Young adult (YA) literature occupies a special place in the world of fiction. Many of the most widely beloved novels of the last century are, or at least started life as, fiction aimed at young adults. It’s a genre that includes classics like To Kill a Mockingbird, Catcher in the Rye, and The Outsiders, as well as newer breakout hits like The Hunger Games and The Hate U Give.
The twelve- to eighteen-year-olds these books are written for are in the midst of life’s most challenging and formative years. This fiction tends to reflect that, and lends these books a timeless feel for many readers. Young readers are looking for answers to big questions about life, and often, the books that wrestle with these questions have universal appeal.
This might explain why young adult books seem to have a strong attraction for older readers as well. While this number surely includes some parents, some market estimates show almost 70 percent of YA titles are purchased by adults older than eighteen. Other estimates suggest over half of YA readers are older adults. And according to The Atlantic, these readers seek out the universal appeal of coming-of-age stories, which feature experiences we all share.
In short, YA is a unique genre with wide appeal. So, what do authors need to know when self-publishing YA?
You might assume that YA is an easy sell through self-publishing. After all, younger readers embrace new technology, the internet, and social media, all of which have been central to the rise of self-publishing, and helped undercut the iron grip that a handful of major publishing houses once had on the industry. So you might be surprised to learn that YA is one of the most challenging genres for authors who go the conventional route of simply self-publishing an eBook on the digital marketplace.
YA Print Books
As it turns out, teenagers prefer print books. Surveys suggest that less than a quarter of teens own an e-reader device, and more than 60 percent prefer physical books anyway. Teens also rely on word-of-mouth and what they find on library shelves to find new books to read. Most YA sales in traditional publishing are print copies. In other words, just offering a digital book on Amazon isn’t likely to get you far in the YA world.
While it’s true that eBooks have been central to self-publishing, today’s self-publishing authors have plenty of resources for offering a print version of their book. And when self-publishing YA, offering this print version is essential.
Luckily, print-on-demand services now offer an option besides an expensive and risky print run. Print-on-demand will allow you to offer a print version that is printed individually for each order. Ingram Spark, and even Amazon, offer their own print-on-demand services. You won’t need to weigh the risks, or shoulder the cost, of printing thousands of copies, and it’s never been easier to publish a print book.
But it is up to you to make sure it’s designed up to professional standards, which is just as important for young readers. No reader wants to struggle through bad interior design to read a book.
And teen readers report that cover design is especially important to them when choosing a book, so as always, this area deserves special attention. The cover should be eye-catching as always, and featuring images of younger characters is a great way to make it clear what audience your book is written for.
Teen readers are more likely to find books through schools and libraries, which is not the best news for self-publishing authors. Typically, getting into libraries can be a real challenge for self-publishers, but it’s no longer an insurmountable one. And as self-publishing and print-on-demand become more widespread, libraries have become more open to carrying self-published work.
Instead of just publishing your book on Amazon and hoping for the best, get help when it comes to distribution. Retailers like Kobo can make your eBook widely available to students in schools and libraries using a digital service called Overdrive, and working with professional talent when publishing your book can plug you into the same networks used by traditional publishers. You can also simply bring a print copy to your local library, and offer to do a reading. This is a great way to get started.
But it’s really book reviews from trusted sources like Library Journal, Publisher’s Weekly, and School Library Journal that guide librarians in choosing what books to order. For YA authors, getting reviewed here should be a top priority. And don’t forget Voya, a reviewer geared specifically toward YA. Reviewers will have their own processes for submitting your book for review, so start by checking their website.
Don’t forget who’s really buying your book when self-publishing YA. Not only are there plenty of adult YA readers, but it’s often parents that are choosing what books to buy for their teens. And as we mentioned before, appealing to librarians and teachers is often the first step in reaching a teen audience. Make sure your marketing plan takes these adults into account, while still reaching out to teens.
This universal appeal is what makes the YA genre so special, so you’ll want to keep this in mind throughout the writing and publishing process—you’re not just writing for teens, you’re writing for anyone that can relate to the ups and downs of coming-of-age and finding your place in the world.