Who is Really Reading “Young Adult” Fiction?

“Young Adult” fiction is a hot market. Big-time adult fiction authors like James Patterson and Harlan Coben wouldn’t be writing in this genre if they weren’t selling books. Lots of books.

Still, I have to wonder who is really reading all of these young adult novels.

Last week I went to the bookstore twice. On Saturday, after dropping my foster dog off at an adoption event, I camped out in the store’s coffee shop to work. My little bistro table had a pretty good view of the young adult section. Though the section saw a regular stream of traffic, in the nearly six hours I spied on shoppers, only one pair of teenagers stopped to look at the books, and they walked away empty-handed.

The biggest shoppers/buyers? By far, women who appeared to be in their thirties and forties. A couple of men also stopped by, but bought nothing.

Perhaps these results aren’t so surprising, I told myself. After all, women are by far the bigger book-buying crowd. And they were probably buying the books for their kids, right?

As I left the store, I saw a young adult book that picqued my interest. I didn’t buy it then, but went back on Sunday to get it. Again, no kids in the young adult section. But there were three women. I struck up a conversation, as two of them were looking at the same book that had interested me. Yes, it sounded interesting. No, they weren’t shopping for their children, but for themselves. They liked the young adult books.

Lightbulb moment. I like them, too. These days, I’m probably reading two young adult books for every adult book I pick up.

Last spring I wrote a proposal for an adult fiction novel with an eighteen-year-old main character. I was told that young “heroes” (it wasn’t a romance, so let’s call him a protagonist, okay?) were a tough sell. Now I am sure that this industry professional whom I trust implicity was correct — a young protagonist would be a tough sell. To a publishing house. I’m not so sure it’s such a tough sell to readers.

Publishing houses, in my opinion, are notoriously slow to react to trends in the rest of the world. Part of the problem is the length of time it takes to move a book idea from proposal, to manuscript, to book on the shelves. By the time the novel is out, the world has changed again. The rest of the problem is a reluctance to take risks in an industry which is already challenged financially (print books).

The trend I see is that many adults really like stories about young people. Who doesn’t like to relive their youth in some way?

Look how many adults are reading Harry Potter, Twilight. Look how many are Glee TV fanatics. How many were 90210 fanatics back in the day? How many millions of copies did The Lovely Bones sell? (note: The Lovely Bones was not a young adult novel, but did feature a young (and dead) protagonist)

Young adult novels these days deal with deep, real-life issues, yet imbue a simplicity of story that is very appealing to many adult readers (including me). Sure, vampires still dominate the shelves, but there is plenty of variety. Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games series is dark and delicious. Rosemary Clement-Moore’s Texas Gothic is fun with a dash of spooky. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is creep-tastic.

So I ask you, my friends, have you tried young adult fiction? Do you know any young adults who actually read it, or is it really just another genre of adult fiction?

4 Responses to “Who is Really Reading “Young Adult” Fiction?”

  1. 1 Brinda September 28, 2011 at 8:07 pm

    I’m newly published and don’t have the data to prove it, but I’d say that more adults than teens have read my YA book so far. I’ve had several adults contact me or approach me to say they enjoyed reading my book.

    As a reader myself, I have read more young adult books this year than adult fiction. I now have my sister hooked on YA.

  2. 2 vickietaylor October 6, 2011 at 2:04 pm

    I think you are spot on, Brinda!

    What is the name of your book? I’d like to pick it up…

  3. 3 Brinda Berry (@Brinda_Berry) October 6, 2011 at 2:39 pm

    Vickie, thanks for asking. My YA fantasy is The Waiting Booth. If you go to my website http://www.brindaberry.com, you can read the blurb and see all the links for purchasing. I think the novel you mentioned with the 18-year old protag. would fit in the New Adult category. I do have several college students in my book. Mia (the main character) is a senior in high school.

    Since you are a YA reader like me, I must recommend Lauren Oliver’s two books, Delirium and Before I Fall. They are my recent favorites.

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