“Hip” Young Adult Fiction

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On a hot day, I like to take a blanket and a book into the back garden, lie with my face in the sun and think about how I’m going to make my first million. After studying an Arts degree, however, making a million is not as easy as it sounds. And so, I have resolved myself to the fact that if I want to be earning the big bucks, then I’m just going to have to be the next J. K Rowling and write the next Harry Potter series.

Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows

Yes, the Harry Potter franchise is officially over. No more butterbeer at the leaky cauldron, rides on hippogriffs, or gurning faces from Ron Weasley. The final film instalment smashed box office records on both sides of the Atlantic, making £9 million on its first day in British cinemas and bringing audiences to tears as they say goodbye to what has been, undeniably, one of the best loved series in the history of literature.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that the Harry Potter books revolutionised the “Young Adult” genre, encouraging an entire generation of children to start reading again, as well as delighting adults and teens alike. I am by no means a die-hard Potter fanatic, but I found myself welling up as I watched the last few scenes of Deathly Hallows: Part 2 and, like so many others, began to wonder what was going to fill the void that Harry Potter has left behind? What would be the “next big thing” in young adult fiction? Afterall, if I’m going to write a successful series on a scale with Harry Potter, knowing which genre is going to sell to future generations can only be advantage surely.

Currently, vampires and dark  fantasy romances are all the rage but with the Twilight series coming to an end and the market flooded with werewolves and bloodsuckers, it seems readers are growing tired of this latest craze, sales being down by 37% this year compared to the previous year. One would think that this leaves the market pretty much open, but industry experts are already predicting the next big genre and the contenders vying for J.K’s crown.

Suzanne Collins is the hot favourite at the moment and has a bit of a head start, with a devoted following and sales reaching £1 million for her Hunger Games trilogy, as well as the 2012 release of a film adaptation in the pipeline. The Hunger Games is set in a grim, post-apocalyptic dystopia and follows the complicated love lives and friendships of teenagers forced to compete in a televised fight to the death. The books are fast-paced, addictive, and almost hypnotic, earning awards and mostly positive reviews from critics, including fellow authors Stephen King and Stephanie Meyer who described herself as being “obsessed” by the trilogy.

Matched by Ally Condie

Indeed, dystopian and post-apocalyptic settings seem to be the link between many of the series lining up to take over from Harry Potter and Twilight. Matched, the first book in a new trilogy by Ally Condie, is set in a world where “the Society” controls your job, your home, and your love life, whilst new offerings such as the post-nuclear-holocaust thriller Pure by Julianna Baggott and Carrie Ryan’s The Forest of Hands and Teeth are also set in a sort of dystopia.

So should we all start writing tales of teen love and angst in a bleak dystopian future in order to crack the lucrative young adult market? In short, no. Yes, we can sometimes predict what’s going to be popular, but the real success behind books like Harry Potter and The Hunger Game isn’t really to do with their genres, but what lies at their core. Underneath all the “dark romance” gimmicks or whatever labels you want to use, these books have very traditional themes: love and the coming of age. Even more crucially, they are good books. Their quality of writing and their strength of plot and character play a much more important role than mere genre setting and hitting the market at the right time. Often, writers who write specifically to fit into an “in” genre find their voices lost amongst the great swaths of other writers doing the same thing.

In my opinion, the world is full of enough misery and solemnity: my heart wouldn’t really be in it if I tried to write a Dystopian teen novel in the hopes of striking lucky. If I really want to be the next J. K. Rowling and earn my fortune through my pen (or laptop, in this case) it’s far better to focus on what interests me as a writer, rather than chase whatever genre is currently in vogue. A strong, distinct voice will always come out on top over a crowd-pleasing piece of genre-fiction—something I’ll bear in mind when I sit down this weekend and finally begin my own Whitbread prizewinning piece.

Briony Wickes

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