The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

September 28, 2012

Lee Duran: YA books appeal to adults as well as kids

By Lee Duran
Globe Columnist

JOPLIN, Mo. — Erotica is not the only book genre on a roll these days. Children’s books are also riding high, with YA -- Young Adult aimed at the 12-17 age group -- leading the way.

Publishing revenues for children’s books rose 12 percent to $2.78 billion last year, while e-books made “astounding gains,” according to BookStats, a collaboration of the Association of American Publishers and the Book Industry Study Group.

There’s a surprising statistic tucked away in there. A new study says that 55 percent of YA books are bought by adults and, of those, 78 percent are buying the books for themselves, not some kid, reported Publishers Weekly.

Scholastic reports that 50 percent of the readers of “The Hunger Games” are adults. And more than half of the readers of the best-seller “Divergent” by Veronica Roth are at least 25 years old, according to a HarperCollins spokeswoman.

“The investigation into who is reading YA books began when we noticed a disparity between the number of YA e-books being purchased and the relatively low number of kids who claim to read e-books,” said Kelly Gallagher, vice president of Bowker Market Research. “The extent and age breakout of adult consumers of these works was surprising.”

I bought the “Hunger Games” e-book for myself and liked it. And I’m an OA (Old Adult), not a YA.

The trend is good news for publishers as these adult consumers of YA books are among the most coveted demographic of book consumers overall, says PW. Additional insights from the Bowker study show these readers are:

The Los Angeles Times called the kid market the fastest-growing segment of the publishing industry -- a “robust genre” with lots of new books slated for the rest of the year.

So the stigma of adults “reading down” with children’s titles is gone, said David Levithan, editorial director of Scholastic Press, which also published the Harry Potter series in the United States. “Adults have no hesitation at all to buy young-adult (books) anymore, so it’s very easy to cross over.”

And adult are crossing over, in bunches.

A real life fairy tale

Imagine being 18 years old and holding a seven-figure book contract in your hands. It boggles the mind, but it’s happening right now to British teen author Abigail Gibbs, reports Publishers Weekly.

Guess what she writes about? Easy answer: vampires.

Abbie, as she calls herself, wrote “The Dark Heroine: Dinner with a Vampire” about 18-year-old Londoner Violet Lee, who is kidnapped by the charismatic heir to the vampire throne, Kaspar Varn. It was written with input from an online reader-writer group.

The Guardian reported that the book has more than 16 million online views and about 24,000 comments. No wonder HarperCollins came calling with boatloads of money and a contract for two books.

“It took a long time to sink in,” said the author. “It was very surreal. And it was very exciting when they started talking in such big numbers!”

I’m excited and I don’t even know what the big numbers are.

All this reminds me of another teenage writer who scored a big success at 18 but ended up with numerous problems, including booze, drugs and gambling.

Remember Francoise Sagan, the French teen who wrote “Bonjour, Tristesse?” It takes a long memory because her book came out in the mid-1950s. I found details in a piece in The New York Times published upon her death in 2004.

According to the article, she had an “enormous international success with ‘Bonjour Tristesse,’ about an amoral teenager who sets out to keep her philandering widowed father from marrying again.” By early 1958, the book had sold 810,000 copies in France, more than a million in the United States and had been translated into 20 languages.

And she didn’t even have the Internet to help her along. I wonder what she would have done with vampires.