It is a commonly held view that the United States of America are the home of Young Adult fiction. This assumption is based, I’d imagine, on the really big YA names that dominate the market. Stephenie Meyer, Suzanne Collins, Michael Grant, Lauren Kate, Maggie Stiefvater, the Casts, LJ Smith are without doubt the market leaders and all are American. But what does all this mean for the growing movement of UK based Young Adult (UKYA) authors?
The foreign success of US authors comes on the back of buoyant sales in their home territory. The splash they make on the other side of the pond is like a tidal wave all the way to the UK. For example, the glowing reviews of Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone on release in the US, ensured a healthy birth over here too. Sadly, this effect may not work both ways.
It’s a numbers game. North America is a vast market. There are over 1,200 branches of market leader Barnes and Noble in the States compared to just 300 branches of Waterstones in the UK. Go figure. There are quite simply more books in publication, therefore more chance of readers making contact with the book. I recently spoke to the lovely UKYA author Karen Mahoney, who wrote the fantastic Iron Witch and its sequel, The Wood Queen. Karen is unusual in that she scored a US book deal before her UK deal on the back of an American agent. To her, the goal was to crack into the huge American market first to give her books the best chance of mass exposure.
Now, any UK author can be sold into the USA. The obvious glitch in the argument is JK Rowling, who’s UK success translated exceptionally well overseas. Another argument is, that for every Lauren Kate, there are hundreds of lesser known authors, also American, also writing YA, but their names aren’t so well known – so having an American deal is no guarantee of success. Perhaps it is more the case that American authors understood the YA genre a little sooner than us. Judy Blume, RL Stine and LJ Smith were writing teen fiction twenty/thirty years ago, after all. Maybe, like we wouldn’t go to the US for tea and scones, US publishing houses don’t automatically think to come to us for YA fiction. Yet.
I feel lucky to be a UKYA author. Being part of the UKYA movement feels like a part of something new, fresh and expanding. The Brits are most definitely coming! More’s the point, I feel, and of course I am biased, that UKYA authors are at the very cutting edge of teen/YA fiction.
Think about it: The Harry Potter series redefined series fiction for young people. Malorie Blackman and Gemma Malley were doing dystopian five years before The Hunger Games. We do heartfelt and gritty better than anyone else – think Jenny Downham, Cat Clarke, Phil Earle and Annabel Pitcher. Will Hill has his own take on vampires, and mine and Ruth Warburton’s witches have centuries on those Salem pretenders!
What’s more, unbound by tight drinking laws and concerns over whether books will sit well on the Bible Belt, UKYA novels are pushing boundaries and challenging readers more than ever. Simply put, we are going places Americans fear to tread, for proof look no further than Tabitha Suzuma’s Forbidden, which concerns incest. Certainly UKYA authors seem to be reflecting diversity in terms of race, sexual orientation and family diversity in a way that the big YA authors listed at the top of the page have not.
I am so pleased to have been welcomed onto the new UKYA website. Like a Yorkshire Terrier, we might not be as big as the Americans, but we have a loud bark! I’m lucky, in that not only are UKYA authors supportive of one another, but we have a whole army of bloggers, journalists and reviewers heralding YA fiction by British authors.
On a final note, this is all meant in a supremely light-hearted way. There is no great divide between US and UK authors. There will be no Hunger Games: All-star Author Edition. What’s important, as ever, is the book. There are good books from all around the globe, some American, some British, some translations. I always think, as long as young people are reading, it almost doesn’t matter what! I’m certain the vast majority of actual young adults don’t spend more than a minute thinking about whether the text is US or UK based. This is just about championing home-grown products in the same way Mary Portas wants us to buy British knickers! So, to all the supportive readers of UKYA out there – thank you and keep buying British!