Why Do Adults Gravitate To Young Adult Fiction?

I believe that more adults are reading the epic fantasy Wycaan Master series than young adults. I know there is a fair proportion of teenagers and even pre-teens reading, but judging by the emails, blog comments, and twitter responses, it is predominately adults. This is all despite the books being written for and with my children, which I describe here. It begs the question why are adults drawn to Young Adult (YA) books?

imgresI found this article by Kelly Johnson. In her post, she debunks the following statements (her words):

1. Our culture encourages an unnatural and prolonged adolescence 

2. YA books are escapist since you don’t have to look beneath the surface of them. They are easier to grasp.

3. Adults read YA because they aren’t able to read past a middle school or high school level because adults are getting dumber and dumber.

4. YA books are about hopefulness. Their problems aren’t really problems and they can be fixed. Also there’s always a happy ending, so it’s satisfying and fulfilling to adults. The characters are likable. 

5. Fill in the blank with your own justification here. Some examples may include: YA is all about first experiences; YA is nostalgia for adults; YA is cheaper than adult books and therefore more appealing to the wallet; and so forth.”

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I enjoyed Ms. Johnson’s fiery responses to these statements, but I felt let down when she finished with: “The only justification for why adults read YA books is this: they choose to. That’s it. That’s their reason. Adults read YA books because they as adults choose to do so.

I am disappointed. None of these reasons explain why an adult, working, raising a family, involved in a community, volunteering, following a sports team etc. would be so moved to take a few precious hours each day to sit and read, and then often reach out and engage with the author, fellow readers, come back to buy more books, and enter deep discussions online and at the pub.

Fiction is all about the plot, the characters, and the environment. It is true for John Grisham and Stephen King, and it is true for Terry Brooks, Christopher Paolini, and R.A. Salvatore.

When I read a John Grisham book, I am transported to Mississippi, to another time, and when I close the book at the end of a chapter, I worry about his characters and their choices. It is no different to George R.R. Martin who may kill off a few popular characters in the next chapter if he had a bad day.

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The issue, I think, is how we perceive YA. A young adult book means there is no sex, less violence and no profanity. There are certain boundaries not crossed if we want our youth to read them. But that is all it is. There is nothing here to prevent an adult from enjoying the book, unless you assume we are all sex-starved, violent, expletive-charged individuals, which would be sad, especially if this is how Hollywood and the mass media perceive us.

I am taking a few months break from the fourth Wycaan Master book to write an adult fantasy book.

I have not felt a need to raise the richness of language.

I have not made the characters deeper and more compelling.

I have not sought a more complex plot.

I have not deepened or diluted my world-building.

There are, to be honest, issues dealt with here that may be too dark to share with youth. I share a lot with my teen son, but would hesitate to share certain passages here. Characters deal with fears and obstacles that most of us who have children might not want them to read. There is sex and more graphic violence than in the Wycaan Master series, but that might yet get dialed down.

So what does make adults gravitate to YA novels? The problem is not with the answer. The question is simply wrong.

People read a story because it has a good plot, characters that the reader can bond with, a world that stimulates the imagination. This is the same for adults as it is for YA. YA is written within certain criteria in order to make them a safe space of teens. It certainly does not mean dumbing down or becoming predictable.

The discerning reader will be drawn to a book in their chosen genre simply because it is good: plot, characters, environment and strong writing.

A good novel is a good novel is a good novel…

So this seems like a good time to thank all of you who bought Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3 and any of my other novels. I read every blog comment, every tweet, every priceless review on Amazon.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Have a great week.

elfwriter

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of GalbriethThe First Decree, and Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3 – all released by Tourmaline Books. Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels including Unwanted Heroes. He swears there is a connection. More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter). Hang out with Alon on Google+ here.

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YA Epic Fantasy Readers and The Ebook Revolution

Last week’s post, Sex and Swords, generated a lot of great comments and a sound discussion. In the post, I wondered whether the author I was comparing myself to was selling more books than me because his audience are adults. Given that both of us sell more ebooks than tree books, am I likely to sell less books because young adults do not have the access to ebook readers that adults enjoy? Wait a moment  I need to tell my sons to get off screens and go play…

I wrote a post on another blog a couple of years ago and have taken material from there for this. There are a number of authors who have become bestsellers riding the ebook revolution. Amanda HockingJ.A. Konrath, and my own marketing guru, John Locke. But none of these fine people write for young adults (10-18 year old) – my primary market for the Wycaan Master series.

teenelectronic_396Laura Hazard Owen recently wrote: “The children’s and young adult e-book market faces special challenges not shared by the adult market, new research shows. And teens are slow to adopt ebooks, in part because they do not see ebooks as a social technology and they think there are too many restrictions on sharing digital titles.”

She reached her conclusion based on two online surveys commissioned by PubTrack Consumer towards the end of last year who surveyed 1,000 teenagers and 1,000 parents of pre-teens. The details of the survey can be found here – Children’s Publishing Goes Digital.   There are some interesting theories and statistics here. Firstly, youngsters are extremely social and want to share their books with friends and e-book technology is perceived as too restrictive. This is changing now and Amazon has been quick to identify this need. I thought that perhaps the teens did not have access to comfortable ebook readers. The majority has cell phones, but I am not including this. 60% of those surveyed receive technology from their parents as the latter upgrade.

images-7Ms. Hazard Owen makes another excellent point It is not just young adults propelling YA books like the Hunger Games trilogy onto ebook bestseller lists:

– 30-44-year-olds constitute 28 % of YA print book sales and 32 % of YA ebook sales.

-18-29-year-olds buy the most YA books, purchasing 31% of YA print sales and 35% of YA ebook sales.

Making a decision to invest in the YA fantasy ebook market doesn’t look as attractive as genres aimed at adults, but this is going to change as more young people receive the necessary devices. Also, the realization that the YA market goes not from 12-18, but 12-44 year olds make for a more encouraging prospect.

images-1A final interesting point is that this age group is more likely to buy a book because of a recommendation on a social network. Perhaps this prompted Amazon to make the investment to purchase Goodreads.

Now, please excuse me, this 49-year-old is going to read The Hunger Games, recommended to me by my 14-year-old son.

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Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and the 2013 Eric Hoffer Book Award for YA – At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriterFor more about the author, check out his website.

       

Size – Does It Matter?

So shoot me for false advertising, but I have a dilemma. I shared with you last week in A Tribute to Editors that I have received my manuscript to At The Walls Of Galbrieth back from my editor with lots of cuts and corrections. As I worked my way through, accepting 90% of the changes suggested, I realized that my word count was dropping drastically.

I am about 80% through the novel, which began at 96,000 words and is now down to about 85,000.

Epic fantasy novels are thick tombs, offering the promise to get lost in a mythical world for a month or so. It is not a novel that you can finish in a weekend (unless your weekend is very empty and you are a fast reader).

Even Young Adult books make good doorstops. The Christopher Paolinis’ of this world have proved that teenagers will stick with a long story if it is compelling enough.

So my first question is: Is there a minimum length? When I was shopping the Wycaan Master series, there were publishers who stipulated a word range, often 100,00+. It might be that they expected their editors to attack it with a scalpel, much as my editor did.

My second question regards world building, something we have touched on before at elfwriter. A lot of the scenery description has been edited out. The editor, like many in the writing world, believes that you shouldn’t reveal everything: about a person, room, scenery etc., but allow the reader to create their own image.

Certainly, anyone who has read a book after watching the movie  (or the other way around) can appreciate this.

Tolkien, the master, spent pages describing the forests and the trees. Many of us loved this while others skipped these long descriptions. I wonder whether a young, undiscovered Tolkien would (and please pardon the expression) suffer the long red, sharpie lines through these sections of his work (or the Track Changes equivalent – but that’s not how I think of the old professor).

There is a middle ground. My editor has challenged me to integrate the descriptions within an action scene or as a pivot for a character’s self-reflection. This is a great point and I plan to experiment with this in the future. Do you know of any writers who do a good job of integrating description into the flow of the plot or character development, without it feeling like a ‘description-dump’?

So two questions here: Does size matter? How much description is allowed?

As always, I appreciate your feedback and guidance.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He has written three epic fantasy novels and the first, which reached the Quarter Finals of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2012, is due out in January 2013 by Tourmaline Press. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).