Student opinion: Why publishing for teens and young adults is more vital than ever
As we’ve become more and more inseparable from our tech, literature has changed. It’s sharp, precise, and – particularly important for a teen audiences – constant.
During a class I attended last October as part of my Publishing course at Bath Spa, we discussed the highs and lows of publishing revenue in 2019, and initially the figures didn’t surprise me.
Audiobook and ebook sales were at an all-time high, having increased 49% in the past year alone, with Michelle Obama’s internationally-acclaimed Becoming winning a Grammy for best spoken-word album in January 2020.
Revenue from children’s books also climbed, as did interest in crime, thriller and historical fiction (grossing $3.3 billion in America in 2019).
Meanwhile, according to The Guardian, Young Adult novel sales were at an all-time low, down by 26.1% – the worst decline the genre has seen in eleven years. YA has always been a key seller in the book industry; it attracts a vast audience and a wealth of collaborators in film, TV and merchandising – often resulting in lucrative global brands.
I grew up in the ‘The Hunger Games’ era, where YA dystopian romances dominated, so its subsequent decline surprised me. When I asked my Publishing lecturer why this market had taken such a hit, her answer surprised me again:
“People aren’t brave in writing anything new or different anymore. Because no-one’s taking that risk, publishers don’t want to take that risk, so they publish the same format, and people are getting bored.”
This statement completely changed my perspective as a Creative Writing and Publishing student, my goals as a publishing professional, and my view of literature as a whole.
YA fiction can’t become obsolete, can it?
If the YA sector is no longer daring and pushing boundaries, but is instead stuck in a rut and starting to stale, can it be saved? How can we communicate with teenagers, give them something to relate and connect to, if we don’t keep writing for them? And what about TV shows, plays, films and social media? Publishing connects with the teen and young adult demographic through all of these media, and to let YA publishing become ‘safe’ is irresponsible.
Now, I’m determined to use my degree to help get YA novels out of their rut, so that they can continue to break down barriers and test expectations.
I think my degree will bring an advantage. Initially, I’d use it to gain employment in the industry and build up my knowledge by working alongside publishers while pursuing my writing.
The rise, fall and rise of the YA genre
I’ve grown up through the rise of YA, seen books become movies become household names. I’ve also watched the bookshelves dwindle, felt enjoyment in that genre lessen, and become a dissatisfied consumer myself.
I now want to be part of a push for another rise: whether as author or publisher. All it takes is someone willing to take that risk; someone who’s prepared to give a book or concept a chance.
The world continues to progress because of risk-takers, and literature is no exception. Look at Shakespeare – he pioneered YA romance with As You Like It, Much Ado About Nothing and Twelfth Night: tales of teens who are utterly obsessed with each other and prepared to do the most insanely stupid things to be with the person they love, no matter what society demands.
Settings have shifted – we’ve moved from the Forest of Arden to dystopian dictatorships and near-future sci-fi realms. Now, narratives are as likely to be driven by the desolation of the entire world as they are by the class divide.
Writers and publishers haven’t changed much, though. Shakespeare pushed, as did many who came after him. It wasn’t just the writers who drove change; it was the people behind them, too.
As a writer and a publisher, I’m determined to be at the front of that charge.
Disclaimer: The Bath Spa blog is a platform for individual voices and views from the University's community. Any views or opinions represented in individual posts are personal, belonging solely to the author of that post, and do not represent the views of other Bath Spa staff, or Bath Spa University as an institution.
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