The Wall Street Journal has an article on the YA market. It's behind the usual WSJ subscriber-only wall, but you can sign up for a free trial (or probably find it elsewhere online, since I suspect lots of people will blog about this).
It's an interesting article, by and large, though it has some semi-odd generalizations about who reads what and when. "Older teen boys, for instance, read books by mainstream writers such as Carl Hiaasen . . ." Yeah, too bad there are no Carl Hiaasen novels aimed directly at younger b-- Oh wait. Shoot.
I think this most quotable bit is toward the end though, from Larry Doyle the author of I Love You, Beth Cooper, a novel that apparently bounced between YA and adult imprints before landing with Prep editor Lee Boudreaux at an adult imprint. Now, I haven't read this author and this is the only time I've seen him interviewed, but I hope he didn't mean this like it sounds (italics are mine):
"Mr. Doyle is happy with his choice. He thinks there's a stigma attached to young-adult books, as there is with 'chick lit' aimed at women readers. 'If 'To Kill a Mockingbird' or 'The Catcher in the Rye' were published today, they'd almost certainly be young-adult titles,' he says. 'But then they wouldn't become classics, except in the sense that Judy Blume books are classics.'"
Um, huh? So, where the book gets shelved is the final arbiter of literary merit? And in what-- apparently lesser--"sense" exactly are Blume's books classics, then? Are they class-b classics? Is this something like being an AM-radio superstar? And is there a little merit-by-association implied in this quote? (Essentially, "Class me not with Blume, for I belong with Salinger and Lee," says the former sitcom writer).
I also find it interesting that the Wall Street Journal manages to overlook the dollars-and-cents angle at play in this issue. Doyle's book would have cost $16.95 at most at a YA imprint. With an adult house, it's $19.95 for the same paper, ink, and cardboard. Oh, maybe that's the what he meant by "the sense that Judy Blume books are classics."
The author had this to say on GalleyCat:
"Larry Doyle writes in to clarify some of the things in this post, as well as the original article. 'I have no disdain for children's literature, or literature read by young adults. I was wary of the prepackaged marketing of same, as a genre with specific conventions, then sold into a narrow channel of readership. That's why I brought up MOCKING BIRD and THE CATCHER IN THE RYE. They are both clearly children's and young adult books, but both were published as general fiction. As was A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN. It was an adult best-seller and shipped routinely to servicemen.'" He also says he went out of his way to say that he wasn't suggesting that his book was a classic.
Fair enough, but I don't think he's quite got a handle on YA. He says he mentioned Frank Portman's King Dork "as an example of a book that I thought deserved wider recognition but didn't get it because of the marketing label." I think this is not only wrong but possibly backward. I think YA might have saved King Dork. King Dork is a wonderful novel, but it is also a novel by a first-time novelist and it features a young teenager as its protagonist. It doesn't feel like Mark Haddon-type crossover to me. So I'm not seeing what makes him think a book that has sold over 20,000 copies and has been featured in Time Magazine (among others, no doubt) is underappreciated and underperforming because it's in YA not adult. (I'll provide my own counterexample, though. Such a Pretty Girl by Laura Wiess is brisk-selling, highly promoted, adult-section-dwelling debute novel that is pretty clearly YA to my eye.) Interesting question.