I sat down with my new writing students earlier this week and we talked about the middle grade and YA market. I am a firm believer that if you're going to write, you should read and know what your readers are reading. So I want all my students to know what's on the market now.
It used to be that, when I was working with teens regularly in public libraries, I didn't have to put any effort into knowing what was trending. All I had to do was look at the returns cart and see what people have been reading. But now that I'm more on the writing end of the book world, it takes a little extra work. So I stop by the local bookstore and library and chat up the clerks (yes! they're the ones who know!). And I check out titles on readers sites like Goodreads and LibraryThing. And I research what the publishers are saying.
Now that we're three quarters of the way through 2013, I thought it would be fun to return to what some of the publishers were forecasting, and compare it to what we're experiencing in reading trends. Last December, the Scholastic editors offered their 2013 forecast predicting the top 10 trends in children's books. So how did they do? Pretty darn good. I compared their list to Amazon's Best Books of the Year So Far for middle grade and teen readers and here's what I found:
1. Bullying. One book for teens specifically includes the subject classification of "bullying," but others tap into the concept more subtly.
2. Sci Fi. Please, even I could have predicted that one. Fourteen of their best books fall into that genre.
3. Intriguing nonfiction. Ok, this was a little harder to sell, but there is a memoir on the best teen list that fits the bill.
4. Novels in cartoons. This might be the only miss, although I would have to check in with the selectors at Amazon to see if maybe they considered that a different category, because I know this style book is crazy popular with readers.
5. Kid lit on the screen. Every time a movie ad comes on, my husband turns to me and waits for me to say, "based on the book." Coming up: Catching Fire!
6. War. While this didn't really hit the middle grade listing, the teen list had a decent smattering of war stories.
7. Tough girls. Please, are there any girl characters that aren't strong females these days? I should hope not.
8. Survival stories. Otherwise known as adventure stories, these are prolific in middle grade. If you want to add in the idea of "surviving" regular life (like high school) you could include every single book on the market.
9. Spotlight on diversity. Settings and character backgrounds have definitely stretched out from the classic white, middle-class experience. Hooray!
10. Nature runs amok. My favorite. And apparently a favorite of teen readers, too. Although I do get a little worried that people are growing up expecting the world to end at any moment.
So there you have it. What the market is doing now. Stuff missing that's been popular in the past few years? Vampires and zombies. Stuff showing up more and more? Fairy tale retellings and orphans. Of course, that doesn't mean you have to write based onwhat's on the market. Sometimes it pays off to think about what's not on the list. Who knows, maybe you'll start the next trend.
I'm a freelance writer whose writing has appeared in Northwest Travel and The Writer magazines. I write fiction for teens and middle readers, and teach a course on writing children's and YA fiction. I have facilitated workshops and groups across the country on everything from creative writing to target marketing.