The YA Market

Now that I have finally finished the third Ursula Marlow book, Unlikely Traitors, I’m turning my attention to a few ideas I have for a young adult novel and I need help! This is pretty much an entirely new area/market for me. I confess I’ve always been a sucker for children’s and YA books – I’ve devoured Harry Potter, guiltily polished off the Twilight series, relished the Luxe books and when it comes to TV and movies I have been known to have more than a passing interest in all things high school. I guess I just never grew up…so now I want to indulge my passion for history, mythology and mystery in the YA market – but where to start in terms of looking at the YA market? Here’s where I need some help.

My first question is the state of the YA mystery market…Is there even such a thing? It seems from my initial research that the YA market is dominated by paranormal and fantasy books. Even in the historical context what I’ve read has a decidedly paranormal bent – either that or it’s Gossip Girls for the 1900 set. So does anyone have any recommendations or insights into YA mysteries? Are there any that you would highly recommend? Is there even a market for YA mysteries anymore (most seem designed for a younger more middle grade or elementary school readership…)

The second question is – does history totally suck for most YA readers? This is another concern I have – that history equates with deadly dull – do you think that’s true? What about recommendations – any really cool historical YA books out there that I should check out?

Finally I have to wonder, am I actually thinking about a YA book or is it an adult book with a young protagonist??? At this stage it’s difficult for me to tell. I guess what I’m really wondering about is voice and which authors out there have a strong grasp of what I’d call the YA voice…Again any recommendations?

I’m at the research phase at the moment so any insight or recommendations you could provide would be greatly appreciated. It’s my first foray into the YA market but it feels right…Of course, writing the next Twilight series would definitely feel very, very, right…but at the moment I’ll settle for just gaining some insight into this market and (hopefully) writing the best book I can…

12 thoughts on “The YA Market

  1. Clare, your initial research sounds right, that fantasy and paranormal dominate current YA. I’ve taught at a number of conferences the last few years, and whenever there’s a teen contingent, they are nearly 100% into fantasy. The good news is they’re reading, and passionately. The bad news is that history doesn’t seem to hold much interest for them. But therein may lie the opportunity. If you can create a new niche in this market, you’d be the leader. The trick is finding the approach a publisher will get behind (but isn’t that always the “trick” anyway?)

  2. Ah yes…the trick to getting the publisher behind you:)…Thanks Jim for confirming that fantasy is in; history not so much!

  3. I tried my hand at a YA mystery last year, because of the lack of such a thing in the market. Silly me, I thought I could fill a void. Turns out nobody much wants to buy YA mysteries. That said, Kathryn Miller-Haines just signed a somewhat historical YA series; 1940s PI stuff. Alene(?) Ferguson writes contemporary forensic YA for Berkley. Other than that, yeah, it’s mostly fantasy and paranormal. If you want to write something historical, there’s scope in paranormal for that. Time travel, maybe? Nina Malkin has a new book out (or coming soon) called Swoon; it’s paranormal – guy from the 1700-1800s possesses body of modern day girl, and protag falls in love with him – I haven’t read it yet, but with that setup, I can imagine there might be some history worked into the book. It’s all in how you twist it, I think. Good luck, and I hope you fare better than I did. (Not that I’ve entirely given up hope yet…)

  4. Thanks Jennie! As always the publishing industry sounds as pooh-pooh as ever…I’ll check out the time travel one though – sounds cool!

  5. We have a solid basis of young adult mysteries that sell well, although nothing tops Harry and Twilight.

    At the risk of being sexist, I’ve noticed that the boys gravitate toward spy/action, and the girls want fantasy/romance. That’s why Harry and Twilight were so successful, they were a blending of the two.

    Could you do a fantasy historical?

    There are a lot of Big Names writing YA novels — Hiaasen, Parker, McCall Smith, Rollins — and they’re doing it because there’s a market. Tapping into it is a good idea.

    But I have to agree with Mr. Bell, historical in and of itself doesn’t do nearly as well as historical with dragons and magic.

  6. Clare, I wrote a handful of YA detective novels back in the 90’s, under contract for a nationally-known series. Over the years, the themes for this particular series changed from gothic/ghost/haunted house plots to much more modern ones. I think that as long as you hook into the concerns and interests of the YA audience, you won’t go wrong.

  7. Thanks Fran and Kathryn. I must admit Fran my ideas have a mythical if not fantasy element so I may play this up – depends on how the ideas evolve. Kathryn – i’m still toying with the mystery idea and it may turn out that it turns into a different book proposal – possibly for a younger readership.

  8. Hi, Clare.

    My two cents are likely worth less that their stated amount, but my understanding of the YA market is such that the actual age of YA readers skews much younger than people think. Teenagers, I’m told, want to read “adult” fiction (if only to avoid the stigma of a “kid’s book”), while at the same time, the racier YA stuff is deemed to be too old for the remaining tweener audience. The result is a lot of good material being published to the ether, thus the decline of the YA market.

    My book NATHAN’S RUN is sort of the classic example of a young protagonist written for the adult market, and it did pretty well because of it. I made the mistake of including too much raunchy language that got it banned from some school systems, but it still ended up with a very respectable YA readership while doing pretty well among adults, too.

    So, if the young protagonist in an adult book is a viable option, I’d recommend you go that way.


  9. I am of the opinion that if you can write a tight, taught, tense action packed thriller with some sort of fantasy notion (just enough to keep a teen or tween interested), keep the vocabulary at a moderate level and leave out the sex and foul language you can get a pretty substantial audience on several sides of the market.

    Of course that is merely the opinion of a person who has written but not been published and can therefore be taken with the proverbial grain of salt. On the other hand I read a lot, and after reading a rather good series from of my 11-year old’s collection find myself aspiring towards the endeavour of YA myself…if nothing else to have written something my tweens can read and me not feel guilty.

    All of that to say:

    Go for it, but add a dragon or a time traveller and skip the sailor talk & XXX.

  10. Thanks John and Basil – I think your advice is great. I’ll have to see where the book takes me but thinking more adult with a young protagonist is a good way to start (I think)

  11. So as a YA librarian (who reads mostly mysteries) there aren’t enough YA mysteries. Authors try to put a mystery slant on some of their novels but it doesn’t really work as a “real mystery.” But then again there’s also the plausibility of a teen detective. Teens aren’t dumb. They’ll come right out and say “but that could never happen in real life.”
    That said the blog EarlyWord had a great “round up” of YA mysteries:

    There seems to be more in the Middle Grade market than in YA.

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