How can Young Adult literature attract new readers?

The Young Adult (YA) book market has experienced rapid growth, with the number of YA titles doubling between 2002 and 2012 - so why are only just over half of young people reading for pleasure? Many teens are more likely to choose screens over books, preferring to update social media or marathon the latest Netflix series. This means publishers are constantly challenged to rebrand the ‘uncool’ act of reading. Yet YA publicity in bookshops, libraries, and on authors’ Twitter pages tends to be aimed at those who already love reading. Moving forward, publishers must answer an important question: how can new readers be attracted to YA?

One solution is to make better use of the possibilities of the internet. Young people can spend up to nine hours a day online. Attempts are already being made to reach them: many YA authors have an online presence and there are many YA book bloggers and Twitter hashtags (e.g. #UKYAchat and #SundayYA) to encourage readers to discuss their favourite books. But, once again, these efforts are aimed at those who already love reading. Here are a few ways publishers could promote YA to new readers...

  • With 71% of users under 34, Snapchat is an underutilised resource. It holds the potential to directly engage with users by providing fun visual content to generate hype surrounding new books. As well as using adverts, publishers could promote books via Snapchat filters to give interesting insights into upcoming releases. Despite this potential, few publishers currently engage with the platform at all.
  • Although some publishing companies, including Penguin and Bloomsbury, have YouTube channels, a content revamp is needed to reach young adults. For instance, dedicated channels discussing YA could be created, emulating the successful Epic Reads channel: interviews, exciting book trailers, and attractive thumbnails would entice young adults to engage with the videos – and perhaps draw in those who currently don’t think books are for them.
  • The effect of online influencers demonstrates just how much social media impacts young people. For example, John Green’s social media contributed to the buzz surrounding his YA novels, while sales of the books recommended in the first Zoella Book Club rocketed. The online community created around the Zoella Book Club, through Twitter hashtags and YouTube comments, helps to attract new readers by showing that reading can be a social activity, not just a solo one. Zoella’s Book Club also demonstrates how role models can change the views of non-readers. There is huge scope for publishers to build on this example through encouraging other YouTubers – as well as singers, actors, and sporting celebrities – to share an interest in reading and offer book recommendations.
  • Publishers should also consider whether YA is accessible to reluctant readers, unlikely to set foot in a bookshop or library. It would be worth exploring the possibilities of making YA books available in areas young people frequent, including clothes shops and sports clubs. Alternatively, book exchanges could be set up in these spaces to create interaction with others. The availability of free books encourages young people to try reading, helping to create engaged teenage readers who will hopefully become future buyers of YA.
  • YA also needs to be made available in schools. School libraries need to be well-stocked with YA, including new releases, but this alone is not enough: schools must help all pupils to engage by talking about YA in the classroom and, where possible, arranging author visits to help involve teenage readers with YA. Hearing authors enthusiastically giving insights into their work inspires students to investigate their books and, by generating discussion and excitement around reading, motivates them to explore more YA.
  • It’s not just the way YA is publicised that needs to change, but the content of the promotion itself. Publishers must emphasise the genre’s variety, ranging from graphic novels to historical fiction. Emphasising this diversity would attract those who feel the overblown love-triangles stereotypically associated with YA are not their cup of tea. Similarly, rather than highlighting only the academic benefits connected with reading, publicity should focus on the entertainment that reading provides: emphasising the role of imagination, humour, and escapism in reading would generate more positive attitudes in young people.

Young adults are frequently told about the importance of reading, but inspiring them to read will only happen if the industry connects with young people on their terms. Rather than young people going to publishers, publishers must go to young people.

Charlotte Wilson is an English Literature student in the final year of her undergraduate degree. When not studying she enjoys reading, travelling, and visiting the theatre. She is currently a volunteer steward at a London theatre and has previously enjoyed volunteering in primary schools to help build children’s confidence and reading ability. She is a YA Shot intern.

Charlotte researched, conceptualised, wrote and redrafted this article as part of her first year internship with YA Shot, with detailed advice, input and two stages of in-depth edits from her second-year peer-mentor Aurelija Zubaviciute.