4/22/11

Jumping on the YA Bandwagon

Authors writing in multiple genres is nothing new. Neither is authors abandoning one successful genre to write in another. A decade ago, authors jumped ship from romance to mystery. Or from historical to paranormal. Today, it seems everyone is jumping on the Young Adult bandwagon.

At the RT Book Lovers Convention earlier this month, YA was everywhere. There was even a "Teen Day." And many of the YA authors are well known romance authors. Authors who are successful writing historical or contemporary adult romances are cranking out YA books now.

The reasons are varied: an expanding market for YA (with corresponding publisher demand), a perceived decline in the historical or contemporary romance market, author boredom with the genre they write in, pressure from agents and publishers to conform...

Personally, I get irritated when it seems as if an author is jumping on a trend bandwagon. I'm fine with an author who writes in more than one genre. But I intensely dislike it when an author basically abandons one readership in pursuit of another. Readers who make an effort to remember an author's name, who anxiously await the next book are apparently worthless when weighed against the almighty $.

No, authors don't "owe" their readership anything. And they're free to write what they like. But it still irks me when authors seem to choose a new genre to write in just because everyone else is doing it.
At RT, my friend, who is primarily a historical or contemporary reader ONLY, discovered that the only author she truly wanted to meet at RT, Sophie Jordan, is writing YA. And that Kathryn Smith, one of her favorite authors, is abandoning historicals entirely (along with her name!) to write Steampunk and YA as Kady Cross. It was disheartening to hear that her favorite authors are moving away from the types of books she likes to read.

Ms. Smith told us the reason for change was a result of her "voice" not fitting well with historicals. And a negative reaction to her last book for Avon from her readers. Personally, I think the negative reaction had far more to do with the publisher than the genre, because Avon readers have far more specific expectations than those of most other publishers.

I get that writing is a business. But it's also a partnership. Readers invest far more than just money when they put an author on their "auto-buy" lists.  And when an author abandons one genre in favor of a (potentially) more lucrative one it feels like a broken promise. Even if marketability is not the sole (or even the primary) reason for the change in genres.

What about you? Do you care when an author moves on to other genres? Have you had a favorite author quit writing the types of books you read?

13 comments:

  1. Oh man, yes. I'm a western lover after all. Lorraine Heath, Nicole Jordan, Susan Kay Law, Pamela Morsi, Maggie Osborne (altho she retired) etc. etc. etc.

    This exodus to YA has been generally curious though. I get that the market is growing, interesting and diverse - but is the market really THAT big? Especially since teens have so much competing for their entertainment dollars. I know teens have disposable income, but really - do they have THAT much? Have things changed that much since I was a teen? I read a lot - but I didn't buy books. I was 100% a library user. Period. Are there enough adult reading & buying YA to equate good sales numbers? I'm geniunely curious! Guess we'll just have to wait and see how it all shakes out.

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  2. I think that at this point the YA market is glutted. When I was a teenager I did not read much YA but read mostly sci fi, fantasy, and historical romance. Looking about campus, I see most students have similar reading habits. I buy and read quite a bit of YA now, but am *very* fussy about it and tend to avoid bandwagon stuff/novels. Most of the time I feel that the YA label is erroneous, superfluous, and sort of condescending, but that is a different debate all together.

    For some authors, perhaps it is getting their foot in the door? Didn't Jim Butcher start with his UF series, but really dreamed of publishing a high fantasy series?

    While I think it is normal to experiment writing other genres or even get tired of one, you need to take into consideration how many people have had the brilliant idea to write a dystopian YA or a vampire romance novel. *rolls eyes*

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  3. @Wendy,

    I was never much of a library user growing up. It wasn't near my house, and my mom was bad about taking me. But I did buy a lot of used books.

    I think most of YA is aimed at schools and libraries. The genre is nearly 100% hardcover or trade paper.

    As an adult, I've yet to read a YA book beyond the Harry Potter series. Teenage protags just aren't that interesting to me. And honestly, outside of our online community, I'm not seeing a lot of adults read YA unless they want to see what their children are reading.

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  4. @Dympha,

    I think it's glutted, too, but what do I know? And by the time I was a YA, I was reading adult fiction. Piers Anthony, those Dragonlance novels, Gone with the Wind... The stuff that passes for YA now, I read as an elementary school student.

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  5. I am amused by what has now been labelled as YA now. I never read Sweet Valley High and books like that, I was reading mostly adult fiction in elementary school as well.

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  6. Authors are going to follow the trail where the money is.

    I noticed more historical authors leaving the genre. Look at Lisa Kleypas, Julie Garwood, Iris Johansen all left historicals behind.

    YA is the hot genre and when you hear about authors making 6-7 figures, I guess it makes sense to jump on the bandwagon.

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  7. @Kb,

    I get the reasoning. But it still irks me. And yes, it seems like historical authors are primarily the ones abandoning ship.

    I guess another question would be why are the historical authors feeling compelled to leave? The $ or something else?

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  8. I know a lot of people have been ticked off by Jennifer Egan's comments on women writers and bold originality, but they really got me thinking about this whole phenomenon you're talking about.

    As with most things, I'm highly ambivalent about this, as well. I don't think writers necessarily want, need, nor can do the same thing from book to book, and I can totally see wanting the variety of writing in the artificial categories we call voice or genre (I'm always confused about whether YA is a genre or just a voice, since we tend to talk about it both ways, I think). At the same time, though, I wonder how much of the shift is due to a desire to keep up with the *perceived* market and how much is true desire to write differently. And I also wonder what impact, if any, this shifting around has on the overall character of an author's books, especially if she's writing a lot of books in a lot of different genres/voices at once.

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  9. Maybe it's partly just a desire to try a new genre, challenge themselves with something different. Maybe it's a little weariness with their own genre and the need for a little change of pace. Maybe they feel like writing something that doesn't require as much research as historical romance does (or should.)

    Is it the money or just a wish to have the huge number of readers that other genres have? Historical is a demanding genre in which to write. It's tough to feel that most readers are more interested in contemporary romances or urban fantasy or paranormals. You can sometimes get the lonely sense you're writing in a genre whose time has passed, so to speak. :D

    There's a definite appeal in trying out a new genre, to see how you'd stand against the authors who are currently making that genre boom.

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  10. Wow, had no idea historical romance writers were jumping ship. Interesting. I do read YA novels, btw. I find the YA label insignificant, however. Stories are complex and interesting enough for adults to read. The POV is usually given from the teen POV. As an aside, I had one YA author tell me that publishers are resistant toward protagonists being in their early 20's..thought that was interesting, too. ---Keishon

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  11. I read and enjoy YA novels, but I'm dismayed to hear about so many authors of historicals jumping ship.
    It seems like many popular YA novels are being optioned for film--for instance Firelight by Sophie Jordan who you mentioned. Maybe that's part of the appeal (and money-making potential) of writing YA paranormals.

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  12. Sometimes I feel like the last reader who won't read YA. I know I probably miss tons of good books but I love my romance- mostly my contemps and I don't want to lose them. And yes it makes me sad when author leave the love of my leave to write something I just don't like that much. So I stay put and buy what I can.

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  13. @Hannah,

    I think it has a lot to do with the earning potential. And I'm a little confused by how many authors have taken offense at being labeled a "Bandwagoner."

    Call me cynical, but there's no way 100% of the new-to-YA authors decided independently to write a YA just because they thought they had a story to tell that was meant for Young Adults.

    @SusiSunshine,

    I don't read YA either. I've read Harry Potter, but not Twilight. I plan to try some of the recommended books out there, but I'm not understanding the mad love so many *adults* have for YA.

    I am also not sure why books have to be limited to such age specific labels.

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