First it was magic with “Harry Potter,” then came vampires and werewolves with “Twilight,” and then dystopian futures with “The Hunger Games.” Young adult fiction (for ages 13 to 18) has proved to be a profitable trendsetter and captured readers far beyond teenagers. But where did this literary appetite for magic, vampires, and oppressive societies come from and what could possibly be next?
“There is a recipe for success [in YA literature], but no one knows what it is at any given moment,” says Jenny Sawyer of 60secondrecap.com, a website that uses engaging videos to review books taught in high school.
In her bestselling series “The Hunger Games,” author Suzanne Collins created a fantasy mix that resonated among readers: a strong female protagonist, reality television, darker material but little moral relativism, and hope. But like every YA megatrend to emerge in the past two decades, the success of “The Hunger Games” could be considered a fluke. It came out of left field, the Internet helped it become a viral sensation, and people of all ages read it.
It also spawned a genre. Hoping to capitalize on the unequaled success of “The Hunger Games,” publishers have released dozens of similar dystopian books and series. Last year, a study showed that 55 percent of those buying YA were older than 18. But the YA dystopian trend may already be cresting. Limited success of spin-offs – and declining sales of “The Hunger Games” books – indicate readers may be looking for the next hot trend.
“Dystopia is pretty much dead,” says literary agent Barry Goldblatt, adding that this doesn’t mean that “The Hunger Games” won’t continue to sell. “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” the film based on the second book in the trilogy, opens Nov. 22 in theaters and is sure to spike sales. But from his vantage point the book market is starting to move on.
Nor does it mean dystopian YA literature has completely run its course. Based on the number of advance copies she’s received for review, Ms. Sawyer says the genre will be around for a while. While publishers and agents must try to predict what people will want to read about 14 months in advance, Sawyer says new dystopian YA novels will continue to appear in bookstores this fall and winter. Sawyer also points to the success of the dystopian “Divergent” series by Veronica Roth. The series as a whole has had very successful sales, with the third book in the series alone selling almost half a million copies on its first day of release, according to Publishers Weekly. A "Divergent" movie will come to the big screen this March.
[Editor's note: The original version of this article misstated the amount of copies of the "Divergent" series that have been sold to date.]
So what’s next? The beauty of unexpected bestselling genres is that nobody will really know for sure until it’s here.