Book Article

Top Novelists Try YA Fiction

Writers are embracing YA for the sheer fun of switching genres. But the ka-ching! of the cash register doesn't hurt either

That stampeding sound you hear? It's the rush of adult authors — many of them longtime, established best-sellers — crossing over to write young-adult novels. The appeal is simple. Adult fiction sales are tepid these days, but the YA business, thanks to franchises like The Hunger Games and Twilight, is white-hot.

So more and more of Mom and Dad's favorite writers want in on the action. Star Island author Carl Hiaasen published his fourth YA novel, Chomp, in March. John Grisham released the third book of his teen-oriented Theodore Boone series in May. This summer Jodi Picoult and Elizabeth George will enter the YA fray. And this fall we'll see Harlan Coben's second Mickey Bolitar novel and James Patterson's first-ever young-adult mystery novel, Confessions of a Murder Suspect, as well as Pulitzer winner Jane Smiley's Pie in the Sky.

George, who has been writing her densely plotted Inspector Lynley series for 25 years, says that her paranormal coming-of-age novel The Edge of Nowhere — a complete genre switch for her — was an easier sell than some of her non-Lynley adult projects. ''My agent was excited about my YA novel from the start because it's a really strong, growing market,'' she says. ''He wanted me to be a part of it.''

Picoult also saw her teen fantasy Between the Lines as a way to expand her audience. ''There are a lot of parents and older teens who read my books and maybe want to share them with younger siblings and children, but they may not be emotionally ready,'' she says. ''I like to think Between the Lines is a springboard for an 11-year-old who might be totally traumatized by Nineteen Minutes,'' her novel about a school shooting.

Practical motivations aside, seasoned authors welcome the creative challenge of writing in another genre. ''My adult novels, plot-wise and linguistically, are very complicated,'' George explains. ''I had to alter that and create a much more straightforward way of telling my story.''

Picoult, who co-wrote Between the Lines with her teenage daughter, Samantha van Leer, thinks she and some of her peers have turned to YA for more personal reasons: ''We have our own kids we want to appeal to.''

Perhaps most enticing of all, teens offer a different kind of reader engagement than authors get from adult crowds. ''If you talk to YA authors, they all value the passion of these omnivorous readers,'' says Tracy van Straaten, vice president of trade publicity for Scholastic. And all writers can recall what that feels like. ''Whether the setting is futuristic, historical, sci-fi, suburban, or inner-city, at the core of it there's that thing all teenagers go through. Every adult remembers, vividly, the adolescent experience.''

Originally posted Jun 15, 2012 Published in issue #1212 Jun 22, 2012 Order article reprints