08 November 2010

Par: A Normal Romance

Last month we learned that Barnes & Noble was reorganizing its teen fiction shelves into three categories: Paranormal Romance, Fantasy, and everything else. Including contemporary realism—originally the heart of YA—plus historical, comedic, professional, adventure, horses, dead mothers, and any other type of teen fiction ever invented. And B&N is, as usual, following the market.

Literary agent Mary Kole just used her Kid Lit blog to discuss what that market situation means for “everything else”:

today’s kidlit market, which got going in earnest over a decade ago with HARRY POTTER and has now been given another injection of money and attention by the TWILIGHT franchise, has always been anchored in fantasy and paranormal. And that’s where the trends — somewhat unfortunately for me and my contemporary/realistic tastes — all seem to be going. Even if there’s no outright fantasy, magic, or paranormal element, novels would rather be set in dystopian times than in the good old real world.

Not only do I know this from observation of bookstore shelves and publishers’ upcoming catalogues, but I’ve heard countless editors discussing how difficult it is to get a straight contemporary/realistic story through their acquisitions committees. . . . So what can writers of contemporary realism do in order to make their books more saleable? Well, romance is a huge hook. . . . And you do have to have a really strong hook. It’s not enough to just have a story of one girl’s senior year as she experiences different relationships and events at school. “Coming of age” is no longer a great sales hook, because every book for the kidlit market is, in one way or another, a coming of age story.
After surveying some recent non-fantastic hits in teen fiction, Kole concludes: “What sets all of these books apart, in my mind, is character, voice, and one high-concept element in the plot that makes the premise a great read. I do think a romantic element, or at least an unrequited crush, is vital to a contemporary/realistic YA story.”

1 comment:

gail said...

This is interesting because I've been noticing in the libraries I frequent enormous amounts of fantasy and paranormal not just on the new YA shelves but the new children's as well. Yes, it's been there for a while, but it's overwhelming now.

I think putting so many of your eggs in one basket like that is risky. And the quote about a romantic element being necessary in realistic YA isn't good news, either. First-person narrators already have a stranglehold on YA fiction, and if the publishing establishment is going to require romance, too, I think teen readers are going to find themselves being offered the same books over and over, year after year.

I think a lot of teenagers are going to be making the jump to adult fiction at younger ages just to find something different to read.