Thursday, October 08, 2009

Suzie Townsend: 5 most common YA subgenres

YA authors, pay careful attention! Here's Suzie's look at the most common subgenres of YA submissions, and what's still fresh/what's getting tiresome.

Most Common Subgenres of YA Submissions
---Suzie Townsend

I read a lot of queries – as an assistant and junior agent – and sometimes it seems like every query is claiming to be the next best thing or something that hasn’t ever been done before. But in reality there are some genres or subgenres that stand out. YA is hot right now, which means I’ve seen a lot of YA submissions, and within YA there are certain subgenres more common than others. Here’s my countdown of the top five most commonly received subgenres for YA submissions, including what’s hot (still love it) and what’s not (over it).

5. Fantasy
(Similar to Graceling, Forest Born)

It’s important to note that YA fantasy is different from Middle Grade fantasy.
Over It: standard fantastical beings such as wizards, elves, goblins, and orcs, and standard fantastical quests involving the Orphaned Child of a shepherd with a name no one can pronounce and magickal weapons, who sets out on a journey only to find they’re actually royalty and the subject of a thousand year old prophecy, destined to defeat the Dark Wizard about to plunge the kingdom into darkness and is also responsible for killing Orphaned Child’s parents.
Still Love: creative, thoughtful, detailed, and unique world-building that gives insight into the historical and cultural background of the world and characters and a well paced blend of storytelling, fight/battle scenes, action, adventure, and internal struggle.

4. Girly Romance
(Similar to The Truth About Forever, All-American Girl, 13 Little Blue Envelopes)

Feel-good, sweet, girly coming of age and possibly first love stories – the “chick-lit” for teens.
Over It: catty, gossipy, or whiny protagonists too hard to relate to.
Still Love: strong characterization is a must, it’s okay if nothing much seems to happen in the plot in terms of action, but the characters have to be involved in an internal struggle, the more range of emotions the better.

3. Dark and Edgy
(Similar to Wintergirls, Tricks, Thirteen Reasons Why, Cracked Up To Be)

YA that pushes limits in terms of style and content, it pushes the boundaries of what is socially acceptable, takes a taboo subject and tackles it head on without apologizing for making readers uncomfortable.
Over It: manuscripts that are generic copies of books already published that don’t handle teen issues in a new way – copies of Ellen Hopkins just don’t live up to the original.
Still Love: edgy manuscripts that do something new whether in rhetorical style or taking on a new issue or approaching an old issue with a new perspective, manuscripts that don’t necessarily tie everything up into a neat ending yet still have some sense of closure.

2. The Post Apocalyptic Thriller (and Romance)
(Similar to The Hunger Games, The Forest of Hands and Teeth)

The apocalypse destroyed the world as we know it, and the survivors have managed to hang on despite the insurmountable odds stacked against them.  Characters are dealing with every day teen issues, while struggling to stay alive, and probably falling in love.
Over It: a virus or something not well explained has killed off everyone but a select group of survivors or turned the masses into zombies or some sort of flesh eating facsimile, gladiators or reality show contestants who have to kill each other – it’s just not going to be as good as Suzanne Collins
Still Love:  complex and introspective characters in a multi-layered story – thrilling action that also delves into deeper philosophical and political issues (without being didactic!), and creative and unique world building combining science fiction or steampunk elements.

1. The Paranormal Romance
(Similar to Twilight, Evernight, Evermore, Shiver)

The most successful books out there are the tried-and-true YA formula (a coming of age story and a love story) with some sort of supernatural element (vampires, ghosts, fairies, etc).
Over It: manuscripts featuring a kind of boring Plain-Jane-Girl-Next-Door narrator who meets Tall-Dark-Dangerous boy who’s also a vampire/werewolf/shapeshifter/fallen angel/evil fairy and who may or may not be trying to kill her.  Plain-Jane falls for Tall-Dark despite his creepy stalker habits and values him more than her own life and despite his desire to kill her, something about her makes him change his ways.  He falls in love with her and together they defeat the real Bad Guy.
Still Love: I’m a sucker for all things paranormal and all things romance so I do still love reading manuscripts in this genre, but some agents and editors are trying to move away from this subgenre because there are just so many manuscripts and books out there now.  I can’t help but love steamy romances featuring a strong teenage girl, maybe a girl with powers coming into her own, supernatural beings other than the overdone vampire/werewolf/shapeshifter/fallen angel/evil fairy combo, particularly beings with mythological roots, and a strong voice that can incorporate the typical danger, action, and romance with a dose of witty humor. 

Last, but not Least, What I’m Clamoring For:
Genuine humor in any subgenre of YA that’s written by someone who is still in touch with today’s teenagers, a writer who can create a voice that understands the slang, technology, music, and other cultural aspects centered in today’s teenage experience.
Great characterization – no matter the subgenre.  I want to fall in love with characters, get beneath their skin, and watch them come alive while I read.  The best manuscripts and novels I read have characters that still exist for me long after I close the book, characters that keep me awake at night because I’m still so caught up in their lives and their story.


Thanks again, Suzie!!


Linda G. said...

It's great to get an agent's perspective on what's hot and what's not -- thanks, Suzie! (And thank you, Suze, for inviting Suzie.)

Victoria Schwab said...

I second Linda's comment. It's wonderful to hear Suzie's take on the industry, what doesn't work and what's still fresh. Thank you Suzie for these answers, and Susan for hosting her!

Kody Mekell Keplinger said...

Hm...trying to assess my genre among those five. Girly romance...check! Edgy...semi-check. Heehee.

Thanks, Suzie and Susan! (haha! Just caught that!) This was a great post!

Lisa Dez said...

I started wondering why Suzie took me on when I got to number one, but then I remembered it was because she has a crush on Luc (my hero). ;)

Thanks to Suzie for the insight and to Susan for the blog!

Hope your feeling better! :)

suzie said...

Thank you for having me Suze :)

Thanks Linda, Victoria, and Kody.

Lisa, I love Luc :) And Frannie too. She's a strong character coming into her own. Plus, one thing I loved about Luc and Frannie's story is all the ironic humor.

Tiffany Schmidt said...

I am now playing that fun game where I look through my classroom library and classify everything by genre.

Thanks for the helpful post, Suzie!

RKCharron said...

Hi Suzie :)
Thank you for the great post.
I liked learning what's good & what's not.
All the best,

Kristin Miller said...

Hahaha! Lisa, I started wondering the same thing as you as I was reading: and where does LD fit in?

This is a super post. Transparent and informative. It doesn't beat around the bush but instead dives right into the useful tidbits that writers are looking for. Thanks to the both of you!!

Tere Kirkland said...

Always a pleasure to get some insight into the latest YA trends-- even if I don't write with trends in mind.

Thanks, Suzie and Susan!

Kirsten Hubbard said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alissa said...

Well, apparently, I am dark and edgy, or at least, what I write is. Great post!

Kirsten Hubbard said...

hmm. I am just going to plunk myself down under "great characterization".

(my last comment said categorization.)

Alice Luther said...

Great post! Seriously helpful!
Curious. . . I know that most publishers/agents are probably keenly aware of the female demographic, but is there much of a market for material written with guys in mind? (11-15 year olds?) What sort of needs are we talking about?

DebraLSchubert said...

Great post, Susan. I'm writing a YA Urban Fantasy and am SOOO excited about it! I'll be querying in a few months, and Suzie will definitely be on my list.

Dee said...

That was SUCH a helpful post for me! I feel like I have a better idea of how to think about YA lit now. You rock!

Tara said...

Love this information! Thanks for the guest post.

Jenn Johansson said...

Awesome. This is so good to hear. We need more guest blogs like this! :) Great job Susan!

Anonymous said...

Great information! And Suze, you're a Rockstar, starting your guest-blogs off with Suzie!

brian_ohio said...

Great Post!

And I can say with certainty that Suzie is a very kind and smart agent. Very prompt!

I see big things in her future, no doubt!

Susan Adrian said...

Linder and V: I was SO happy to have Suzie!! She's awesome.

Kody: I totally did the self-analysis thing too, instantly on reading her post. :)

Lisa: I'm sure she took your book on because she LOVED it!

Suzie: Thanks again!

Tiff: HEE. Remember these are only the top 5 genres she's seeing. She had to remind me that not everything fit into these.

Susan Adrian said...

RK: You're welcome!! Glad it helped!

Kristin: Glad you liked the post, and thanks for all your linkage! You are linkage queen.

Tere and Alissa: Glad you liked it!

Kirsten: That is *always* a good place to be.

Alice: I am Not an Agent (or anywhere near), but I have seen several agent's and editor's blogs mention they're actively looking for boy's POV fic.

Debra: YA Urban Fantasy = Yay!

Susan Adrian said...

Dee: I'm so glad!!

Tara and Jenn: I'm happy it was helpful.


Brian: She is indeed!

suzie said...

Thanks to all the kind words :)

Alice, boy perspectives are tricky. Agents and editors are always looking for a great boy book, but it's also a very tough market.

Mechelle Fogelsong said...

Alice: I'm a teacher. Diary of a Wimpy Kid is really popular with my male students right now.

Very broadly speaking, I find teen and pre-teen male readers tend to prefer nonfiction to fiction. Not sure why.

courtney said...

What a great, great blog entry. Suze, thanks for hosting it and Suzie, thanks for an insightful look at what's hot and not. Suzie rocks! Any author would be lucky to have her in their corner!! :D

Ash. Elizabeth said...

Great guest blog!

Jacqui said...

Darn. I guess I have to rip up my pasty girl meets blood-sucking boy manuscript and start all over...

Seriously, though, I am grateful for this post. Thank you! Gave me much to consider, and a category to slap my manuscript into. Girly romance all the way. Thanks for your time and specifics.


Anonymous said...

I am more a clogger (Clarks, I meant) than a blogger. But at 56, I am still a student, because I am an English teacher.
Ms. Townsend, I can feel your empathy for us writers and readers. Perhaps your teaching days keep you grounded and deftly connected to life outside your office window. I love your
electronic humanness.
Thanks for being so genuine and directly encouraging. Your tips and guidelines mean everything to me.
I hope I can shake your hand someday. You are part of my Bucket List, ma'am!


"Miss P"

Dark Angel said...

Great interview about the trends.

Sarah Fowler said...

Thank you for the honest assessment of today's authors. I was at the Midwest Writers Workshop where Suzie appeared, and happened to sit at a table with SEVEN zombie apocalypse writers. Seven. Seriously. It's fantastic to have people who love what they write, but it's also important to have written a publishable, unique manuscript.

Martha Ramirez said...

Another awesome interview on Suzie! Thanks for posting.

Emailman said...

I would love to see you do one of these for Middle Grade, Suzie :) *hint, hint* lol

This is great information. Thank you!

Pickle said...

Loved reading that post. Thank You

Marbleman said...

I'm brand spanking new to all of this, and have quickly identified Suzie as a guru of the YA fiction world. So, her post was a good eye-opener for this rookie, and greatly appreciated. Back to the drawing board... Looking forward to the end of your query hiatus!

Krysta Man said...

Thank you Susan and Suzie! I was wondering what people are getting sick of in the YA subgenres. All I know was that I am tired of paranormal romance.

My genre among these five? Well, I'm hoping that my stories would bring out a different fantasy category from high fantasy and urban fantasy.