There’s no question about it: The young adult (YA) audience is a hot market, one that is steadily growing in popularity and garnering attention from young readers as well as literary critics. This means that this market is healthier than ever–and so is the competition for getting published. So what are the keys to, shares invaluable advice for walking in the shoes of the YA reader.
INSIDE THE MIND OF YOUR YOUNG ADULT READER
There’s something crucial that I want you to remember about YA, and that’s the all-consuming nature of being a teenager. It’s that sense of possibility. That feeling of your heart welling so big it could explode. It used to happen for me when I was driving around my hometown, late at night, in my wizard-purple Ford Taurus (before the hip redesign, thankyouverymuch) and the perfect song would come on the radio. Everything felt so big and so important in that moment, like all the parts of the universe had finally—yet fleetingly—clicked into place.
Remember the electricity of adolescence? You have your first love, your first heartbreak, your first truly selfless act, your first betrayal, your first seriously bad decision, your first moment of profound pride, the first time you’re a hero. These milestones space out as we age, but when you’re a teenager, they all happen in very close proximity to one another.
The decisions you’re making feel like they will have ramifications forever. You feel by turns invincible and vulnerable, inconsequential and permanent. All of these experiences are ones you’re having for the very first time, and you’re packed into a group with hundreds of other teens who feel the exact same way (though they hardly ever let on). So you’re also isolated and craving community, which is why you search for a book that feels like it’s written just for you.
It’s, in a word, intense.
I like to quote a YA-before-it-was-YA novel, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky, which was published in 1999 for the adult market (my, how times have changed). In one scene, his teen characters go through a tunnel and emerge into a beautiful view of city lights. The narrator, Charlie, says:
“And in that moment, I swear we were infinite.”
Romance and Darkness
Teens feel everything very intensely, and two things in particular: An interest in romance and darkness. If you’ve been in the teen section of a bookstore recently, you’ll know what I mean. It seems as if every cover greets you with the same combination of a pouting girl, a brooding boy, and the colors purple and black.
Paranormal and dystopian are such forces in the marketplace that I’m dedicating this entire section to explaining them. First, the discouraging fact: These genres are on the wane, so I wouldn’t dive into them right now if I were you. A lot of publishers are committed to paranormal and dystopian trilogies through 2014 and even 2015, and they’re not signing up many new projects in these veins.
A lot of readers and writers (and yes, editors and agents) are getting tired of these genres and wondering why they took off with such velocity in the first place. When I think about teen readers and their mindset, the reasons become clear.
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I recommend Little Brother by Cory Doctorow. He allows his book to be read for free.