If you want to write for young adults, you need to understand the publishing trends. So, let’s consider what you need to know.
THEN AND NOW
For the greater part of the past two decades, the success of the Lemony Snicket books, Stephanie Meyer’s vampire saga, Cressida Cowell’s “How to Train Your Dragon” series, the “Hunger Games Trilogy,” the “Divergent” series, and especially Harry Potter refocused attention on books for young people and increased opportunities for writers.
Alas, we’ve entered a challenging era, a downswing. The Young Adult category has diminished in recent years with some houses closing YA lines and others publishing fewer books. So, while you always should perceive the trends, pay even closer attention than normal while waiting for YA to cycle into another upswing.
So, what should you gather about current trends in writing for young people?
TREND 1: Fantasy Remains Hot
Artemis Fowl, Redwall, Twilight, rereleases of Narnia and The Hobbit, and other fantasy books for tweens and teens appeared at record rates despite the woes publishing faced in the production and sales of adult books a decade ago. Many YA novels landed on the USA Today list of bestsellers, dominating for more than a decade.
Today, fantasy remains hot. While vampires are passé and Dystopian is mostly out, world-building endures. Teens love the immersion experience of exploring a new world.
Christians can write compelling fantasy that draws YA readers. In fact, we seem to excel at “fantastic” stories in unique settings that convey the Truth of God’s redemption.
Madeleine L’Engle. J. R. R. Tolkien. C. S. Lewis. More recently, Frank Peretti. Karen Hancock. Donita K. Paul. Patrick Carr debuted with “The Staff and the Sword” series. Anne Elisabeth Stengl repeatedly wrote compelling fantasy with her Christy Award-winning series of novels “Tales of Goldstone Wood”. And Publisher’s Weekly and School Library Journal praised Robert Treskillard’s “The Merlin Spiral” series published by Zondervan BLINK.
Bryan Davis, author of the stunning “Dragons in our Midst” series, reemerged in 2020 with two Christy Award-nominated novels. Jill Williamson conveyed truth with her “Blood of Kings” series and continues to entice readers with her ongoing “Kinsman Chronicles.”
Lindsay Franklin’s “Weaver Trilogy” — with books 1 and 2 named finalists in the 2019 and 2020 Christy Awards, respectively, and the third in the series now a 2021 Christy nominee and a Realm Award finalist — offers YA readers the hope that the past can be redeemed. Shawn Smucker’s novel The Day the Angels Fell creatively chronicles a young boy’s discovery of where the Tree of Life has been hidden since the Fall.
Enclave Publishing caters to readers of speculative fiction and intends to make a difference. Their website says, “Our stories can seem strange but underneath they contain powerful expressions of Redemption, Truth and Hope.”
We need more Christian writers — and publishers — contributing to this genre and writing books that Hollywood clamors to turn into movies, giving us a broader voice to impart Truth to YA readers. Yes, Fantasy remains hot.
TREND 2: Retell Old Favorites
How many times have we seen the story of Cinderella retold? Just last year, Emily Deady’s clean romance, A Shard of Glass, released as the first in the “Fairy Tale Royals” series. Three versions of the Cinderella story appeared in theaters or streamed in the past six years.
Each generation of young people want to hear the old stories again and again, even in different versions. Retold stories remain popular.
In 2018, Gail Carson Levine invited readers back to the world of Ella Enchanted with a prequel retelling of Beauty and the Beast called Ogre Enchanted.
In the realm of Christian publishing, Melanie Dickerson is writing award-winning YA novels. “Her Fairy Tale Romance” series revisits and reimagines Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, The Princess and the Frog, Rapunzel, Aladdin, Mulan (The Warrior Maiden, a 2019 Christy Award winner), and the Pied Piper (The Piper’s Pursuit, a 2020 Christy Award finalist).
Kara Swanson’s Dust (a 2020 Realm Award finalist) and its sequel, Shadow, in the “Heirs of Neverland” series transports YA readers into a new interaction with the boy who never wanted to grow up.
YA book blogger Lisa Parkin writes that fairy tales and classic literary stories retold with a YA twist have “gained some serious traction and will continue with flair . . .”
When Christians retell the old stories, we have the ability to emphasize the truth in them.
Publishers are saying religion is out for young readers, but honest stories that point toward truth are selling, and publishers probably aren’t going to turn down a gripping tale about a 17-year-old girl who weds a pagan king to save her people or a young man who slays a giant and eventually becomes king of a divided nation. Retell old favorites in new, fascinating ways.
For more ways to appeal to YA readers, be sure to catch my second post on trends in YA novels, next Thursday, August 26.
Kim Peterson, a freelance editor, mentors aspiring writers. She has taught writing for 28 years, working extensively with both published authors and those seeking careers in writing, editing and publishing. She just concluded her 14th year teaching in the online professional writing program of Taylor University (Upland, Indiana).
Working as a freelance writer for 40+ years, Kim has written for Indiana newspapers and various periodicals and websites, including AppleSeeds, Encounter, Evangel, Vista and devotional markets. Her work has been published in Chicken Soup for the Soul, Rocking Chair Reader and, most recently, the Moments series, including Moments with Billy Graham.
Kim says of her childhood, “My mom made reading a priority. She surrounded me with books. When my morning chores were finished, she let me disappear up our cherry trees with a good book and a thermos of juice. I don’t climb trees to read any more, but I can still disappear into a great story.”