Authors revolutionize young adult genre with notable, popular works

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Young-adult author Jessica Lee Anderson is an Austin resident and says the Texas Book Festival as well as numerous local bookstores have made Austin a hotbed for young-adult authors. Anderson and other authors like her are trying to broaden the appeal of the genre to other demographics.

Photo Credit: Nathan Goldsmith | Daily Texan Staff

With entire sections of book stores such as Barnes & Noble dedicated exclusively to the next big teen paranormal romance, many critics and readers alike have come to criticize the genre as having grown obsolete and shallow. However, alongside recent young adult novels that challenge these negative stereotypes in an ever-changing genre, modern publishing and marketing methods are gradually changing the perceptions of these works on both a local and general level.

Rather than marketing such novels exclusively to teens and tweens, a demographic into which publishers have often tried to condense the genre, many modern-day YA novels (such as Suzanne Collins’ “The Hunger Games” and John Green’s “The Fault in Our Stars”) are expanding upon readers’ ideas of YA literature and proving that these novels are relevant to a larger audience.

Green has recently become one of the most prominent figures in the YA lit scene, notable for both his critically-acclaimed novels and frequent interaction with his readers through social media sites such as Tumblr and Twitter. In a Q-and-A session about “The Fault in Our Stars" on Green's blog, published this past January, Green was asked how he was able to incorporate so much meaning in a novel aimed towards young adults, with themes such as the inevitability of mortality (and the subsequent embracing of it), experiencing love in all forms and a general element of catharsis.

In response, Green simply refuted the idea that novels aimed towards younger audiences have to be dumbed down or over-simplified to achieve success.

“Teenagers are plenty smart. I don’t sit around and worry whether teenagers are smart,” Green said. “I mean, most of the people currently reading ‘The Scarlet Letter’ and ‘The Great Gatsby’ ... are teenagers.”

Linguistics freshman Gabby Sepulveda agrees with Green’s sentiment, contesting the notion that the young adult genre has reached a decline in intellectual credibility. For Sepulveda, the hardships present in not only YA literature, but fiction as a whole, urge readers to approach real-life difficulties with a greater sense of clarity.

“‘Harry Potter’ brought together thousands of people — not because of a boy who waved his wand, but because that boy overcame adversity and showed the power of love,” Sepulveda said. “And ‘The Hunger Games’ allowed people to think about the flaws of humanity, to truly feel the sadness that can be caused by our own human cruelty.”

Jessica Lee Anderson, a local young adult writer who has published novels such as “Calli” and “Border Crossing,” considers Austin a thriving scene for authors of the genre, with the Texas Book Festival and local bookstores such as BookPeople providing numerous resources for up-and-coming authors.

“Young adult literature is more like a category than a genre — the books are diverse and span the quality gamut just like the adult market,” Anderson said. “The YA lit category is continuing to grow and push boundaries in all areas.”

One evolution in particular that Anderson has noticed is the trend of e-books outselling their physical counterparts. Alongside the practice of self-publishing, which has proved successful for fellow local YA author P.J. Hoover, she believes this trend will continue alongside other shifts in publishing models.

According to a HarperCollins study published in the New York Times, young adult e-book sales rose from making up 6 percent of digital sales to 20 percent in 2011, and as the younger generation continues to embrace E-reading devices such as the Kindle and Nook, this figure is expected to increase.

“I think the nature of e-books will become more interactive, connecting readers together and making the authors more accessible,” Anderson said. “Even if the manner in which we read drastically changes, I believe young adult lit has a healthy future.”

Audrey Auden, a California-based science-fiction writer and self-published author of “Realms Unreel,” took advantage of many such emerging opportunities, enrolling in Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing Select program, which allowed for the digital version of her novel to be free for readers for five days out of every 90-day period of enrollment.

Alongside this program, Auden has also implemented various social media sites such as Reddit, Facebook and Authonomy to promote her novel, and created a Kickstarter page to acquire pledges to fund an illustrated hardcover version of “Realms Unreel.”

When it comes to self-publishing, Auden also hopes that authors will continue to take advantage of these modern methods of reaching audiences.

“[I hope that] readers will be empowered to discover and popularize books that don’t fit into the genre molds that have been set up out of necessity by a publishing industry that needed ways to categorize work for the purpose of marketing it,” Auden said.

Auden also believes that the nature of books may come to fundamentally change in regards to the intersection of longer narrative works and more casual online writing, such as blogging, wikis and interactive Web media.

On a university level, student organizations such as the UT chapter of the Harry Potter Alliance offer ways for students to engage in and discuss events relevant to the YA literature scene.

For Plan II Honors and English junior Abigail Ryan, the genre is as prosperous as ever in captivating readers.

“I think the YA genre is wonderful, especially now that we are seeing more and more authors, like John Green and [YA author] Maureen Johnson, who acknowledge that their audience is much smarter than people give them credit for,” said Ryan. “It used to be that YA novels were the bridge between children’s chapter books and adult fiction, but now I am seeing more and more people acknowledge them for what they are — coming-of-age novels that are both enjoyable and informative.”