Young Adult Fiction comes of age?
Is YA (Young Adult) publishing about to come of age in the UK? There’s certainly been a lot of activity of late, with a flurry of new ventures springing up all over. Penguin launched their Razorbill list last June, and since then, Orion Children’s Books, Egmont and Hodder Children’s Books have all announced the creation of new YA imprints. So what’s behind the trend? Caroline Sanderson investigates.
concept, aggressively commercial YA fiction. There’s been a cultural shift going on too. Entertainment trends are becoming ever more blurred with films like Avatar being enjoyed by all ages. There’s a real appetite for entertainment and escapism and much less concern about what age-range it’s for.’
At Chicken House, Publisher Barry Cunningham also talks of cultural shifts. ‘It’s no coincidence that the explosion in YA publishing has coincided with the growth of social media. When I was at Penguin it was felt that we couldn’t publish for YA because it would have to get past the gatekeepers – parents and teachers – first. Whereas now, YA is a proper consumer group in its own right.’
Stella Paskins, Publisher at Egmont which launches a new, as yet unnamed YA imprint in Spring 2012, concurs. ‘It’s a very different target market, and one which likes discovering things for itself. These are avid and passionate readers who expand their own universes. They don’t like being told what to like.’
US or UK YA fiction?
The success of the Stephenie Meyer and other paranormal series has also prompted UK retailers to take a longer, harder look at how they sell YA.
Says Amanda Punter, ‘For years the received wisdom was that YA commercial fiction was very difficult to publish in the UK, even though in the US it was thriving. The difference was that US retailers took it seriously. When UK retailers saw the potential for sales, that all changed. Waterstone’s started to push Dark Romance as a separate section, drawing in readers who would never darken the aisles of the children’s section.’
4 Books for Keeps No.188 May 2011
he success of Stephenie Meyer and Twilight has changed the market radically,’ says Amanda Punter, Publisher at Razorbill. ‘Twilight prompted an explosion in high
So far, so good for business. But with YA publishing and in fact the whole YA community in the US much more developed and sophisticated than it is here, is there a danger that home-grown commercial YA fiction will lose out to more established US authors?
Orion’s new YA list, Indigo, launching this September, features novels by a number of big US names, including Cinda Williams Chima, Holly Black and Harlan Coben. Publisher Fiona Kennedy says they are far from dominant however. ‘I think that with authors like Marcus Sedgwick, Sally Gardner and Alan Gibbons also on the list, it’s actually pretty UK led. And it’s not a question of nationality anyway. What makes a book from the US work in the UK is the same as for any book – voice and story. We look for this above anything else.’
Barry Cunningham believes that in any case, it’s a two-way street. ‘There’s a swathe of US books here at the moment, but before that, the US was dominated by UK fantasy. Waves go both ways. At the moment we’re engulfed by vampires, but the tide is receding. And UK thrillers have traditionally been strong.’
‘We are slightly playing catch-up in the UK,’ says Amanda Punter. ‘There has traditionally been more noise in the US, more writers’ communities, more discussion of YA. But we’ve got some great UK writers and we’re keen to develop this and have more of them working internationally. They need to be good though. We don’t in any way want to be tokenistic about it.’
An international focus
The international possibilities offered by YA authors in the UK do seem to be the subject of increased focus by publishers for an audience which can so easily find out about any book, from any country.
‘We’ve always thought internationally,’ says Fiona Kennedy. ‘Ours has always been a very rights-led list at Orion. Having said that, it is getting harder to buy world rights.’ Territories it seems, ain’t what they used to be. But do all authors naturally cross from, say, the UK to the US?
‘Even though the US has led the publishing because they have a more established market, we’re becoming more global in our successes,’ says Punter. ‘If you compare Book Scan with say The New York Times bestseller list, you see a lot of the same books. All the markets are becoming closer. That’s why we’ve shifted to doing global publication dates where we can, like we did for Diary of a Wimpy Kid.’
Barry Cunningham has a similar view. ‘This is the most international of all children’s age-groups. They have the same experiences, they use the same media, meaning that we can publish globally and simultaneously as recommendations go across borders.’
Adult novelists Not only has YA gone international, but it seems that it is
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