It’s A Teen, Teen World

In case you live under a rock or haven’t noticed, we’re smack dab in the middle of a teen “renaissance.”  Quotes are necessary because pop culture pundits don’t believe it’s a temporary thing, which renaissances typically are.

No, as it stands, we’re in the middle of a change in entertainment – movies, TV and music.  With channels like ABC Family, The N and Nickelodeon offering shows like Degrassi and Greek – and of course that scandalous GG, mother of all pop teen sensations – more and more television shows are offering teen fare.  Movies as well and of course we can’t leave out music with sensation, Ms. Miley “I own every entertainment venue” Cyrus.

And some are saying this surge is here to stay.

Teens are exposed to so much, due to the wide access to images and information via the internet and media, that programming and music for them has morphed into a strange hybrid of somewhat sophisticated “not just for teens” fare.  The true kick to this boost,  adults are enjoying some of these shows and music as well.

I’ll include myself, as I did enjoy a good episode of Zoey 101 pre-Jamie Lynn becoming preggers, now and then, and have been known to bop my head to Chris Brown or Asia Cruz. 

Sue me, I’m a pop culture fanatic.

Of course it all comes down to money.  And the word, is that Gen Y (ages 13-31) not only have a few million in disposable income but are being helped by their parents who are kicking in another hundred million to allow them to iTune, merchandise overdose and movie-go their buns off.

And that’s not accounting for the dollars spent by adults consuming (guiltily in some cases) teen fare.  It’s quite the market!

So where does publishing fit into all this?

True enough, teen lit and literature for teens has experienced quite the boost – largely in part to Harry Potter showing readers that children’s books aren’t just for children anymore.

But publishing is notoriously old school and has yet to capitalize on this new trend where “teen” life extends well beyond the age of true teendom. Bummer for YA writers who are chomping at the bit to remain YA writers but portray the older side of young adult life.

For a year or so now, I’ve been batting around an idea for a YA book that would start with a character in high school but take them onto college.  Problem is, in the eyes of the “industry” a YA book should (must?) have a protag who is indeed a teen.

But…aren’t you still a teen your first two years of college?  And with more and more adults and older young adults reading YA well beyond the age of 16 – wouldn’t there be a market for such a book?

The answer is yes.  But publishing has yet to construct a marketing strategy for this hybrid YA.  And it’s too bad because the time is so ripe for it.

Many play with it…none have mastered the best way to accomplish it.

Dorchester’s Shomi line is publishing books where the protags are young twenties, late teens – specifically to capture this market.

Books like Secret Society Girl by Diana Peterfreund – shelved adult fiction, managed to do fine. 

Brown Bookshelf member, Varian Johnson’s first book, Red Polka Dot in a World Full of Plaid was shelved adult but revolved around a young adult character.  Despite it’s ability to fit in both categories without totally being one or the other, it was an Essence best seller.

And Reality Chick by Lauren Barnholdt, despite being about a freshman in college, had wide YA reader appeal.

It’s a hodge podge of examples, for sure, but proves that while TV and film have found ways to have shows with older actors appeal to both older and younger adults – publishing isn’t sure how to master this tricky wicket.

What I’m waiting for is a real shake up in YA.  YA is a sub-genre of children’s lit but with times changing it may be time to look at dividing YA into Tween Lit for ages 10-13, Teen Lit for ages 13-16 and then YA for ages 16+. The overlap is on purpose.

Tween and Teen lit would remain a sub-genre of children’s lit but YA would become a sub-genre of Adult fiction.

Experts say that entertainment programming and consumables are now being developed with the teen buyer and the “extended” teen buyer in mind vs. the traditional model of creating for the adult and having it trickle down to teen buyers. If this remains true, publishing will no doubt have to follow suit eventually.

I don’t forsee a time when books will no longer be relevant, but if consumers are moving at the speed of the internet while publishing moves at the speed of a typewriter, I can see an eventual disconnect on the horizon between literature and young readers.

Meanwhile, enjoy this new teen world…before it morphs to something new again.

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