Young adult novels often touch on themes of romance, sex, and gender relations that loom large in the teen psyche. This has made it natural for traditional romance authors to make the jump to YA writing. Romance and romantic suspense author Roxanne St. Claire, whose debut YA novel, Don't You Wish, will be published by Delacorte in 2011, says, "Starting to write YA was a lot like writing my first book—it just poured out! It was an utterly different voice than my romantic suspense voice, but it felt very comfortable."
Working in the YA realm can give romance authors a way to explore love and lust from an emotional perspective, without the explicit sex scenes that readers increasingly demand in adult romance. Historical romance author Sophie Jordan was surprised to hear the label "erotic" applied to Firelight, her recently launched and very successful first YA novel for HarperTeen. "So much of the romance in a romance novel is the chemistry, and the mood, and the simple touches and glances, not so much that there's full consummation," she says. "Everybody talks about how steamy Firelight is, but the characters do nothing more than kiss in the book." Jordan also notes that shifting gears can free authors from some of the other traditional constraints of romance writing: "The only expectation in romance is a happy-ever-after. The YA market is open to ambiguity or an ending that's not 100% happy, or happiness that comes with a price."
"I think romance writers may be drawn to YA stories because a teenager wants to read about another teenager who is forced to squirm a little bit," St. Claire suggests. "For a teenager, that's a situation where they feel they've lost control, or they're tested, or they're put under pressure for the first time. As romance writers, we're also drawn to stories that make people squirm emotionally and earn their happy ending."
YA editors have begun actively seeking authors of adult romances. Natashya Wilson, senior editor for Harlequin Teen, approached Gena Showalter and Rachel Vincent to write for the YA line's launch "because they were successful in their adult careers and also had younger voices and a wide range of ages in their own readerships, including many younger readers." And when St. Martin's YA editor Rose Hilliard wanted to create what became the Shadow Falls series, which will launch with Born at Midnight in April 2011, she immediately thought of Dorchester romance writer Christie Craig (who is writing her YA novels as C.C. Hunter). "I think romantic story lines are a huge draw for young adult readers, and I knew Christie would be able to write a great romance with her eyes closed," Hilliard says. "I've always wanted to work with Christie, and now I get to work with her on a dream series, which has been a financial success before it's even out."
YA books aren't just for teens. Series such as Twilight and the Hunger Games trilogy reach beyond their original core teen audiences by virtue of their excellent writing, detailed world-building, and compelling dramatic appeal. It's increasingly common to find adults reading YA novels, in public, without any embarrassment. Many of those adult readers are fans of traditional romance, and young adult novels with romantic plots are perfect for them, says Avon v-p and editorial director Carrie Feron. "Some romance readers are busy moms with lots of interruptions. These books have tight, linear plots, which allow them to put the book down and pick it up again."
The paranormal themes that have become so popular in adult romance are also a core aspect of many current YA series. Paranormal romance author (and occasional PW reviewer) Jennifer Estep, who will publish new books in both her adult Elemental Assassin series and her YA Mythos Academy series in 2011, says that her YA work is a great way to extend her audience. "My young adult books still feature my voice and the things I think I do well as a writer: strong sassy heroines, fight scenes, and magic and world-building," she says. "The young adult books just aren't quite as dark and gritty as my adult books. Hopefully, my Mythos Academy books will be another option for readers who want to try my work, but don't necessarily like darker reads."
Many of these writers find that exploring the psychology of teens is just plain fun. Gena Showalter, whose next Lords of the Underworld novel is due out in April 2011, launched her paranormal YA Intertwined series in July. She says, "There's something so magical about writing a book about teens. Experiencing that first crush, first kiss, exploring insecurities and certainties, friendships and seemingly world-ending wars." Jordan thinks that's part of what makes paranormal titles so appealing for teens: "When you are a teenager, everything feels so intense. The paranormal stuff going on makes it legitimately life and death, and really heightens the intensity."
The broad canvas of the YA market appeals to Kathryn Smith, who writes Victorian, paranormal, and urban fantasy romances for adults and is now writing for the Harlequin Teen line as Kady Cross, with a steampunk trilogy slated to begin in 2011. "Right now is a wonderful time to be writing for teens, as the genre is so wide open," she says. "Most of us settle into knowing what we like to read as we get older, and we have our favorite genres, plots, and authors, but teens are much more open to different kinds of stories. They literally will read almost anything—provided it speaks to them."
Vicki Borah Bloom is a frequent reviewer for PW's romance section.