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Is There Such a Thing as YA Crossunder?

Dearly Beloved Y’ALL,

Forgive me if this post comes from a lack of knowledge about the publication industry. I try to learn of the ‘industry’ only so far has it helps a project along. I salute those folks who become experts in the byzantine ins and outs of marketing, distribution, packaging, etc. But lately, I’ve been curious about one question: Is there an established subgenre called something like “YA Crossunder.”

First off, lemme define my term “crossunder.” We’re all aware of what “YA crossover” is because we’re all aware of Harry Potter. I love YA crossover books. The term “crossover” in general is sought after in publishing. Who wouldn’t want to write a mystery that “crosses over” to appeal to romance readers. Or a SciFi book that crosses over to historical fiction, etc. But regarding YA, I’ve only ever heard folks talk about it going in one direction; crossing “over” from younger people to older people. Hence my question about “YA Crossunder”: is there a subgenre of books written for old fogies like me but with the intent to also appeal to younger folks.

Before we go too far, I need to plead a lot of ignorance about how YA works. Because I didn’t learn to read until I was about 13, I avoided the stuff that my classmates had been reading before…not wanting to showcase my disability. As such, I focused on reading books shelved in SFF as ‘YA crossunder.’ This changed my life in a wonderful way. I suspect a bunch of folks do this but aren’t hyperaware of it as I was.

There’s another (self serving) reason I’m interested in this phenomenon. Presently, Spellwright will be published by eight different publishing houses in seven different languages: six are shelving it as “adult fantasy” (no, not that kind of adult fantasy), and two of them are publishing it as YA crossover fantasy. I’m very cool with all of this, especially since I envisioned the series as a YA crossunder (though, on occasion, I do fret about publishing not making books more attractive to young men). It’ll be interesting to how the different shelving does or doesn’t change anything.

Anyway, off the top of my head, I can think of two pretty cool examples of folks trying to work with what I’m now thinking of a YA crossunder. A few years back, Tor split Robert Jordan’s first Eye of the World into two mass market paper backs and given more YA-ish covers. I think that worked out pretty well for them . Secondly, there are Alex Awards, given by the ALA to “ten books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults, ages 12 through 18.” Personally, I think this award is the epitome of an awesome idea and do a small devotional dance every morning to influence the people involved to consider Spellwright. If you know a librarian involved in the ALA and if you liked Spellwright, give them a some flowers (because, hey, what librarian doesn’t deserve flowers?) and then point them to the section of their libraries containing SFF books written by bald people whose names rhyme with Flake Barlton. Small section, only one book there; they can’t miss it.

Okay, but back to my real question. Are you aware of other books that ‘crossunder?’ Is this actually a large subgenre I should have know about already? Are there particular examples I should be checking out?

Lemme know what you think, and I’ll go back to editing Spellbound.


33 Responses to “Is There Such a Thing as YA Crossunder?”

  • My local bookshop has David Eddings filed under YA these days. He certainly wasn’t filed as YA when The Belgariad first came out.

    I write both ‘adult’ and YA fantasy; I secretly suspect that my teenage readers pefer the ‘adult’ stuff and the YA is preferred by young ladies in their 20s-30s. Or so the fanmail would suggest.

    Um. That’s not very ‘secretly’ any more, is it. Don’t tell…

    • stephen! you’d be the perfect person to furtively follow around to steal YA crossover/under/around industry secrets from! but now that i’ve written that, i’ll have to be extra special furtive. i also will have to stop ending sentences in prepositions.

      anyway, any pearls of wisdom about how to attract the attention of the younger readers? or does it just…happen? i too seem to be getting attn mostly from adults, which is super cool. but i was really hope to catch of eye of the younger folks. #thingsthatmakeyousayhrmmmm

  • Interesting… I can think of enough books that might fit the profile, but never heard of it as a spcecific named and classified sub-genre. By Jove, you may have hit on something!

    • hi Hollie, thanks for stopping by! jove is a good person to do something by! now we just need to convince the publishing houses to give it a whirl and the young ppl to check out the books 😉

  • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by torforgeauthors, Blake Charlton. Blake Charlton said: New Blog Post "Is There Such a Thing as YA Crossunder?" http://bit.ly/bMl0mK […]

  • Lord of the Rings! The Original fantasy crossunder. I discovered a copy of it in my elementary school library (How I had the patience to make it through fellowship, I have no idea, because I certainly don’t anymore). And I have a feeling that was the gateway drug for many young readers. Edding’s Belgariad, Anthony’s Xanth, Feist’s Magician apprentice. The thing is, one of the major tropes in fantasy is that of the Coming of Age quest. And that’s exactly what YA is! They’ve just not been recognized as such because the theme and story type existed way before the YA classification did.

    • a very good point, the genre has a kinda built in crossunder potential for the reasons you point out. though (as i remark later) i think because of the Hobbit and the YA elements earlier on in LotR, they’re more crossover than under…what do you think?

  • I like the idea. I have never heard of the specific term before, but I am seeing more and more authors cross-publishing in both the YA and adult markets. Many of them publish two distinct editions, with different covers and EANs targeting different markets.

    And why not? The books get shelved in different sections of stores and libraries, giving the author more exposure. It also saves adults from walking around with a “children’s book”. (One of the reasons I think the “adult” covers of the Harry Potter series were so successful)

    • it’s funny, i often then we make too much of where we shelf books, but maybe we don’t make enough of a point to shelve books in multiple places. of course producing different editions coasts cash, so i imagine the houses would have to see a high chance of gain for producing two covers.

  • I thought back to the salad days of my youth when I read this and immediately thought the works that sort of created the foundation of my love of the genre. The first one that clearly popped in my head was the Dragonlance Chronicles. I first read them in 8th or 9th grade, I don’t remember exactly. To this day, they are still marketed as “adult” but are clearly “crossunder” type books. Actually, most media tie-in books would fall under this category.

    I totally agree with you on the “Wheel of Time” books, especially considering they were, in fact, repackaged for a YA audience. (At least the first 2 books were.)

    I think that if the tone of a book is PG-13 or less, like your book kind of is, it can be looked at as a sort of “crossunder” book. That’s at least the mindset I kept when I was writing my YA book, which has a lot of the elements of my “adult” fantasy fumblings. (The trunk novel is a big ugly beast that taunts me occasionally…in my own words: “sounds more like Greg Keyes’ The Briar King than the George RR Martin that inspired it….things that make you go brrrrrr.)

    • very good call on the media tie-ins. i remember reading Joan Vinge’s version of the movie WILLOW and getting more into books that way. and I agree that most any book that is PG13 (mine certainly is…though the sequel is more NC17) have a crossunder potential, i just wonder if we should be paying more attention to that potential.

      and ignore the taunts of the trunk 😉 was talking at WFC to a bunch of ppl who had 3 or more in their trunk and those of us who pub our first one have to rewrite it 3 or 4 times…

  • I think of Ender’s Game as a classic crossunder. Anne McCaffrey’s Pern books were shelved in the adult section of my local library, along with Robert Jordan, Piers Anthony, Patricia C. Wrede’s Lyra books, selected Mercedes Lackey (Valdemar was in “Teens”), Marion Zimmer Bradley, Terry Goodkind, Roger Zelazny, and everyone else I plowed through in middle school. There weren’t enough crossunders for me, I think; once I was done with Redwall and Valdemar and Tortall and James Herriot and all those Terhune dog books, the only place to go was out to the adult section.

    The YA market has changed a lot in the last thirteen years, though, so I don’t know if kids who are big readers are still learning that the good stuff is on the grown-up shelves or if things like Harry Potter, Monster Blood Tattoo, Holly Black, and Melissa Marr are satisfying them more. Probably both, depending on what they want to read; for example, YA mysteries haven’t caught up to their adult counterparts yet.

    • it’s an interesting point. i can remember a few years back a lot of articles fretting that the many many of readers of harry potter wouldn’t continue reading after the fad passed. i wonder if there’s any data about that…

  • Oh! And Fionavar.

  • I recently read Mortal Coils by Nylund and I think it fits here perfectly. Published by Tor, but it could have easily been a YA that skews old as far as I’m concerned.

  • I love this term “crussunder.” There are a number of great replies already in this comment section that I can agree with. Lord of the Rings would be a good example, although I have to admit that I was never able to make it through those books until I was an adult, try as I might have as a child. Ender’s game– another great one.

    I think that many of the best novels are ones that can be enjoyed by any age. I dream of writing things that are accessible and rewarding to everyone, be they 9 years old or a grandparent. Something like this needn’t lack sophistication or depth. (Lord of the Rings is a perfect example of that.) Corssunder may be a term for it, though I like to think of these books as ones that don’t have to “cross” anything at all. Everywhere you go, they are already there.

    • it’s funny about the Lord of the Rings. i didn’t read it until i was an adult too; however, my parents did read The Hobbit to me when i was younger. In a way I consider those too books to be crossover–starting out with the pretty solidly YA Hobbit and moving to the LotR, which had stronger YA elements early on; witness Tom Bombadil.

      and yes! the best stories are for all. i completely agree 😉

  • When I was a kid and hauted the library regularly, there was a small section (with special bright blue carpet!) outside the “Children’s section” that was YA. It had a large SF/Fantasy section. I don’t remember if there was a “grown up” SF/Fantasy section in the library.

    There are tons of SF/Fantasy books that are appropriate for both grown ups and YA. There may be a difference in the marketing, though. As a grown-up today, I’m less likely to wander into the YA section of a bookstore and more likely to just look in the SF/Fantasy section.

    • same here. however, through some recommendations from friends (some above) i’m starting to see there’s a long going on in the YA section that would also interest adults. I got to meet Holly Black at WFC and need to check out her work. it’s made quite a splash…

  • Many of the most popular fantasies cross into the YA market. A very large percentage of the participants in the fantasy author message boards and email lists I visited in the ’90’s were under 18. An almost disturbing (considering some of the content) number of those that hung around the Terry Goodkind lists were 15-18. A large percentage of them were, perhaps unsurprisingly, male. (They give teen boys loads of sex and violence that Mom won’t notice.) Tolkien (Of course), Robert Jordan and Terry Brooks had many, many teenage readers on those mailing lists/message boards, too.

    There is a lot more YA fantasy than was available back then, of course. Teens still likely expect more excitement and complexity from something marketed as adult fantasy.

    • interesting. i remember being captivated by Jordan, Fiest, and Hob as a young man but never thinking of them as written for young people. i wonder if by putting a “YA okay” label on something it turns some younger ppl off. i bet you a lot of young men are now reading sanderson, rothfuss, weeks, etc.

  • Love this post, and the discussion. I’m trying to think of things that I used to read as a teenager, and I guess the problem with me contributing to the conversation is that I read books “above my age level” basically all the way from elementary through high school. I taught myself to read at 3 and in kindergarten my comprehension was up to at least a third grade level, so I wouldn’t select what I read based on any criteria other than whether or not I wanted to read it. Even to this day, I sometimes have trouble figuring out what is “appropriate” reading for certain age levels when I have to buy a gift for a kid.

    It occurs to me, though, as has been mentioned earlier, that David Eddings is probably perfect for this list, some Neil Gaiman, maybe, Richard Adams’ Watership Down, James Clemen’s The Banned and the Banished series. I could imagine The Parasol Protectorate working as crossunder, as well as Spellwright. Hmm, I’ll have to mull this over some more.

    • interesting to hear what it was like on the opposite side of the reading speed spectrum 😉 i bet there are a lot of lifetime readers with your perspective. i’d guess there’s be a certain excitment about reading “above one’s reading level.” you’re right about gaiman, i think particularly Stardust is a good one.

      and it just occurs to me now the book (yes, the movie is wonderful) but the book for The Princess Bride is a wonderful example of crossunder lit.

      i’ll have to ask gail if she has many younger folks reading her stuff 😉

  • thanks everyone for the great comments so far. all this is making ponder the inherent crossunder potential of different genres. in fantasy there has lately been a move toward the “gritty fantasy” with lots of sex, violence, etc. a lot of folks do this very well: GRRM, scott lynch, etc etc. but i wonder if the attempt to make it ‘gritty’ is a sort of reaction against the crossunder potential…

  • I don’t think they really can. I mean teens and adults are at similar reading levels, younger kids are at a lower reading level, and a lower developmental level. You can read a book like, Blood Soup by Kelly A. Harmon with an older kid, because you both get it. Kids and teens are just too different.

  • This is a great discussion, thanks BC!

    This may either be a reflection of my creeping age or my relatively sane upbringing, but back when I first started reading fantasy I was not aware of any ‘YA’ category. My parents did not forbid any books or allow marketing to vet my choices for me. I read children’s books, and when my reading level was sufficient I read adult books. There was no in-between place. Occasionally that meant I stumbled on books that I was clearly not ready for (containing sex scenes, etc.) I was savvy enough simply to stop reading when I became uncomfortable and move on to something else. Kids are far brighter than we give them credit for.

    The books I was reading at age 11 or 12 – LOTR, Anne Mc Caffrey, David Eddings – are now classed as ‘adult’ fantasy, much to my shock. I had a chat to a bookseller at Aussiecon about this, explaining how I’d originally written TF for teens as a coming of age story, and been quite surprised when it was marketed to adults. Basically I wrote the sort of book I would have loved to read at age 12, and found rather belatedly that it wasn’t the sort being marketed to teens right now. Why why why was that? asked I.

    She answered: “Because of the parents.” Over the last ten to fifteen years teen readers have been channelled into a separate category because this is perceived as being what parents want (true? untrue? I don’t know.) All the old stalwarts – Eddings, McCaffrey etc – are considered ‘too dark’ for kiddies tender minds.

    My reaction is ‘puh-leez’. By 15 I was into Anne Rice. This made me what I am today… Oh wait, maybe that’s not such a great draw. 😉

  • This is an interesting question and one that I’ve actually been thinking about lately. I’ve noticed a number of authors that I like have begun writing YA, including Jasper Fforde and Leanna Renee Hieber and I’m curious how they approach writing YA books differently and if these books are also intended to appeal to their adult readers.

    It seems like it would be pretty tricky to write a book that both YA readers and adults can find satisfying, particularly in relating to the main characters. YA books need characters who are a similar age to the readers and who think and behave in a way that the readers can connect with. But to make such a book appealing to adults, the characters and story have to have enough depth and sophistication to keep adult readers intersted.

    There is also the issue that almost all adult books have “adult content” in them which help add some spice to the story but would be inappropriate in a YA book. Instead you would have to make the characters’ interactions and relationship interesting enough while keeping it PG

    It’s a tricky combination.

    And of those books that have won the 2010 Alex Awards, I’ve read just two of them but neither would I ever suggest to a YA reader.

  • This is actually the first I’ve heard of the term, but I’m really intrigued by it. I think SPELLWRIGHT qualifies–I can see its appeal to both adults and teens, even though it’s shelved as adult. I could see this becoming a much bigger category in the near future, particularly as YA audiences get older but don’t necessarily want the heavy adult content sometimes found in adult books–I think this is, in part, one of the reasons why YA books have such a large adult following. I don’t think the question is whether or not an adult book can be made appealing to teens, however (think of all the teens that flock to rated R films), but like you pointed out, making those crossunders appropriate for them. Then again, I’ve read some YA’s that so push the boundaries of YA, I have a hard time understanding how they weren’t classified as adult. Maybe it really just comes down to clever marketing?

    • I Carol, sorry for the slow reply. Thins comment came in when i was distracted by a deadline. But, yes, you haven’t heard the term ‘YA crossunder’ bc i just made it up 😉 i been thinking a fair amount about this, and how we come to ‘shelve’ books into one category or another. I’ve also been reading a lot of YA that seems to push the envelope of what i would have considered within in the genre. Generally, I feel that pushing boundaries is a good thing 😉

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