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We NEED YA books for Teens….

Question: Does the adult interest in the YA market push teens out of the equation? Are publishers publishing for true young adults?  Are libraries building collections for young adults?

Adults should read YA for a variety of reasons, but teens need and deserve titles written specifically for them.  Read more.

So, I came across this article from the Digital Book Wire the other day.  In it’s entirety, it says (bolding mine):

For the next generation of readers, the genre classification system might be a tad out of date.
“The genre classification system is becoming irrelevant to teens,” said Elizabeth Perle, editor of the Huffington Post Youth Network speaking on a panel at the Publishing Perspectives YA: What’s Next? conference at Scholastic headquarters in downtown Manhattan.
As more people are discovering books online and through ebook retailers, the “teen” section of the bookstore and its commensurate sub-sections are becoming less important to how teens discover books. And the idea of what is young-adult literature is changing as more adults are reading books like The Hunger Games and kids have more access to adult books.
“There is very little that YA can’t cover now,” said Dan Weiss, a Scholastic veteran and current publisher at large at St. Martin’s Press, a division of Macmillan. He added that teens are “probably” reading Fifty Shades of Grey.
The key to the YA market might not be building books that fit certain genres but exposing literature that has universal appeal to both children and adults to the right audiences. “Reaching teens is a marketing challenge, not an editorial challenge,” said Weiss.
Does this bother you like it bothers me?  It should.  It means that teen/young adult materials are facing a crisis, and if something isn’t done about it, the way we have it now will be a faint memory.

A publisher for a major house (the house that started the New Adult trend, by the way) has publicly said that reaching teens is a MARKETING challenge, and that YA is changing because ADULTS have finally discovered what we as teen librarians and specialists have known all along (that it’s excellent reading) is extremely disheartening.  It means that YA will be shaped not by what topics and trends teens need or want to be reading but what ADULTS are finding to be in vogue.  We’re already seeing this at a library level, with collections being shaped by what type of YA is being checked out- if adults are the ones checking out materials from the YA collection, and as teen librarians we aren’t aware of it, we could be ordering materials to feed the adults, rather than our teens.

The fact this publisher thinks that teens are “probably” already reading Fifty Shades of Grey is disturbing in that a) they don’t know their audience, b) they don’t know the appropriateness for their audience, and c) they think that Fifty Shades of Grey is OK for teens.  Older teens maybe, and that is the whole purpose for the term “cross-over.”  However, I don’t know any parent who is involved in their teen’s reading habits would would let their thirteen or  fourteen year old read 50 Shades of Grey, and that is the starting point of most teen collections.

The idea that the future key to YA market is not “fitting genres” but doing things with universal appeal is heading right back to the 1960s, when there weren’t teen novels.  We’ll have adult, New Adult, juvenile and picture book, and teens will be right back to not fitting in anywhere.  This is such a huge step backwards!

We NEED teen books FOR teens.  Teens can always find adult books if they want something beyond YA- that’s a given, and has been there forever.  The fact is that discussions about fitting in, finding oneself, first loves, first crushes, identity, sexuality, culture and many others NEED to be written for teens, with teens in the protagonist roles so that there are books where teens are not invalidated, belittled, or marginalized.  Otherwise, we will be doing the greatest disservice to teens that I can imagine.

5 Reasons We Need YA Books to be for and about teens:

1) Teens are a unique developmental age group, they need and deserve developmentally appropriate books

2) The teen years bridge both the children and adult realms in unique ways and teens don’t like being classified as either children or adults

3) The teenage years are very formative years with unique challenges, they need books that recognize this and speak to them in authentic ways

4) Teens already feel marginalized by society, they need libraries and the literature they read to validate their life experiences and send the message that they have value

5) Seriously, if you haven’t heard me say it before: The 40 Developmental Assets

Current research from PW indicates that adults are buying a lot of teen titles. I love teen fiction, but we can’t let adults and their purchasing power overtake the needs – and interests – of teens to the point that they are once again marginalized in both publishing and library services. Teens deserve – and need – age appropriate books, collections and services.  Adults, read YA titles because they are well written titles that help you understand and remember the teenage years or even because you enjoy them – I encourage this – but let’s keep making sure that YA titles are written for and about teens, because their place in the world needs to be recognized and affirmed.

By Christie Gibrich and Karen Jensen


  1. Very thoughtful and timely article. I hadn't thought of it in these terms. Thanks for the food for thought.

  2. I'm totally with you on why focusing on teen lit for teens and having separate programming is important, but despite what marketing departments at publishing houses are saying/doing, I think YA lit is going to be just fine. But I'm glad everyone is talking about this.

  3. I'm a fan of YA books but I do agree that teens should not be left out. I was told that the YA category covers the ages between 13-25. Wow! Maybe there should be a new category that is just for teens. The subject matter in many YA books are inappropriate for younger teens. As adults we need to go back to the drawing board to figure out a better labeling and marketing system. Btw I skim, google, and read what my teen is reading. Sometimes this issues are just simple parenting and can be resolved with better communication.

  4. Oy. Definitely a concern. However…

    “The fact this publisher thinks that teens are “probably” already reading Fifty Shades of Grey is disturbing in that a) they don't know their audience, b) they don't know the appropriateness for their audience…”

    We think that's the key. We think this is one publisher who is maybe speaking without fully thinking, and/or just doesn't fully get it.

    Even before there were giant bookstores, or Amazon, or marketing “rules,” people were writing books for teens. That's certainly not going to stop now.

    What may or may not change is how those teens find those books. But with people like you around, we're confident there will always be a way. 😉

  5. Are the adults and teens reading different YA books? I'd like to see the numbers on that sometime. I do know that when I was a teen (like, 12-13) I was already beginning to move out of the YA section–and my favorite YA books at that point (His Dark Materials, the Abhorsen trilogy) were ones that would have appealed to adults as well. Just a thought.

  6. I can't agree that YA literature is being shaped by the desires of adult readers. Go into a bookstore and check out the YA section (and subsections) and you'll find just the kind of books this writer is demanding — books that appeal to teens. That they may also appeal to their parents suggests that there are many books (thankfully) that are not written for a single audience. Teens can enjoy adult authors just as adults eat up The Hunger Games. There's nothing wrong with books that appeal to more than one audience. One problem is the lack of encouragement of reading in school and at home. Kids spend far too much time on Facebook and Twitter, playing video games, doing homework (which can take hours at night) watching the latest video going viral on YouTube and the like (and that doesn't account for extracurricular activities, especially those to keep the next generation physically fit) at the expense of reading. There are just so many hours in the day and without encouragement reading may take the lowest priority.

  7. The problem with creating a new system is that YA/teen lit is FOR teens- where would they be in a new system, and how would you sort it? You can't base it on age because, for instance, a 12 year old in my area could be in a vastly different experience age wise than a 14 year old in Karen's service area, and would need the edgy books to deal with their situations.

    Then again, I'm not of the opinion that YA goes up to 25, either, so hey, YMMV.


  8. We certainly hope so! My problem is that the publishing industry certainly control what comes TO teens to a large extent, and if they feel that they're reading certain things, or that teens 'need' certain things (see the hub-bub about the lack of good literature for teens and the common core), then it's going to impact what we get to offer our teens…

  9. I know that mine have very different tastes, but that could be my area… The adults that have gotten into YA (not reading professionals) are going for the romance/paranormal, whereas my teens are completely over that for the most part, and are back to dystopias and real life, with gritty things thrown in.

    My teens also seem to like to be ahead of the curve; they'll pick up something before it hits big (Hunger Games, Beautiful Creatures, Immortal Instruments, etc.) but the adults seem to come along after the movies come along, and then want to talk on end about the WONDERFUL book they've just discovered that everyone else must read, when the teen has read it and all the sequels already. LOL

    My teens also float back and forth throughout YA and adult- they'll branch out to authors that I suggest in adult, and then venture forth and find things, but then seem more drawn to the YA area for now. Whether that's a timing/scheduling/lack of interest thing, I'm not sure. I know that I can sell certain adult authors based on interests to teens, but they might not stay adult readers. They especially like tie-ins, like HALO based books, or Game of Thrones, or Walking Dead (graphic novels and now novelizations)….


  10. I don't think anyone is saying that we want to not encourage reading in teens- far from it. What I was pointing out was that a publisher, who is in control of what comes into the marketplace and into the hands of teens, thinks that there is not a need for teen materials and that writing for teens is more marketing than editorial (their words, not mine).

    I'm not asking for books that APPEAL to a specific audience- certainly I (and those who write on this blog) enjoy teen books as I read them constantly. I'm also not saying that adults have to stay in adult sections and teens have to stay in teen- it's not going to happen, nor should it. I'm worried about the fact that a publisher has said that there's no EDITORIAL difference between adult books and teen books, when there is a world of difference.

  11. I read a lot of YA and sometimes I finish a book and think, “Wow, what an incredible book.” Then I step back and wonder how many teens will read it if it's not put on an assigned reading list. I think some YA writers are more interested in impressing adult readers than connecting with young adult readers.

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  13. But I also think we tend to underestimate teens. There are a wide variety of teen books out there, from Reluctant Readers, to paranormal and more. It is important that we not forget that there are very literate, even literary, teens who like to be challenged and explore deeper texts. That is why it is important to have such a wide variety and broad spectrum. I was a voracious reader as a teen, forced to go to the adult area often because of the types of things being written in the day for teens. I would be in book heaven today having both excellently written books that had relatable characters and scenarios to my life.

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  15. I was truly inspired with your blog post. You have the passion, the drive and the will in one package. How I wish every individual is focused and determined like you. Thanks a lot for sharing your experiences and I wish you all the success coz’ you deserve it. God Bless!

  16. Thanks! 8-D

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