The idea for this article was born from an online discussion on the HWA’s very own Facebook page. It began as a debate around why there appeared to be so few member nominations for the 2018 YA section of the Stoker Awards.
The detail surrounding the debate is hazy; safe to say that many contributors expressed their confusion over what did or did not constitute YA horror. Some questioned content and context; others expressed their frustrations at wanting to know more and never being able to find resources to give informed choice on the marketplace.
An interest in both writing YA fiction and research (I hold a BSc Hons in Mental Health Studies and an MSc in Health Science) had me sitting down to ponder on this debate, and what become readily apparent was that the concept of writing YA fiction came partly from an individual perspective while being informed by assumption and myth. A timely shout-out from Kathy for content for the HWA newsletter had me considering how we could gain clarity on member’s views and establish how those views could be addressed with the aim of encouraging more people to at least consider writing for the YA horror market.
So, one Survey Monkey questionnaire and a quick thematic analysis period later and what follows are the distilled findings from those who kindly participated. It makes for a fascinating read, so I hope that you enjoy it as much as I have conducting the survey.
Although a (very) rudimentary research process was applied to this survey, it is not my intention to present it in a scientific format. While some may frown at this, the whole point of the work was to improve engagement with members and this also means making it accessible in terms readability. To the scientists reading this: my humble apologies!
So, in total, 31 members replied to the questionnaire which consisted of 9 levels of inquiry and some freeform text.
Of this total number, 16 members had written for the YA market, 15 had not. When asked, the 16 members who had written for this market suggested that the reasons for doing so came into three broad categories:
- The story
- The concept of freedom
- Experience of the target audience
Overall, members felt that it was the story that often drove them to write for the YA market. There was commonality in that the YA worldview was considered to be a primary focus for their decision to continue with their projects. More often than not, the aspect of day-to-day trials of growing up and the challenges facing young people today, lent itself to tales of disquiet and horror.
There was also the notion that YA protagonists placed in frightening situations with limited agency appealed to the concept of horror in a way that was more potent than that of the adult market.
The concept of freedom featured in many responses, be that from the perspective of a writer and levels of creativity or that of the characters themselves. This is interesting in that this element, so often associated with creating stories irrespective of market, was singled out by respondents as particularly powerful in the decisions to write a YA project. When exploring further, some participants felt that having younger protagonists and placing them into challenging—and yes, horrific—situations revitalised their muse.
Most of the respondents identified with the target audience as they were either parents with children and teens in the family or worked with these age groups. There was a generalised feeling that knowledge of the hopes and fears of this population lent itself to story development and utilising the very real experiences of kids growing up today, and placing a “horror” spin upon it.
Those members who had considered writing YA horror but ultimately chose not to do so described two primary reasons for their decision:
- Knowledge of the marketplace
- Knowledge of the audience
Overwhelmingly, it was unfamiliarity of the market that deterred respondents from starting or continuing with their YA projects. This ranged from finding the resources in order to explore and research the marketplace to a perception that it was already oversaturated with existing YA horror content. In some instances, the tenet of going up against established writers was intimidating to the point of terminating all thoughts of starting their projects.
Again, knowledge of the audience was also a significant feature, namely those who had no children were less likely to consider writing for the age group. Those who did have experience, either through parenting or profession, expressed frustration at not having any consistent, quality resources and guidance to support them to write YA fiction.
Those who had not written for the YA market were asked if they had ever considered doing so. Surprisingly 89% said that they had at some point considered writing for the market. 83% of respondents said that they would consider revisiting their projects if online resources were available to help them. 9% said that did not know if this would make any difference in helping them make a decision.
The types of resources that respondents preferred were a blend of blog posts from well-established YA writers, online seminars on writing for the YA market, and eResource packs.
Participants were finally asked to add any comments at the end of the questionnaire that would help generate further discussion going forward.
There were several standout viewpoints:
- There needs to be information on content and context when writing for the YA market.
- Publishers and agents, and a lack of YA Horror sub-genre, are barriers to writers pursuing projects in this field.
- Changes in the overall YA market should be a deterrent to those considering YA horror projects at this point in time.
- That existing competition and online antagonism amongst the YA community are off-putting for new YA horror writers.
Putting this article together has certainly helped me to understand some of the challenges facing those who wish to, or would consider, writing for the YA horror market. One of the primary issues for me is that there does not appear to be much out there in terms of resources to help writers explore or research the market. Another challenge is that the marketplace for YA horror is ill defined (no surprise when we consider the lack of existing resource) and when people talk of a saturated market it is often associated with dystopian or vampire/shapeshifter romance not horror. A lack of YA horror sub-genre cannot help this premise.
I’m hoping that this article serves to generate further discussion amongst HWA members going forward. I would like to see greater, open debate and a move to actively generating resources to at least give members an informed choice as to whether the YA horror market is for them or not.
To kick-start this process I have lined up a follow-up article where I have interviewed bestselling YA writer Darren Shan, author of the multi-million-selling Cirque Du Freak series. I will hopefully have that ready to publish over the next few months.
I will take this final opportunity to deeply thank every member who responded to the questionnaire, it would not have been possible without you all. Hopefully it will assist in shaping how we move forward on promoting and contributing to the YA horror scene.
Dave Jeffery can be reached at http://www.davejeffery.webs.com.