Where the kids are

I was so fortunate to be invited to participate in YA Fest at the Palmer Branch of the Easton  Public Library this past weekend. The event consisted of over 40 young adult authors selling and signing books. Some authors got to do a special meet-and-greet with teens. There was an author Skype session. The organizers raffled off huge stacks of books from various publishing houses. It was truly awesome.

It’s not every day, not every year, I get to meet other authors and gush over their books. Nor is it often I get to hear from readers directly. I was particularly floored to find out that the library’s adult YA book group read Grunge Gods and Graveyards for their book club pick. Since the story is set in 1996, it’s perfect for adult YA readers. Something I yell into the ether often.

I was also excited to simply network with other authors. Even after three books, I still feel like I’m getting my feet wet. My writing process will always be in flux, but the publishing business itself is something I’m completely unfamiliar with. I did get to ask a fellow YA crime fiction writer her thoughts on why the mystery/crime fiction genre doesn’t seem to be as popular in young adult literature as it does in the adult market. And she said, “Teens just read the adult stuff.” Okay, that makes sense. When I was a teen in the 90s, I read adult fiction because there wasn’t the incredible collection of YA books to pick from. But now, YA is a huge market, simply because adults are reading it as well. When I was a teen, my mom wasn’t pilfering books from my Christopher Pike library.

But here’s the thing. YA has a ton of sub genres. Everything from high fantasy to steampunk to contemporary issues to science fiction. There are also adult books in these same genres. But teens stick to the YA offerings because they speak to them. So why the mismatch in crime fiction? Is it simply because adult crime fiction is so well marketed, teens can’t help but pay attention? Gone Girl was such a huge success that if you’re a teen reader who loves crime fiction, why wouldn’t you read the book everyone is talking about? This becomes the gateway book for teen crime fiction readers, except it sends them into the adult sphere, rather than the YA.

Personally, I find YA crime fiction so fun to write. Two years ago, I wrote a post for Writers Digest on how to make a tenacious teen sleuth. You can read it here if you want. But one of the best parts of writing about teenage crime solvers is their ability to be subversive. To break rules because they’re kids, not cops. And because teens are often overlooked. They can eavesdrop. They have access to their peers that adults do not. And the crimes are often as sinister as anything you’d find in an adult read.

So if YA readers are jumping to adult crime fiction instead of reading the books aimed at their age group, then publishers need to see how they can market those titles directly. Take a lesson, perhaps, from the marketing launch of Girl on the Train.

Because there are amazing YA crime fiction books out. Teen readers need to know where to  find them.

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Author: Kimberly G. Giarratano

I'm a YA author. And mom of 3. I'm also tired. Very, very tired.

8 thoughts on “Where the kids are”

  1. My girl (16) is one who jumped directly to adult crime fiction. She just read GIRL ON THE TRAIN. When I asked why, she said she felt a lot of the YA stuff was “pandering.” She wants a meaty story. I don’t know why authors haven’t gone in that area.

  2. I’d speculate that the YA audience is still stuck in the Cinderella-phase of their development. They want to hear stories about heroines who are misunderstood by their parents and have fallen in love with someone who is attainable/unsuitable . I recall reading Tarot cards for a group of teenaged girls for Halloween one year and honestly, they kept pulling the same themes and that was it. They all felt like I was speaking just to them. Whereas, most mystery audience is more mature and we want to see justice.

  3. I think teens want to see justice but I can see, and I include myself, some YA crime fic books being soft on crime. I don’t really write about the murder, so much as what happened after the murder. But there’s a new crop of books coming out that explore dark themes. Mindy McGinnis comes to mind. Maybe, YA crime fic hasn’t had its moment yet.

  4. First, you’re right … there’s nothing better than hanging out with other writers, whether it’s in your genre or not. It’s one of those things that definitely “fills my cup.” Second, I agree with Sue that you may be in front of a curve. The problem with trends is that you don’t know you’re in one until it’s over! I think there is probably a combo reason for teens connecting more with adult crime fiction: the perception (or reality? I dunno, I’m not widely read there) that the crimes are less crime-based and maybe more hit-you-over-the-head-to-teach-you-a-lesson based; the crimes, as was said, aren’t as meaty; and yes, as always, the marketing.

    Regardless of the reason, everyone finds books they like, so you just keep writing good ones and readers will find them!

  5. Wahoo for everything Becky said, especially the last sentence.

    Back in the day (OMG, did I just type that?) I went from Nancy Drew to Agatha Christie to Mary Roberts Rhinehart to whoever and back to Nancy Drew. There was no YA. That doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be nice for a young reader to find multiple options, it just means perhaps it’s not understood yet.

  6. Like Sam, I’m running a bit behind on my commenting, but I am so glad I read this. Yes, to hanging out with your writing buds. Nothing makes for a better time. I can’t think of a better way to usher in a personal spring. No matter what the genre, I come home pumped.

    Your post really got me thinking about YA and mystery/crime fiction, though. It’s been a million years since I read YA and not having kids of my own, I can’t claim any second-hand experience other than my own youth. Of course, there was Nancy Drew, but she really wasn’t what I think of when I think YA. She was younger, more of what is now Tween. But I remember a book called Take me to my Friend. I must have been 13, maybe 14 when I read it. The book gives me chills to this day. Not only was it a wonderful mystery (although when I tried to find it to give it to a friend’s granddaughter every review I read panned it to the point that I did not buy the book–too embarrassed–so maybe I had lousy taste) but it was also the story of a grandmother and granddaughter bonding and the daughter learning to understand and forgive her mother. A lesson I needed very much at that age. I don’t remember the title of any other YA mystery I read at the time, but I remember deliberately seeking them out and devouring them. And moving on to the adult version when I could get my hands on them. I hope there is a market for YA mysteries. They teach so much more than who dun it!

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