Wouldn’t we authors like to know! Preferably, a good two years before YA readers actually want it, so we can write, edit, publish and market just in time to reach your ever changing moods, er needs. Just kidding. I read as much YA as the average teen, possibly more, so we’re in the same boat. I have wants of my own, and I also want to write a book that will resonate with readers.
Lucky for you, we have a little—just a little—insight into this very question. Recently Teens Can Write Too! ran a blog chain entitled What kinds of published books would you like to see more of? All of the respondents are teens who blog and write beyond their blogs. In fact, quite a few of them have some pretty amazing things to say, so when you’re finished reading this, check out their posts too.
While I was patiently—or not so patiently—waiting each day to read a new teen’s perspective on what they’d like to see published, I was also following a thread on Absolute Write entitled What would you like to see more or less of in YA? Between the two I was reading some great ideas about what books should be published in YA.
Light bulb moment: I should compile the information and write a blog post about it!
Honestly, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. The sheer mass of data was daunting. It’s taken me hours to compile it into any sort of usable format. You can check the data here if you like. But I’ll try to make some kind of intelligent response, since I promised I would, and I always keep my promises!
Part of the problem is that I didn’t really know what I was doing while compiling the data. Now that I’m finished, I might have done it a little differently, but there is no way I’m doing it over again! It’s like having a term paper almost finished two days before it’s due, and realizing you should have taken a different approach. No ‘A’ is worth the work it would take to start over. Sorry, but I have a life. 🙂
And what everyone wants is as diverse as the respondents themselves. I saw everything from wanting fan fiction traditionally published to requesting a book from the POV of a toddler! Funnily enough, I did have the idea to write a novel about babies and toddlers who turn into teens when they fall asleep and wake up in a fantasy adventure. Yeah, I haven’t written that one yet.
But there were some clear winners, and losers, so if you want the nitty-gritty details, check out the data, but I’ll give you an overview of the most common responses in this post.
22 teens responded to the question: What kinds of published books would you like to see more of? on the TCWT blog chain, while 40 respondents of an unidentified age responded to the question: What would you like to see more or less of in YA? on the Absolute Write Watercooler forums.
Fantasy received the most votes for a genre with at least 34% of respondents requesting more in some form. I say at least because it was one of those cases where I would have tallied the votes differently in hind sight. I might have missed a few votes asking for a specific aspect of Fantasy without actually requesting Fantasy in and of itself. Anyway, you get the point.
There wasn’t any one type of Fantasy that was a stand-out winner, but many different kinds were mentioned. In fact, I got the impression that readers would like to see more pure, traditional fantasy, not other types of stories posing as Fantasy, i.e. Romance set in a Fantasy world, Dystopian set in a Fantasy world, etc. The one thing they did not want to see was more Fantasy worlds based on Medieval Europe or books based on Western (Greek/Roman) Mythology. Japanese, Chinese, Egyptian and Celtic were mentioned (I know Celtic is Western, but at least it’s something other than Zeus and Poseidon!)
On a similar note, Science Fiction, which 17% of respondents requested more of, also seemed to center on more pure forms of its original genre. Readers especially seemed to dislike Dystopian disguised as Science Fiction. They want to see robots, cyborgs, cool technology that’s not the bad guy, and fun adventures that explore new worlds and revel in the joy of future technology and uncharted worlds.
Dystopia was a mixed bag with 9 readers wanting more while 5 wanted less or none. One thing was fairly clear though. Readers want something different than the tried-and-true Dystopia we’ve been experiencing over the last few years. Diversity, LGBTQ+, new settings, and most importantly, move away from the cliched tropes. No big, bad, government that’s outlawed something as the end-all of society and the rebel character fighting against it.
Re-tellings as a category received 10 nods, with respondents asking for non-traditional and non-European fairy tales, classics, Shakespeare, mash-ups and even re-tellings of Anne of Green Gables. One interesting note: only 1 of the 10 votes for re-tellings came from the unidentified age group. Clearly, teens are more interested in re-tellings than their older counterparts who read YA books.
Other than specific genres, another winner was seeing more Families in YA. 26% wanted to see healthy family units in some form, whether it’s present parents, quirky families, complex sibling dynamics, big families and any of the aforementioned relationships being the main emotional stake of the story.
One of the clear losers was Romance. Not so much the genre of Romance, but rather romance in YA books in whatever genre it happens to appear. 26% of readers said they are completely tired of or would like to see less romance in YA books. 18% said they’d like to see fewer or no love triangles and no “insta love” stories. 9 respondents asked for healthy teen love relationships with a wide variety of realistic relationship requests from LGBTQ+ to mutual breakups to relationships that end and the characters actually learn from them.
While there were many other responses I could talk about, the last one I’m going to discuss is Diversity. This was another category with a broad scope that I wish I had compiled the data differently. For example, 12 respondents requested diversity in all forms, while 16 specifically said they want novels where the diversity is not the issue of the book. I could have tallied all respondents that called for diversity in any form and had a large number of people wanting something more from their YA, but I didn’t do it that way. And since some readers requested multiple kinds of diversity, I couldn’t just add up all the specific requests because the number would have been inflated.
Anyway, over and over again I heard YA readers saying they wanted to read more about people of color, characters of all sexual orientations, people with physical disabilities and chronic illnesses, neuro-diversity and ethnic people living their culture in contemporary and futuristic settings. The one overriding theme to all of this was the diversity needed to be a part of a character’s life, and the readers want to see how it affects their lives, but it can’t be the point of the book. They want to see people of color in fantasy, a teen detective with Chron’s disease, a wheel chair bound action hero, and romance between characters of all sexual orientations. Those examples are made up based on some of the comments I read, but they’re pretty spot on from the types of diverse ideas they want to see written. They want to see a cross-section of America, and in some cases the world, that isn’t white, Christian and straight.
So, how do we use this information? Well, first of all it would be great to see agents and publishers take a look because my agent research has indicated that agents are looking for Contemporary right now. Yet that had extremely low response numbers from this completely unscientific poll. Unfortunately I don’t have any agents or publishers that follow my blog, so chances are slim for that. 😉
I guess, if you see your book in these results, then congratulations! Get working and get it published! If you see some inspiration in any or several of the requests made by these responses, then once again, get busy! You’ve got some writing to do! But, if you see your book in some of the requests for NO MORE!, well, don’t despair. Even these YA readers couldn’t all agree on what they wanted, so there are readers out there for all kinds of novels. Just keep writing what you love. It’s all any of us can do!