For the Thursday morning panel called Current Trends in YA, author Daniel Kraus rattled off a few crops of recent strains he’s observed, including books about “body parts, agoraphobia, and strange disease books.” Trends in content and marketing and sales were discussed by the panelists: Ashleigh Gardner, head of writer and publisher partnerships at Wattpad; Sara Grochowski, children’s buyer at Brilliant Books in Traverse City, Mich.; Kraus, author of The Death and Life of Zebulon Finch (S&S); and moderator Shelley Diaz, reviews team manager at School Library Journal.
While the issue of diversity is top of mind for many in the children’s industry, Diaz was quick to emphasize that diversity isn’t a “trend,” but rather people’s real lives, and a need. Gardner doesn’t think the publishing industry is changing enough. “Cause-based [stories are] not what people are hungry for.” And, she continued, “I’m disappointed when I talk to publishers that [accountability on the issue is] passed around.” But the content won’t change without the industry changing, she said. “It’s not an industry that’s easy to get into. The ability to work for free for a year attracts a certain kind of person. As long as the companies aren’t diverse, there’s not going to be much changing.”
Despite claims that kids don’t read anymore, Gardner observes that teens spend “15 billion minutes” reading Wattpad content every month, but when users are polled on how many books they’ve read in that time, they cite low numbers, as they don’t consider reading on Wattpad akin to reading traditionally published novels. But to Gardner, this is “one of the most literate generations we’ve ever seen, and they’re better equipped to tell their own stories.”
Kraus sees the lines blurring between books for teens and books for adults. “Some editors take a very vocal stance on whether their books are about teens versus for teens. And all the promotion is rarely to adults. It really does target teens, and if there’s money to be had there, I don’t know why they’re not chasing it.”
Popular trends for YA include adult trends trickling down, ala Gone Girl and other thrillers, and True Detective noir-inspired books. And as far as books created by teens, Gardner is seeing a lot of stories about technology, including books about cell phone switching. The most popular title on Wattpad, Cell Phone Switch, is about two teens who have the same phone, accidentally swap it at a party, and get to know each other (and fall in love), by communicating—and snooping—through the other’s devices.
Addressing the trends he’s seen in current YA books, Kraus observed: “crossover to middle grade, 9/11 books," books about the aforementioned strange diseases, including being "allergic to everything; allergic to electricity, inability to sleep, face blindness.”
But what is it about these topics that appeals to teens? Kraus ventures a guess: “There’s something about the individuality of those states that appeals to teens. Teens look for something that treasures uniqueness.”