Why write YA?

Ahead of YALC 2015, Gemma Malley, director of communications at Book Trust and author of seven YA novels, takes a look at why authors write YA.

Is anyone not writing YA at the moment? What started out as a ‘how can we market these books that don’t quite sit in children’s but aren’t really adult either’ exercise has grown into a quiet revolution in publishing: an explosion in book sales (150% increase over the past few years) at a time when bookselling is struggling. There are now hundreds (probably thousands, if we’re including all those who are currently scribbling) of YA writers, including a number of best-selling adult authors who have recently seen the light and started channeling their inner teenager (in the same way that their adult readers are also hovering around the YA shelves in search of books that deliver fabulous page-turning plots).

Because it’s not just about growth in book sales. The truth of the matter is that writing for young adults is, for many authors, simply more rewarding than writing for adults.

Remember being a teenager? The excruciating embarrassment, the wanting to be noticed whilst wanting to disappear, the massive questions about the point of everything, the just-as-important questions about sexuality, religion, and how to make your hair behave? Well teens today have moved beyond all that (they have Google, Wikipedia and a whole host of hair-styling tutorials on YouTube). What they’re looking for instead is brave new worlds where the things that adults prefer to brush under the carpet (rape, suicide, self harm, poverty, compulsive gaming, racism and, more generally, the utterly unfair nature of life on this planet) can be held up to the light, considered, explored and, ideally, used as the basis for a fantastic story.

They’re also looking to connect with the authors of these stories. Big time. YA authors always know exactly what their readers make of their books because they are bombarded with tweets, emails, blogs and reviews – in fact, writing a YA book is really just the start of a conversation.

And it’s a conversation that Book Trust is proud to be enabling (as well as turning the volume up) with YALC, our young adult literary convention, which we’re holding at Olympia for the second year in a row with generous support from Prudential. Part of London Film and Comic Con, YALC is going to see around 20,000 young adults getting to meet their favourite authors and hearing them talk about their books. And, importantly, they’ll also be buying – Waterstones are gearing up for long queues at the YALC book signings, whilst this year publishers can also sell books directly via their stands.

It’s incredibly exciting for us – Book Trust exists to inspire children and young adults to love reading, and it is wonderful to watch our twitter feed going crazy with teenagers excitedly chattering about who they’re most psyched about seeing at YALC. But it’s exciting for the publishing world too – because these teens love reading; because more and more authors are writing for them (why wouldn’t you, when you get an audience this receptive?); and because YALC, with its engaged, excited audience, hints at a new dawn for publishing and book selling.

I have a feeling that this quiet revolution is about to make some noise.