as well and/or would they have made such an impact today?
Wow, this YA thing has become a hot topic since PW held their breakfast panel. I may be unusual because I write YA (I am that lowly SP author most people run away from. I swear I’m a nice guy), I prefer YA Sci/fi to adult Sci/fi. Maybe it’s the coming-of age aspect, maybe it’s the ever-present hopefulness of the main characters, etc. Who knows? I’m just drawn to it. Now, that being said, I did enjoy OMW, and I enjoy Alan Dean Foster. The odd thing is I prefer my general fiction to be bleak and depressing with a lot of violence. Clearly, I have issues.
BTW – I’ll be buying a copy of Little Brother because of this blog. I hope you’re getting a cut from Doctorow, JS.
I’ve been a fan of the YA section since it was ‘appropriate’ for me to get books from there. Turning 18… or 28… or, soon, 38… wasn’t ever going to be enough reason for me to turn my back on Daniel Pinkwater.
You’re making me blush, Scalzi. Seriously.
But in a last-ditch effort to salvage my humility, Stephanie Meyers’ next novel is science fiction and comes out May 6. That means that in four days she will become the bestselling sf author in the entire world, whether you call The Host adult or YA or whatever.
(For those of you who don’t know about Meyer’s, her latest YA fantasy sold 150,000 copies on its first day.)
I’m actually very interested to see how The Host does. That it will be a best seller is a given (it’s #20 at Amazon and #1 on its sf list), but I wonder if it’ll have the same sort of massive sales as her YA work. I have the ARC here. I really should read it.
Thanks, John. I’ve just realized what a great time I’ve been missing by NOT going into the kids’ section at my Friendly Local Independent Purveyor of Fine Literature (BookPeople in Austin…it’s not Powell’s, but it might be someday). And right now I can’t afford to spend the money or devote the time, since I’m moving this month. Argh.
(But “Argh” in a good way, because it’s ALWAYS nice to hear about a rich vein of SF I haven’t tapped yet.)
I’m one of the few people who knew about Scott Westerfeld long before he started writing his YA fiction. YA fiction is great; I’m all for it. But the best thing Westerfeld has ever written is EVOLUTION’S DARLING which is about as non-YA as you can get.
EVOLUTION’S DARLING was original, gripping, and superb. It’s too bad he can make more scratch by not writing anything like it again.
Well, I really envy you that ARC. I have been reading Meyer’s since her first ARC, but they are no loger given away at ABAs;-).
I started reading with The Hobbit- my first book read by myself. Then EF Russell, Lloyd Alexander,CS Lewis, LeGuin, Heinlein, Cooper, Engdahl, Christopher, HG Wells, Verne, Dumas, Van Vogt… The people who stopped starting their trek through a book store in the children’s section are the ones with amnesia. And for the last 30+ years (the time I have been able to stand in a children’s section by myself) I have had no problem in checking out all the sections of a bookstorethat I would like to look at.
In particular, the Brits have traditionally packaged the same books with diferent covers and a far lower price tag in the children’s section (eg Watership Down and Tolkein).
I’m glad you are making the break through;-) but I am amazed to hear that there are SF readers who are too uninformed to look at all the sections of a bookstore.
don’t discount the Ender effect. Ender’s Game is an accepted middle-school text these days, shown by the earlier poster who referenced that there’s two trade dresses for the book — one for the SF section and one for the YA section. I’ve often felt that a lot of people who haven’t liked the recent Enderverse books were really reacting to the fact that unlike the first set of books, the second set really was written more for that YA fanbase.
and a name that hasn’t been thrown out yet is Nancy Farmer — I love her books and always look to see if she has anything new out.
Sorry for the typoes- the kids on my lap make typing difficult and it’s Sandmann time here in Germany…
Open mouth, insert foot. Sorry, and I mean that sincerely, and I do know that there is some fantastic adult SF being published, and I read it when I’m not vastly behind on my YA reading. But I feel like – um, how to put this? The majority of SF, even books I end up really really liking, is marketed in such a way that I don’t pick it up off the shelf and think, “Hey, nifty!”
I wonder if that’s not partly a generational thing, because I’m quite a bit older than the average YA reader but also quite a bit younger than the average SF reader.
I feel like I run into adults and journalists reading & recommending YA to other adults all the time. Or maybe where I see this (bloggers, SF journalists, and congoers), the folks are just more open to YA than the general SF/F-reading public?
I’ve been to panels at cons like “YA books you may be missing,” aimed at adults. Dragon*Con stuck theirs in the YA track (sigh) and while most folks in attendance were adults, I’d’ve’ put it into the literature track if the aim was to expose more adults to YA. (But then, I find Dragon*Con’s tracks almost as rigid as B&M store shelving practices.)
I wonder about the reverse–kids not looking beyond YA titles. (No doubt it depends on the person, like with adults reading YA.)
It’s a shame publishers market so specifically and B&M stores (who, granted, don’t usually have 10 copies to spread to every section) are so rigid in how they shelve books.
Haplo: And here I’ve been so impresed with Amazon’s crosslisting by subject, etc. (e.g., listing a book under SF and romance). I guess they don’t crosslist much between age ranges? They crosslist Uglies to one non-YA subject, but Little Brother is crosslisted to several (granted, some weird ones like “terrorism” and “fiction” ;-).
Finally, hopefully the obvious: Some folks simply don’t care for books written for YA, and that’s fine.
I react to the adult sf section the way Emily does. Everything looks the same, and has looked the same forever in there; original novels look cut from the same marketing cloth as Star Wars and World of Warcraft tie-ins. There is more daring marketing/packaging going on in the YA sections, which nestles next to the truly crazed children’s section. It’s as if the YA books seem to know how hard they must work to grab the attention of a teenager. Meanwhile, SF is drowning in sameness–it’s the very definition of generic. The YA has its own version of this going on, of course–especially in the now vast seams of books packaged to be “the New Harry Potter.”
All I’ll say on that topic is that, to this day, my very favorite Fantasy book and the one I consider most absolutely unique is seated firmly on the Y.A. shelves. Sabriel, by Garth Nix.
A few ‘only half a cup of coffee in me’ thoughts…
I’d never have thought of wandering over to the YA section before I read about Westerfield etc here. If I thought of it at all, I’d have thought it was… how to put this.. kiddie fiction, vs fiction that works for kids. I honestly don’t remember YA sections in the bookstore when I was a kid (I’m 49)… yes I read Heinlein juveniles but they were just in SF/F. This and your other posts on this topic have alerted me to a whole new set of authors, though I agree with an above comment that it’s odd that stores don’t shelve books both places.
Also… anyone have per capita reading/buying stats? Do YA books outsell adult books because kids are reading at a higher rate than adults? Or are kids reading at a similar rate, but read significantly more books per kid per year?
Oh, hold it! I have a $30 gift certificate for Amazon lying around.. (opens new browser tab, pours more coffee….)
One thing you’ve left out of the money analysis, John, is that most YA books sell for less than adult fiction. A typical YA hardcover may sell for around $16. Whereas a typical adult hardcover sells for around $25. I wonder if that doesn’t help with sales.
Well, apparently things are really different over there in the States, because here in Italy what was considered suited for teenagers 15 years ago, when I was in middle school, was a purulent mass of unbearable crap, and I’m more than certain that a good number of book-loving children gave up reading after being fed by their schools horrible books full of fourteen years old girls discovering that tender feelings are blossoming up in their gentle hearts, or adventurous bands of urchins looking for treasures hidden by dead smugglers in the mountains (and of course at least one of the urchins had to be a fourteen years old girl discovering that tender feelings for a fourteen year old boy were blossoming in her gentle heart).
There were two kinds of books here, books for children and books for adults. The book for children were composed primarily by a strong core of 18th, 19th and 20th century great books (by the like of Jules Vernes, Emilio Salgari, Daniel Defoe, Rudolf Erich Raspe, Robert Louis Stevenson, Walter Scott, etc. etc.), plus some ill-fated attempts, normally dating back to the ’70s and ’80s, usually the work of some psychologist aiming to present “an up-to-date role model to the teenagers of the contemporary age,” and resulting in boring and pointless books that sold only because, thanks to the “appropriate pressures” by the publishers the Ministry of Education, the school teachers were “strongly urged” to use them as in their courses.
I think you will not be surprised if I tell you that the few teenagers who kept reading for pleasure were more than happy to ditch those “books” and were eager to read “adult” book and forget that “books for teenagers” had ever existed.
Then, SF was SF: there was no distinction between SF and young adult SF, Heinlein’s or Asimov’s “juveniles” are classified among their “adult” books. Maybe it was because there was a traditional stigma against SF books, which was slowly fading but was still strong; for example, my “antologia” (the Italian literature textbook I had during middle school, a short history and classification of the various literature genres, with many long excerpts to give an idea of the books) had a section about SF but my teacher gladly skipped it because “it wasn’t important.”
Things could’ve changed of course, but YA doesn’t sound good here, at least for my generation.
Also, I read of specialized YA librarians and school libraries: care to explain something more? My elementary school library had some 50 books published in the ’60s (I’m neary 30 years old), I don’t even know if my middle school had a library, and my high school library… well, let’s just say that during my first two years of high school every class (Italian class: here in Italy students are divided in classes, composed by 20-25 pupils, always the same, who each year study the specific year’s subjects, from the first to the last year of elementary/middle school/high school) spent one hour every week taking books from the library room and inserting their descriptions into a computer, because there was no catalog and nobody knew what books the school had! Anyway, after the work ended a professor was appointed librarian, in addition to his teaching duties, but I hardly remember more than a dozen of book loans, and the books were old (the most recent ones bought in the ’70s) and mostly scholarly books (Greek and Latin texts, history books, Italian literature, etc. etc.). Certainly, no fiction more recent that the ’60s and no “light” fiction! It would’ve been beneath the school dignity!
Selling for less might have some impact, but in mass market and trade paperback formats, the price differential is not that great. And most sales are in paperback formats (the Harry Potter books being an exception to this).
I join the ranks of those who don’t understand the why the store insist on this sectionalism. What’s the reason for that? It’s not as if we’re protecting the children from nasty adult SF/F. If they want to buy it, they can wander on over to that section and get it.
I’m just beginning to realize there are a lot of good books in the YA section, but the thing is – I never knew there was a YA section until the last couple of months. How would I know there’s more SF over there?
If all the SF were together, everyone could find what they wanted, without having to be aware of the mysteries of bookstore shelving. True, it’s worth it to just perambulate around the whole store, especially if you have wide-ranging interests. But you gotta have the time.
It’s worth looking at the FAQ page on Scott Westerfeld’s website. It’s quite enlightening and apropos to this discussion:
(JS and SW: hope the long quote is okay! It seemed germane.)
I completely understand, and the Uglies books are indeed great. I discovered him through his adult work, though, and I dearly hope that he someday returns to space opera. The Risen Empire books are some of the most awesomely kick-ass space operas I’ve read in a long while.
YA space opera would be fine, however, since “the golden age of science fiction is thirteen” but the Rix are just way too cool not to explore further.
Is this really true (that YA fantasy outsells adult)? I know the advances that some of these adult fantasy authors get, and they’re in the $5 to $10 million dollar range (for multiple books, of course). I’ve NEVER herad of a YA author getting anywhere near that much. So I wonder if there’s something skewing those Bookscan figures…
I am always shocked by how high advances are for successful adult fantasy authors. But maybe this is just the top few.
But I totally, totally agree that YA fantasy is more interesting that adult fantasy right now, and generally better. :-)
I also think the fans are much more responsive, and much more effusive. In comparing my career to my adult fiction author friends, I think I, as a YA author, have it better in almost every way. There’s: more reviews, less bookstore pressure, more awards, more diverse market (school/library/bookseller), more movie interest. But (in my experience anyway–what I hear) the “top” advances are still lower for YA than for adult.
This comment just to say: fantastic post. I was recently at a con where people were talking about the death of sci-fi and I started yelping about Scott Westerfeld and M.T. Anderson, and got blank looks. Which made me so so sad. YA is where so much of the exciting stuff is at, it would be a shame for SF/F lovers to miss it.
I’m not at all surprised by the BookScan numbers, but it is wonderful to get the stats.
Yep, despite Scott’s stance on Pluto, I’ve loved his Uglies trilogy. He writes excellent SF. And, since bookstores seem to be trimming the adult SF selection, I find myself browsing the YA selection more often. Just because it’s YA it doesn’t mean the story is childish.
Perhaps it’s just a reflection of what gets put on display at the local bookstores, but I see a lot of YA books with distinctly Harry Potter-like covers. The impulse to make everything look like what’s already worked seems to be alive and well in YA.
I just read Catherine Jinks’s Evil Genius, about a bright kid with a mean streak who’s groomed to be … oh, don’t let me spoil it for you. Imagine if every teacher at Hogwarts was as nasty as Snape. The book’s full of smart puzzles, too. (Though … back in my day, I don’t recall that books bothered to mention that the fourteen-year-old characters had never had sex.) I’d call it SF, though it has a distinct Bond flavor that others might place outside the genre.
Speaking of puzzles, The Puzzling World of Winston Breen is middle-grade fiction about a kid who loves puzzles, designs puzzles, and gets caught up in a decades-old, high-stakes local mystery. Not SF, but I recommend it anyway. (And even though the answers to the non-plot-advancing puzzles are in the back, I recommend taking the extra time to work them out.)
We’re fans of Winston Breen here at the Scalzi Compound as well.
I knew I should have started reading Whatever sooner. :(
#40: A few different responses to that question.
a) I believe the Bookscan figures. Especially if the alternative is guessing at relative sales based on advances.
b) Those $5 million advances you read about don’t represent an actual $5 million check. They’re more like “If you sell over $bignum and land on every bestseller list and get on Oprah, the value of your contract may approach $5 million.” (The operative word here is “escalator clause”.)
c) News stories about big advances help publicize books. It may just be that most of the book publicity you run across is for adult books. Alternatively, it could be that YA readers are less excited about hearing that Publisher’s Lunch categorized something as a “major deal.”
d) J. K. Rowling.
Secondy-third the motion about Scott Westerfield — I read the whole four-book Uglies trilogy in one weekend and quite a fine time it was, too.
At Schuler’s Books in Grand Rapids, quite a number of SF/F books are cross-shelved in SF/F and YA.
The sectionalism isn’t there to protect YA readers from the evil or adult SF/F. It’s to protect the store’s revenue from having their YA readers (and people like my wife, who stocks the book shelves in her 7th-grade classroom) feel like they have to go hunting for good YA books all over the store.
I wonder how these numbers jive with the general perception put forth by many newspapers and magazines that kids don’t read, books can’t compete with tv/movie/internet/texting/ipods/whatever else the hip thing of the moment. Or articles claiming that writers like JK rowling have saved reading for another 5 years. Seems like the kids are alright.
I wonder — I’m sorry, I’m veering a little here — but I wonder if someone could explain to me why YA books of similar size are invariably five and six dollars cheaper than similarly sized adult ones?
In response to Mac at 50:
What I have been told is that there is a perception issue: parents tend to be the ones footing the bill. A $16 sale for something one’s kid will consume is more palatable than a $25 sale. Adults who, presumably, control their own pocket books do perceive the $25 dollar value and will fork over the money for themselves.
Historically, hardcovers were mostly bought by the institutional markets — libraries and schools. So I don’t think it has to do with the idea of being affordable for a kid on an allowance. (That’s what penny novels and comics used to be for.)
My first two books were certainly not published as YA but they both ended up on the YA lists and later with YA editions.
I certainly blame Heinlein. My goal was a book readable by both adults and teens. CITIZEN OF THE GALAXY, TUNNEL IN THE SKY, RED PLANET, STAR BEAST, and HAVE SPACESUIT WILL TRAVEL.
God I hope Warner Brothers doesn’t screw up the last one.
What G. Jules said at 46. Stephanie Meyer is someone else who’s getting ENORMOUS advances. She totally deserves them and earns out. As Scott mentioned above her last book sold 150,000 copies on its first day of sales.
As someone who follows Publishers Lunch religiously I can tell you there are a lot of “major” deals for genre YA. Lately there’ve been way more of them than there have been for adult fantasy.
Not to get off-track here, but why is that? I can go to Box Office Mojo and look up the earning history of virtually any film made in the last twenty years, but sales volume for books is completely opaque. I’m guessing it has something to do with Bookscan being proprietary or whatever, but it seems like more openness would help pretty much everybody overall. Or is there something I’m missing.
As far as the YA thing goes, I don’t read a whole lot of it, but what I have read has been good. I worked in a bookstore for awhile and was amazed at the sheer number of teenagers buying thick books by Stephanie Meyer and Scott Westerfield. Opens the eyes quite a bit.
I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that kids are _already_ reading — they’re being exposed to some of the greatest works of literature in their classes! So the idea of going over and reading something that’s more fun but still challenging and original (i.e. has more relevance to their lives than, say, Dickens) is much more palatable to them than to the old fogies who haven’t picked up a Dostoyevsky in decades.
The internet may also be a factor, in that the young-uns in general have grown up reading blogs/myspace pages, etc., whereas their elders grew up on TV.
“Not to get off-track here, but why is that?”
Possibly because books, even successful ones, sell relatively low numbers compared to the number of CDs top ranked acts sell or the number of people who tune into a TV show.
Rick @ 34: I’m not sure there were “YA” sections in bookstores when I was reading the Heinlein juveniles (about the same time you were, I suspect). Or libraries, for that matter. There was the “adult” section and the “children’s” section, but (as I remember as both a patron and from working in a library) the children’s section had books separated according to age range . . . at least the fiction.
However. The thing many sf/f readers need to remember is that the hardcover publication didn’t necessarily match the paperback publication, especially Back In The Day when lot of libraries didn’t buy paperbacks. Several well-known YA authors were published in YA or Children’s hardcover and then reprinted as Adult paperbacks–McKillip is the only one I can think of at the moment, but I’m sure there were others. So I’m not sure that the “new” state of affairs is all that “new,” really–it just seems to involve a much larger population (on both sides of the age-divide).
Several Posters, re: Why Don’t Bookstores Stock YA Novels in Adult SF/F Sections, Too–I’ve never run a bookstore, let alone a book superstore, but I’ve known people who have . . . and I can remember similar conversations about “cross genre” books in general. The response from the bookstore managers was always along the lines of “How much shelf space do you think I have?” Each book that gets double-shelved in two sections tends to represent one book that doesn’t get shelved at all . . . which is not a good thing, either.
The price difference makes a huge difference to me, as $15 is the highest amount I’m willing to pay for any novel, YA or otherwise. I buy YA hardcovers all the time. When an adult hardcover comes out that I want, and it’s priced over $15, I stick it on my amazon wish list, but I don’t buy it. Then when I’m looking for something to read, I go to that wish list, find the hardcovers I added a year or two ago, and buy them in paperback.
What, no one is offering to punch you in the face for using a “word” like “SFnal”? Goodness. What is this world coming to?
Disclaimer: This comment is biased because I acquired UK rights to half a dozen of Scott Westerfeld’s books for Little, Brown’s Orbit and Atom imprints – but it’s also an honest opinion because anything I say in this comment thread will almost certainly drive readers to Scott’s US publisher.
And the comment is this: you’ve just gotta read Scott’s “Midnighters” series. Quite simply the coolest idea for a YA trilogy ever conceived, and executed with all the panache and elan that we’ve come to expect from (I agree with you entirely, John) one of the most significant voices in modern SF&F writing.
The US publisher is HarperCollins, by the way. Just so you know this is a plug for Scott, not for our editions (although if any UK Whateverites want to go seek them out I won’t complain).
Yet, adults will fork over $40 for a video game for their kid. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a huge video game fan (110 straight wins on NCAA 2008, thank you very much), but the priorities seem to be out of whack.
Why wait for Zoe’s Tale? The rule in our house is 30min/100pgs (30 minutes for a movie/100 pages for a book). I bribed the 14 year old to read 100 pages of Old Man’s War…she smacked me when I tried to take it back.
I do have to echo some of the other commenters. As a 38 year old single guy, there’s basically zero chance of me browsing the YA section. But even if I did wander over there (which I’d only do if there were no kids around) I’m not sure I could actually buy some of them. Take, for example, the Scott Westerfield books mentioned. Wow are those covers not aimed at me, and I’d be really uncomfortable taking them up to the register. Photographs of cute jailbait in that style basically make it a ‘no sale’.
I’ve gravitated to YA for years! I can’t believe the wonderful variety of books kids are exposed to now. Other excellent YA authors not mentioned: Pat Wrede, Tamora Pierce, Isabeau Wilce, Robin McKinley, Clare Dunkle, Eoin Colfer, Eva Ibbotson, Sherwood Smith, Jane Yolen, Brian Jacques, Rick Riordan. I was going to mention Steven Gould, but then I saw he popped up. Love the Jumper books.
Quite a few folks are interested in having a YA con and I’d definitely love to go. There’s an LJ community they’ve started, which doesn’t seem to be making much (obvious) progress, alas.
Wow, it never occurred to me that guys might feel weird browsing the YA aisle. As a woman and a mother, I’ve never felt self-conscious about it. Sometimes I’m shopping for me, and sometimes I’m shopping for my kids. I can understand on a theoretical level why men might feel uncomfortable, but if I saw a guy browsing YA, my first thought would not be “pervert,” it would be “there’s a guy buying books for his kids.” (or younger brother… or niece…)
Small plug for a local indy bookseller, Books Inc., which has a low-tech solution to the perceived problem of cross-genre shelving: Affixed to shelves are readily-visible handwritten labels which advise the viewer that other works by this [cross-genre] author are shelved in the Other Section over there ==>, or which bear a recommendation or brief review personally written by a staff member ¹.
Personally, I found it amusing when purveyors of bottled fermented grape/grain products adopted a similar approach (and locally, albeit not incidentally, pulled out from their financial nose-dive in the process).
While professional marketroids might sneer at the folksy, homemade quality of such an approach, I’ve seen it work all too often² to believe that the slick, MallWart-oriented alternatives have a competitive chance.
 Moreover, a member who invariably (upon questioning) had actually read the book and knew its good points. Package that if you can!
 All too often for the health of my finances, but enough to keep BI alive and thriving. (Do I spend a lot of time in bookstores? Did Washington free the slaves? Did Lincoln cut down the cherry tree?)
There are times when being a very short female is helpful. When I do go wandering into the YA area I’m usually shorter than almost all the teens. Not that that’s the only indicator of age, but it does tend to make people think I’m younger than I am.
I’m not sure if I’d call it SF/F exactly, but Lois Lowry’s The Giver is one of my all time favorites in the YA area. Reading it now there’s so much more there than when I read it the first time when it was age appropriate. It always impresses me when an author can do that.
Quoth Stephen Gould @52:
WHAT??!? *googles frumiously*
Oh, snap – that was optioned years ago. Have there been any recent developments on that front, or is it doomed to a “coming-soon”-becomes-never fate?
Thank you, thank you, thank you. As a middle school Language Arts teacher, those are the books I run to particularly when I have a male student who claims he doesn’t like to read. I read Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series and was entranced — can’t wait to get my hands on the next one. Other great sf/f writers are Lois Lowry, Robert Jordan, Orson Scott Card—just to name a few more. Yes, I do consider some of Lois Lowry’s works sf/f especially The Giver, Gathering Blue, and Messenger. Don’t forget The Merlin series(can’t remember the author) either.
I to have never felt odd in the YA section but I guess that is because I’m a mom, middle school teacher, and a woman.
FINALLY got around to reading the Uglies trilogy by Scott Westerfeld (Scalzi has been single handedly extending my desired reading list to gargantuan proportions making it nearly unmanageable) – and the real mark of how great they were for me is just how I couldn’t stop reading despite how much the main character got on my very last nerve. I was *so* tired of her crap nearly every step of the way, but became heavily invested in the people around her and the evolution of the storyline and Tally herself.
That’s how you know you have a winner. When even total disgust with the main character can’t keep you away. =D
For those who have trouble finding YA books, don’t forget to check out places like half.com, where you can get lots of books for very cheaply! When you read as fast as I do, you gotta save $$ wherever you can!
Mary Frances @ 56: I can’t speak for others, but I don’t expect bookstores to buy 2-3 times as many copies of books and just magically fit them in. ;-)
But some bookstores make horrible use of shelving space or have large empty swaths.
Plus, when they get 5 copies of something, well…they can shelve in multiple sections without throwing something else out. They have to fit them all anyway (yeah, in a different section–but they don’t have the exact same space or # of books in each section anyway, so I suspect just like when they get a glut or dearth of books in genre X, they could make it work) (or maybe not).
The new Stephanie Meyer will have huge crossover, I read it, definitely more YA than adult, but I like both so it does not bother me. To answer the question from #7 about why some bookshops don’t display books in multiple sections, it is pretty easy: first, publishers push their own books to displayed where they want them(some authors too, watch for James Patterson’s YA books go from the YA section to adult because he does not like it that adults are not reading them); and secondly, most shops have a POS system that only allows for one catagory per book(I know some shops have systems that will allow for a book to me in as many as 4 sections, alas I do not work at one), and putting it in multiply sections would hamper part time workers from helping customers locate the books if it should sell out of one section it is listed to be in–and as the book world continues to change there are a lot more part time workers. I like the ideas that Books Inc has above to help with that solution. I think the bookshops that I work for has some amazing childrens booksellers who know both sections and can help in that avenue. YA and teen books are the wave of the future.
Adult readers wishing YA fantasy were in “their” section make the mistake, I think, of assuming it’s all about them. Why shouldn’t some of the best books being written today be where teens can easily find and enjoy them and share them with their friends?
As for the rest … I’m with those who browse the adult SF/fantasy section and feel (not necessarily fairly) like what’s there looks like more of the same; while the SF/fantasy in the YA section is more likely to genuinely excite me. Which could also be a matter of taste, of course.
Still, it does bring up the possibility that one way to revitalize adult SF/fantasy might be to take a good hard look at what YA is doing right, and to try to bring some of that back to adult books.
This came up on the BB thread as well, and I just have to echo Alpha Lyra’s surprise that anyone really feels that self-conscious about browsing in the YA section specifically because he’s afraid of being seen as a pedophile/predator. Do these people also avoid the cereal aisle of the grocery store, or stores that sell CDs and video games, or shopping malls in general? I understand that children are pretty commonly found in large concentrations in those places, also. If you go around acting creepy, people will think you’re creepy no matter what section of the store (or the world!) you’re standing in. If you’re not acting creepy, no one in or around the YA section will even give you a second glance.
And to Skip@62 who said Photographs of cute jailbait in that style basically make it a ‘no sale’.
The primary audience for the Uglies series is teenage girls, although I think they make great reads for nearly everybody. It makes perfect sense that the pictures on the covers of the books are just (slightly idealized and/or photoshopped) images of teenage girls’ faces, and it’s both tacky and insulting to use the word “jailbait” to describe them. If your primary frame of reference to teen girls is really whether or not it’s legal for you to have sex with them, maybe the books really aren’t for you.
Well, tonight after work my wife and I went to Borders because she had to pick something up. I’d gone to the YA section in the store previously to search for a specific book (Justine Larbalestier) but honestly hadn’t browsed it.
I did so tonight. Well, honestly it’s Sturgeon’s Law like any other section in the bookstore, but there seemed to be a portion of the quality 10% that I did not recognize at all. And was intrigued by.
There were many, many authors I’d never heard of before and quite a number of books I picked up that I was tempted by. (blew the monthly budget on a new laptop, but made notes for next month)
Seriously, people, check out the YA section.
I actually have read Westerfeld, Risen Empire, Evolution, short stories, etc. – one of his short stories is one of my favorites.
However, no evidence in the novels that he would likely be Hugo-level, and from that, why would anyone expect kids books, with their limitations, to be be better than what he has produced before, as far as adult interest goes? That isn’t logical, whether it is books, music, tv, movies, or whatever.
I picked one up, flipped through it, and it looked like one of those wide-spaced short sort of things that mike take 40 minutes maybe. Not that interesting, at a browsing glance.
It is nice if he has sold heaps of them, and maybe they are really good. The Harry Potter thing has sold a lot more though, and Rowling is a hell of a lot worse writer than Westerfeld. The formative SF experience might just well be Star Wars novels, too, if you are going to talk about sales as indicators of quality?
I don’t think ‘you should read this because it is a formative experience for that generation’ is a great reason, though, for a general adult reader. They should be explaining why they would be interesting to such a person other than because ‘they are cool’. Naruto and Ultimate Spider-Man have been/are cool too, are you reading those?
Maybe for writers who want to flog books, perhaps and hence sell more because more kids books get sold.
Yeah, the not reporting book sales is stupid, and presumably it is for why you say, they don’t want to you to know tat book 267 sold 372 copies, or whatever.
Even comics (and trades) track their bestsellers to some underrepresented proportion – because the numbers don’t really include non-US sales.
Here’s the strange thing: I still occasionally see the complaint that SF is dying because nobody’s writing ripping yarns to hook the kids.
At my house we like Scott Westerfeld enough to use him as a frame of reference. I was reading Weregirls: Birth of the Pack by Petru Popescu the other day and made a grumbly noise and my youngest son asked me if the book was annoying me and I said, “No but this girl is acting sort of Tally Youngbloodish and if she doesn’t stop she’s going to alienate all her friends.” The next day he’d snitched the book from me. I think he finished it before I did.
I agree with everyone who suggested Midnighters. We also loved Peeps and the sequel, the name of which escapes me but the opening sequence is quite vivid in my spotty memory.
And anyone curious about Stephenie Meyer’s adult book The Host can download a pdf excerpt here. I’m sorry to say it didn’t engage me. Hopefully I’ll have better luck with the actual book.
My books are crossover YA/Adult, which leads to interesting positioning in public libraries. (All bookstores put them in the adult section, but some librarians take one look at the cover and shove them into junior fic. Others put one volume of the series into adult, one into junior, and – naturally – completely ignore the third.)
Another thing YA authors have going for them – school visits & purchases by school libraries. For example, there are twice as many of my books in school libraries around Australia & NZ than there are in public libraries. And as you say, today’s YA reader is tomorrow’s consumer of adult SF.
Another middle school teacher here. There are two authors I don’t see mentioned here that are definitely worth checking out. One of the best YA SF/F authors here in Canada is Kenneth Oppel. The Silverwing series and Airborne and Skybreaker are outstanding reads for both kids and adults. I also love the Bartamaeous trilogy by Jonathon Stroud; a bit of Harry Potter-ish fantasy with an edge. Plus a smart-aleck genie.
Late to this party, but I was on a trip, and as fate would have it I had packed the first two books in Scott’s Midnighters series. I tore through them pretty fast and had a rocking time. Thanks Scott! Next up, Uglies.
A YA author who I personally enjoy very much is Philip Reeve. His Hungry City series is fantastic and vivid, and I’d recommend it to anyone. Kind of reminded me of China Mieville, but for a younger audience, which is a good thing. This is a good thread too for finding new authors who I’ve never heard of. Good times.
I’ve been in so many conversations about the YA section recently, getting blank stares when I mention the authors I’m currently interested in: Westerfeld, Larbalestier, Meyer, Nix, Holly Blank, Megan Whalen Turner….
My problem with one local chain (Hasting’s) is that they divide YA into four sections: young adult, young adult series, teen, and teen series. I don’t know what the difference between young adult and teen is, and neither do the managers. They’re also woefully misinformed about which books are in series and which aren’t. I’ve found various books in Tamora Pierce’s series shelved in each of the four, and Westerfeld’s in three. When asked, the managers shrug and say, “Corporate tells us where we have to shelve them.”
I want to find someone from Corporate and beat them senseless.
“Wow, it never occurred to me that guys might feel weird browsing the YA aisle. As a woman and a mother, I’ve never felt self-conscious about it. Sometimes I’m shopping for me, and sometimes I’m shopping for my kids. I can understand on a theoretical level why men might feel uncomfortable, but if I saw a guy browsing YA, my first thought would not be ‘pervert,’ it would be ‘there’s a guy buying books for his kids.'”
Well, as you say, you’re a woman, and as such you have a different frame of reference and set of experiences than a man. Specifically, you don’t live in a society where large numbers of people regard you as a potential sexual deviant or predator, and fear, scrutinize, and evaluate you accordingly. American men do. (Witness Crunchbird’s casual insinuation that another poster is some sort of sex-obsessed ephebophile.)
Your first thought isn’t “pervert,” but not everyone is that reasonable. There are a lot of suspicious/prejudiced people out there, and a fair number of hysterics. An actual incident or confrontation is not very likely, but it’s just unpleasant to be in a situation where you know that a large portion of passersby are silently wondering if you’re a pedophile.
You have most definitely hit the nail on the head, Scalzi. If you’re not reading YA sf these days, you’re missing out on some really good stuff.
I did just want to comment on what Kendall (#31 above) said:
I’ve been to panels at cons like “YA books you may be missing,” aimed at adults. Dragon*Con stuck theirs in the YA track (sigh) and while most folks in attendance were adults, I’d’ve’ put it into the literature track if the aim was to expose more adults to YA. (But then, I find Dragon*Con’s tracks almost as rigid as B&M store shelving practices.)
I’m the director of that programming track at Dragon*Con. We serve three main populations within my track: adult readers of YA, teachers/librarians, and kids and teen readers of YA sf. Kids who read sf are very sophisticated and can handle some serious book discussions, and I serve them alongside the adults. Just because it’s labeled YA does not make this literature “fluff.” Just like SF in general has been in the ghetto of genre literature, to dismiss YA SF as merely kids’ stuff is sad.
The YA panels are in the YA Lit track room because that’s what we do: talk about YA. I do have constraints not to delve into Tolkien or adult sf simply because there are other programming tracks specifically for that. S
Scott and others are doing the adult sf community a huge service. He (and many, many others) are building the next generation of your readers, as well as the future writers of our genre.
Bev @ 83: I know it’s not fluff, I don’t dismiss it all as kids’ stuff, etc.! Woah, some of your comments on what I said, um . . . appear to be responding to something other than what I said.
Thanks for elaborting on your programming constraints. It sounds as rigid as it looked to me from the outside, but maybe that’s not as bad as I thought. Thinking about it in bookstore terms, maybe just (more?) crosslisting would be helpful, to folks like me who like a variety of things. I’ve heard some folks just go to things in one or two tracks; maybe I’m unusual at D*C for perusing the full list to figure out what looked good to me (that’s how I found the YA panel[s?] I went to)….
Anyway, I’m still puzzled by parts of your middle paragraph, but I meant no offense and I enjoyed everything I went to at Dragon*con. Including the YA stuff, darnit! :-)
As the YA SF/F reviewer for Realms of Fantasy, I’m constantly trying to keep an eye on what’s new, notable, selling, and worth mentioning in the YA field. I’ve found some truly excellent books that way, books I enjoy just as much as any ‘adult’ book, if not more so.
Westerfeld is a must read for me, among many other – Tiffany Trent, Amanda Marrone, Melissa Marr, Susan Beth Pfeffer, Rick Yancey, Rick Riordan, Libba Bray, Sarah Beth Durst, those are just a handful of the relative newcomers who’ve joined the venerable ranks of the ones I grew up with (Diana Wynne Jones, Diane Duane, Madeleine L’Engle, and so forth).
Is it any wonder I get so excited about getting to read and review YA in a professional capacity?
I’ll have to keep my eyes out for Zoe’s Tale.
Even though I’m 56, I’m more than willing to read YA novels if I discover them – like the His Dark Materials trilogy or Harry Potter books. The Heinlein juveniles I read as a kid are still my favorite books to reread.
However, like you so carefully point out, the books and authors are just not on my radar. Is there a good place to read reviews and see news about the best YA novels. I don’t want to immerse myself into the field, but I wouldn’t mind a good website with a low traffic RSS feed that kept me informed. Or is there a columnist for a magazine that reviews YA novels you recommend?
Skip @ 62 “As a 38 year old single guy, there’s basically zero chance of me browsing the YA section.”
I’m 40 years old and have two daughters (10 and 13). I’m comfortable browsing the YA section, although, like you, I’d avoid it if there were kids there. (Sad comment on our society, but there you go.)
However, the counter staff don’t know or care who the books are for. It’s a sale, full stop.
On the other hand, there’s always Amazon or eBay.
Hey, thanks for some good YA suggestions!!! I love reading YA fantasy–in fact my library always has a better selection of fantasy in YA than they do in the adult section. I have always been drawn to YA fantasy–they are usually Happier Ending books–they are also generally quick, pleasant reads…I haven’t read any in a while (last one was the Lion Boy series by Corder) and this a great list. Galleycat (which blogged about your post) added a few titles for me too.
I don’t have any trouble shopping in the YA section of the library or the bookstore. As someone else said, I have found that when I see the artwork on the YA and the overall package–it’s something I can get excited about. Mind, I won’t stop reading adult books, but there is something about the magic of a YA story that captures me like adult books sometimes fail to do.
*Scurries off to see which titles the library has and which have to be purchased online*
Blue Tyson @#75 said:
“However, no evidence in the novels that he would likely be Hugo-level, and from that, why would anyone expect kids books, with their limitations, to be be better than what he has produced before, as far as adult interest goes? That isn’t logical, whether it is books, music, tv, movies, or whatever. I picked one up, flipped through it, and it looked like one of those wide-spaced short sort of things that mike take 40 minutes maybe. Not that interesting, at a browsing glance.”
In other words:
“I haven’t read the books, but I flipped through one once, noticing mostly the margins, and it didn’t look good, so the dozens of other comments here that it’s award-winning, mind blowing, bestselling, and instructive to an entire generation of readers are clearly off.”
What are these “limitations” of which you speak that are apparently existent in “kids books?” The fact that the characters are kids?
Dig deeper people!
You haven’t lived until you’re read the Artemis Fowl books. Even if they are technically “middle grades” they kick ass! Not to mention The Thief Lord (and said author’s other books). No one here’s mentioned the Pendragon series either.
I’m fortunate, I have a 13-year-old daughter who is a reader–she gets in trouble in class for reading instead of paying attention. Not only do I get to buy her all my favorite books from my youth, but I get to discover all sorts of fantastic stuff from what she brings home. As a YA writer (six as yet unpublished novels, ARGH), it’s all “research” to me.
I read Uglies years ago. What’s all the rage now is the Warriors series–like Watership Down but with cats. The writing is pedestrian, the science really awful (it’s a produced series, apparently, rather than a single author) but gads, she reads every one! She’s so busy reading all the great new MG/YA SF/F that I have to remember to provide her with some balance: Le Guin, Heinlein, the fabulous and fantastic Riddlemaster of Hed series, Bradbury… Susan Cooper.
Of course, often as not, all I get is a bored roll of the eyes, “Mawwwwm, I read that in FIFTH GRADE!” Oh dear, I have insulted her intelligence.
Now, if I can just sell my latest MS, a YA SF. My daughter, who flogged me chapter by chapter through the drafting with a constant stream of “are you finished yet?” tells me it’s great.
I am going to take a very contrarian position.
Brilliant and entertaining as individual works of YA SF might be, I think the privileging of the whole category is a pernicious trend that might actually do as much harm to “adult” SF as it does good, and is reflective of the infantilization of American culture and obsessiveness of parental guidance and indulgence.
In a nutshell: every book of YA SF written means one less book of “adult” SF written by that author.
In all likelihood, we will never see another EVOLUTION’S DARLING by Scott Westerfeld, given the success of his YA stuff.
So the genre is deprived on that level.
Also, the books do not even really work as “gateway drugs,” as the very stats that John cites will attest.
The first HARRY POTTER book came out eleven years ago. Its initial millions of readers are now in their twenties. Theoretically, they should have all transitioned smoothly into buying “adult” SF and fantasy. Scott’s first MIDNIGHTERS book is four years old now. Where are all the nineteen-year-olds who read this book at age fifteen? Not buying “adult” SF, according to your own stats.
Juvenile reading is a temporary phase. Most adults discard fiction-reading as they enter their late teens. So while YA SF might be providing lots of temporary pleasure, it’s really not doing much to solidify later reading habits.
Lastly, as “mature” as modern YA SF might be, it is never fully “adult.” Can you imagine the shrieks from the PTA if EVOLUTION’S DARLING got on a high-school reading list, and its contents were made public? YA SF does not stretch young minds, it works in their comfort zone.
Here’s my obligatory Old Fart passage: when I was a kid in the sixties, there was very little YA SF compared to today. Consequently, at age 13 I was reading PKD, Ballard, Aldiss, Simak, Moorcock, et al. The whole adult canon of modern SF. That thrilling attempt to push past my own teenaged worldview was what hooked me into adulthood. Not having a cozy literature constructed for my age group, much as modern parents drive their kids everywhere and hold their hands in every activity.
Here’s some numbers on the age range of people reading and buying books: http://www.businesswire.com/portal/site/google/?ndmViewId=news_view&newsId=20080407005211&newsLang=en
The survey is a bit limited. I don’t think they broke it down quite enough or asked quite the right questions. But the upshot is that the 63+ year olds are reading the most, but the Gen Xers (32-43) are buying more.
I submit that those who grew up with Harry Potter, the percentage of them that are ‘adults’ now, are busy getting their lives started. They’re in school, or in the workforce, or partying it up, or settling down, or some combination of all of the above.
They may not have time to read what they’d like to. They may not have the money to buy books and are borrowing from friends or the library. Or they may have the feeling that they’ve ‘outgrown’ fantasy and science fiction. That doesn’t mean they won’t come back to it.
Reading tastes change as we go through life. I’m reading more nonfiction now than I did just a couple years ago. I’m reading more science fiction than a few years ago, though likely less than when I was a teenager. I’m reading more fantasy overall than when I was a kid.
Don’t discount the Harry Potter generation just yet!
Crunchbird # 73: Harsh but fair. Honi soit qui mal y pense (loose translation: He who smelt it dealt it). YMMV.
And my daughter is five.
No, Westerfeld doesn’t count, at least in my view, not because he writes YA, but because he writes so poorly – lame style, simplistic characterisation. Today the trend is towards a good story – necessary, but not sufficient!
I agree entirely with Paul Di Filippo about ‘comfort zone’. As an adult, I don’t want to read only about adolescent concerns and adolescent characters. And I certainly don’t want to write only, or mostly, about them. Adolescence is what – an eighth? a tenth of our lives?
Paul at 91 – I can tell you what some of those 19 year olds are reading now, college textbooks. I mentor a 19 year old freshman at UMBC who is premed. Last summer he was IMing me right and left as he read Old Man’s War (which he read after I wrote about it in my weekly column) and shared his favorite bits, then he started on a Terry Goodkind series, interspersed with a couple of other books. Then school started and he hasn’t been able to read a single work of fiction.
My 18 year old son, who read the Hitchhiker’s Guide books before he started first grade, who is ordinarily quite an avid reader, going through at least five books a week, has had to slow way down. When he is reading he’s reading small books (right now Gentlemen of the Road) because he hasn’t got the time to read anything long.
My oldest, who is in art school, is also pressed for time and has only read two novels recently; Territory by Emma Bull and Otherland by Tad Williams, which admittedly is quite long but I think he’s only got through book one so far.
Once school is out for the summer hopefully they’ll be able to go back to reading again but they won’t be buying many books, not with tuition as dear as it is. It’ll be the library for all of them.
My youngest, going on 16, is the one who has the most time for reading. I’ll be curious to see what happens to his pleasure reading when he hits college.
“Lastly, as “mature” as modern YA SF might be, it is never fully “adult.” Can you imagine the shrieks from the PTA if EVOLUTION’S DARLING got on a high-school reading list, and its contents were made public? YA SF does not stretch young minds, it works in their comfort zone.”
Elizabeth Knox’s Dreamhunter Duet is as complex as any adult fantasy I’ve read in the last five years. There’s even romantic subtext involving a golem (and I’d say something else, but want to avoid spoilers).
It’s a fallacy to assume that the only YA being published or read is the type that lands on an acceptable high school reading list. Content itself–or the treatment of the subject matter–is no longer sufficient to knock you out of the YA ballpark (if it ever was). As far as content itself goes, I see far less difference between adult SFF and YA SFF–we could cite extreme examples, but they’d be exceptions and not the norm for either category.
“as complex as any adult fantasy I’ve read in the last five years”
Just in general, I’d say we have to keep in mind, too, that everything published as YA in the States wasn’t necessarily intended for YA to begin with — Pullman’s Dark Materials trilogy to start. How Knox intended her work (work originally conceived as YA or just redirected there) has to come into play.
(I’m just throwing that out there — I don’t know Knox’s work from a hole in the ground. Yet.)
Susan Cooper has said that she never considered herself a Young Adult author. She wrote books, and the books happened to appeal to young adults.
I find most of the stuff blowing me away these days is right there in the teen-read section. I wish I was getting knocked out by a wider variety, but that’s the way the page turns, I guess.
Here are some things I thought were part of a pool of general knowledge, but may actually be part of a public librarian’s general knowledge.
1. Fantasy and science fiction readers don’t generally care about age designations. They will read children’s, YA or adult if the title interests them. I believe I first heard this from Bev DeWeese, a librarian extrodinaire and, I think, one of the founders of WISCON and from my experience it rings true.
2. Children’s and young adult books stay in print longer for two reasons: there are new nine year olds, or fourteen year olds, or sixteen year olds every year to need books of a certain type; libraries are a key market for juvenile titles. If a title is still popular with kids and it wears out or gets lost, librarians just re-order it. Though for awhile the professional literature would like to have convinced librarians otherwise, we are still a force to be reckoned with in the kids market.
3. I know all the authors out there would prefer people bought books, but for those of you who would rather die than shop in the YA section of the bookstore, you could look for stuff at your local library. If you slip in during school hours, you may even have the YA area to yourself.
4. Most of the really good (the opeative word being good) children’s and YA authors write for that audience because the story they have to tell happens to fit that niche. I have heard any number of YA authors say they had no idea they were writing a YA book. Their agent just knew that was the market it would sell in.
It’s great to hear kudos for YA authors. A number of authors I’ve met that write for children and/or young adults tell me they are viewed as kind of second class citizens of the literary world — certainly beings of lesser importance, doing that thing that probably anyone could do.
That’s actually part of my point, Mac — if a (complex) book can be published happily in either section, then often there isn’t a material difference in content. Think of all the SFF originally published for adults that have been repackaged for teens in the past few years.
For the record, I’ve interviewed Knox and those books _were_ written as YA, and the second one is even dedicated to famous New Zealand YA author Margaret Mahy (whose stuff is also brilliant).
I just wanted to make two points.
1. YA authors can make more than you think. If a YA author is sucessfull, then they can choose to travel to schools all over the US. A typical honororium for a one day school visit is 1600.00 plus expenses. A particularly popular author can have their schedule booked years in advance. ( I know because I just booked someone to come to our school.)
2. My second point is that it is very likely that adults are not realizing that the YA SFF is SFF because it isn’t really presented in the same way. Not just the different section in the bookstore, but the entire presentation is different. YA books expect a lot of the marketing to be done by word of mouth, either from teen to teen, or from teacher to student. Book talks are a major part of any school librarian’s job. My choosing a book to talk about during class guarentees that it will be read by a number of students. Some of those students will choose to purchase the book rather than rent from the library.
I am a young adult. This however does not sway me from walking into the adult science fiction sections in bookstores. I usually do not buy from this section. But I do buy from the YA. I’m not saying that adult SF doesn’t make sense to me, it does. It’s just that as a teenager, I can relate more to the stories and characters of YA. Now, that doesn’t mean that adults can’t relate to these stories too. But in my opinion, generally YA SF is more entertaining. Some adult SF books are great, but I generally prefer YA.
I have to say that Scott Westerfeld is absolutely amazing!!! I can relate to the characters in his books, and the stories are believable and fictional at the same time. The Uglies and Midnighters trilogies, Extras, and Peeps are all amazing works of SF. By favorite book of all time, however, is A Wind in the Door. I also appreciate the many other books by Madeline L’Engle. Truesight by David Stahler Jr., The Giver by Lois Lowry, and The Last Book in the Universe by Rodman Philbrick are other favorites of mine. Except for Peeps, all these books are set in the future. None of these futures are a bit alike, and they all have their problems, but I still find myself looking forward to the future just because I’ve read them.
Unfortunately, I cannot name any adult fiction books that made as big of an impact on me. I’m not trying to put down adult SF books and authors, but they don’t captivate me in the same way.
[…]With the recent boom in the YA market, this may change, and some say that YA SF is big business.[…]
I need a list of SF writers that are writing YA books- just realized China Mieville wrote a new book but I didn’t see it at the book store because it is considered YA.