Thursday 3 November 2011

Where has the contemporary YA gone?

In the three years that I’ve been blogging I’ve become accustomed to the trends and fluctuations in the popularity of different genres within YA. Nevertheless, in the two or so years there is one which hasn’t gone anywhere. In fact, I’d say that it has continued to grow and take over the shelves.

As a bloggers we receive many books from publishers each week and at least 95%, if not more, of those novels are of a supernatural persuasion. Now don’t get me wrong, some of my favourite books are from this genre: Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy, Maggie Stiefvater’s Shiver, Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments and Holly Black’s Tithe. I just think with all of the attention on the paranormal we’re missing out on some stunning contemporary YA.

It was through contemporary novels that I fell in love with YA and it breaks my heart to think that those new to the genre may be bypassing these incredible reads. Most of the authors that I discovered during my introduction are now on my auto-buy list and it happens to contain very few paranormal authors... Lots of the chance finds I made encouraged me to start a blog and shout their praises from the rooftops and have shaped my reading, my writing and just me in general.

Sarah Dessen’s Just Listen was one of those early chance finds. The beautiful cover, an intriguing synopsis and the idea of reading a new-to-me author made me buy it. I fell in love. Since that day six or seven years ago I’ve read every novel she’s written and I will continue to do so until she stops publishing her work - it crushes me that a teenage girl walking into Waterstone’s tomorrow won’t be confronted with Sarah Dessen’s beautiful stories but with rows and rows of paranormal novels. Although Sarah is incredibly popular among lovers of contemporary YA, she just doesn’t get the shelf space and her novels become drowned by the likes of Becca Fitzpatrick, Alyson Noel, LJ Smith, PC Cast and the rest of the ‘dark romance’ authors. (I really do feel at this point that I need to reiterate that I do read (some) of these authors and thoroughly enjoy their novels, I just think there’s more to YA out there.)

It is entirely possible that without these early bumbling trips to my local library and bookshops I might never have discovered the delights of Sarah Dessen, Sarra Manning, Meg Rosoff, Melvin Burgess, Kevin Brooks and Louise Rennison. Now you would need to seek them out, probably on the recommendation of a seasoned YA reader or a trusted blogger, because you’d have a fairly difficult time dragging them out from behind the vampires, werewolves and angels by yourself.

So, am I over-reacting? Or do you agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments.



  1. I'd say (and I mention this as a guy who writes supernatural stuff for young adults) that you need to follow the money trail. Publishers (the big ones) are going to put out stuff that is a sure thing in the way of profits. Vamps, werethings, zombies and magic sell. This is not to say that contemporary YA doesn't sell, but it might not sell as much. Finally, everyone loves a good trend, don't they? Publishers are no different. If a contemporary YA book comes out that creates a genuine social phenomenon ala Stephenie Meyer, I suspect we'll see a trend in contemporary YA.

  2. I still think there is a market for contemporary as the supernatural stuff doesn't help the teenagers through puberty. That is why I am glad to see Macmillan republishing the Judy Blume ones. I know they are a smaller part of the market but they are still there.

  3. The money trail is self-perpetuating, isn't it? Publishers think that the supernatural will make them money, so those are the books they publish/promote.
    Having said that, I haven't done too badly as a UK contemporary YA writer, and I've enjoyed bucking the trend, especially as lots of publishers didn't want my book because they thought there wouldn't be a market for 'gritty' contemporary YA. There are loads more of us around, including some great debut authors. How about Phil Earle, Miriam Halahmy, Cat Clarke, Keris Stainton to name just a few? And soon to be published, Dave Cousins and Katie Dale. What we need is a bit of promotion from lovely book bloggers, to balance all the supernatural books that you get seom publicists.

  4. I agree with all the comments, and sometimes I think writers fall into the trap of writing what's hot - - because publishers are snapping up what's hot -- bit of a vicious cycle. I think vampires and para are waning a bit, which means we'll probably see a swing back to contemporary, don't you think?

  5. I've thought of some more..Savita Kalhan, Gillian Philip, Anne Cassidy, Cathy MacPhail, Linda Strachan, Annabel Pitcher, Hilary Freeman, Chris Higgins and Catherine Bruton. We're here, we're writing!

  6. I completely agree! I'm always on the look out for new contemporary authors because I always find myself enjoying them more than paranormal books- they seem more original.

    If you're looking for more contemporary authors I'd recommend Sara Zarr and, of course, Melina Marchetta.

    I have to second Keren's recommendation for Catherine Bruton- We Could Be Heroes is a fantastic book :)

    Great post, Sophie!

  7. Thanks for the shout Keren and I completely agree with you. I write gritty contemporary realistic fiction because that's what I want to read and I do think that we have a firm place in the market. Try out Bali Rai, Leslie Wilson, Savita Kalhan, Julia Bell and Jennifer Donnelly. These books win book awards and are picked out by school librarians. Let's hear it loud and proud for our contemporary authors!!

  8. Great post, Sophie, and great comments! I write light-hearted contemporary fiction because it's what I love to read! I'm glad there are still new books coming out by my favourite authors and I hope other readers find them too.

  9. Great post, Sophie! It's about time this discussion got some airspace - and some shelf space in book shops! There are many teens who love the type of paranormal and supernatural fiction that has been getting a major plug for quite some time now. But from listening to them, I know that they are always looking for contemporary fiction too, and their complaint is that they can't find it easily. Somehow, booksellers and publishers need to make it easier for them. I hope they're listening because as Keren and Miriam and others have said, we're here and we're writing it.

  10. I've added so many new names to my list of authors to check out! Creativity and originality are hard to find these days in the paranormal genre, but life itself writes the most beautiful stories. Yay for authors who write it and don't allow anyone to scare them off with trends :)

  11. To be honest, I'm ready for some non-paranormal YA books. Bring it on!

    Great post. I will certainly be looking up Sarah Dessen and other contemporary YA books from now on.

  12. Fab post, Sophie and thanks for the shout-out, Keren. I've noticed this too (since I write contemporary) but I think it may be improving (just look at the success of Stephanie Perkins) and I seem to remember some reports from US publishers that they are actively looking for contemporary YA and where the US leads...

  13. I think as well there's a tendency to package *some* contemporary YA in a supernatural-ish way - dark covers, etc - which presumably means that supernatural fans are likely to pick them up, but does contribute to an overwhelming sense of black-and-red on the shelves.

    I would love to see more contemporary YA getting the same 'omg must buy!' response that so much of the supernatural stuff gets - there's a lot of incredible stuff out there. Great post.

  14. Hey Sophie. It was so lovely to read your post. I write a contemporary YA series called The Butterfly Novels and the response from teenage readers is amazing - nothing like when I used to write for adults. They say that it is their LIFE. They want to act in movies of the books. The minute they're finished one book, they're looking for the next. I really believe the market is out there, if only there were more contemporary novels on the shelves. I adore contemporary YA and NEED MORE CHOICE. Thanks so much.

  15. Hmm, looks like you've got a good enough response that what's-her-face will love the post! Seriously, good post Sophie. xXx

  16. I agree Sophie - I work at Little Island ( - we have one paranormal YA romance that happened to be written by an author we loved as an adult novelist, but 'most everything else on our list is realistic, contemporary YA. One of our lot, Sheena Wilkinson, EATS books and they're all realistic fiction too. I'm all for more shelf space!

  17. O-My-Gosh! I feel exactly the same! I mean I love The Mortal Instruments and everything, but there's only so much vampires/werewolves you can read; soon you find yourselves predicting EXACTLY what is going to happen!
    I feel bad, because all these new dark romances are taking over the really good ones that know one knows about!

  18. O.k, now I have a question!
    I'm a huge reader and read mostly YA, i'm way ahead of my grade in reading comprehension, and have read so many books they are becoming predictable and boring! I need to start a new series fast, but I don't trust my judgement anymore and need some suggestions! I like fantasy, FICTION (it can be realistic), and some magic or mystery. I'm not really crazy about regular books, more like a different world!These are some of the books-series I've already read and really liked...

    -The Harry Potter series (it's AWESOME!)
    -Blue is for nightmares
    -The Nancy Drews
    -The Percy Jackson series
    -The Twilight series, and the Host
    -the H.I.V.E series
    -the Gone series
    -the Mortal Instruments
    -the Infernal Devices
    - the cross my heart and hope to spy series
    -the diary of a wimpy kid series
    -the Mysterious Benedict society series
    -Dear Julia
    -the Tear collector
    -Dark Visions
    -the Vampire Diaries
    -the Hunger Games
    -Jellicoe Road
    -Princess Academy
    -Red is For Remembrance
    -Killer Cruise
    -The Touch series
    -Trickster's choice
    -Jurassic Park
    -any Carl Hobbes Thriller
    -The sister's Grimm
    -I am number 4
    -Out of My Mind
    -any book by Neil Schusterman
    -My Fair Godmother
    -Just Ella
    -Witch and Wizard
    -the Life as we knew it series
    -the Pirates of the Caribbean
    -enter three Witches
    -Love Inc.
    -I am Morgan Le Fey
    -I was Jane Austin's best friend
    and more!!! please give me some suggestions; anyone!

  19. Keren makes a great point. Contemporary realistic YA is out there. We just need to give it more attention and ignore all the paranormal and post-apocalyptic stuff that zooms through the letterbox.

    The US market is still producing great contemp - I'm thinking Paper Covers Rock as my recent fav. Give that a go or Catch by Will Leitch. I think you were keen on the sound of that one. I love coming of age stories.

  20. I went to a branch of Waterstone's yesterday and I'd guess the shelves were 90% paranormal. Or at least, they *looked* 90% paranormal because anything else gets lost in the sea of dark covers. Made me rather grumpy. Our local WH Smiths has actually got more bays designated 'dark romance' than general fiction. My only consolation is that it just can't last.

  21. I agree that the supernatural YA is getting more publicity but I can't blame publishers for promoting what's currently fashionable. When I worked in a bookstore I met quite a few parents whose teenage daughters only read books about vampires. Only! I couldn't convince them to try anything else even though the girls had read every YA vampire novel in the store. One parent complained that publishers weren't getting new vampire books out fast enough!

    Personally I actually prefer contemporary realistic YA to supernatural fiction. I love lots of the authors mentioned and many more are on my TBR or wishlists.


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