How important is young adult fiction in the books market?

Interesting twists to mythology, small town young professionals in big town corporates, political enmity, campus love stories, cricket controversies, coming of age tales, women’s issues, funny insider views into industries… the book stores — the real and the virtual — are full of works by Indian authors for young adult readers.

“Young adult fiction is fiction written, published, or marketed to adolescents and young adults, between 12 and 18 years of age. The “fringe” readership may go as low as 10 years at the one end and as high as 20 or more on the other,” says Vatsala Kaul Banerjee, Publishing Director, Children’s and Reference Books, Hachette India. “Some popular books in this genre from our publishing house would be the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer, Third Best by Arjun Rao and The Fang of Summoning by Giti Chandra.”

While it was the foreign authors who bridged the gap between Panchatantra, Satyajit Ray’s Feluda, Ruskin Bond, R.K. Narayan’s Swami and adult fiction, a new crop of authors is staking claim of shelf space.

Spurring change

A decade ago, a youngster had to try to relate to foreign characters in a foreign setting, whether it was a murder mystery or historical romance. Today howevre the scene has changed, possibly and partially due to Chetan Bhagat’s unprecedented success. Love him or hate him, you cannot ignore his impact. His success was also due to the fact that his book was a hit with youngsters in small towns whose grasp of English was just average. A group that had been largely overlooked as a potential market. Maybe it was the Paperback King’s success that spurred similar attempts in a wider variety of genres.

“That is the best part of books written by Indian authors. Indian writers can mould the characters with sufficient knowledge about our culture and this will help them connect with the young Indian readers. Sadly, books written specifically for young Indians have not got the kind of reach western ones enjoy. Though many prefer reading works by foreign authors, I personally opt for desi works which are way ahead in style and quality,” feels P. Prasanna, a M.A. student at Loyola College.

But Shweta J. Nichani begs to differ. An avid reader of sci-fi, fantasy, thrillers, crime, mystery and occasionally romance, this B.Sc. student at M.O.P. Vaishnav College for Women, observes: “I have read a few books by Indian authors and I think they’re a drag. I grew up reading foreign authors and there are differences in the style of writing. I think books by Indian authors are a bit conservative, but may be I’m biased.”

Stereotyping

Also, there is the problem of stereotypical plots: the protagonist trying to survive the big bad corporate world, a small town girl/boy coming of age in a big city, career-minded girl coming to terms with arranged marriage or fighting off the idea…

Vatsala points out, “Some mimicking of successful themes or stereotyping is bound to happen; it occurs in all genres across age groups. But, at the moment, there are not nearly enough young adult ‘voices’ or writing from Indian authors for the young adult category to hold its own in a bookstore or as a category on an e-store. The future should be good as it’s an open field and there are not that many players. So there’s a big opportunity for writers to explore this genre and plumb its undiscovered depths.”

As Journalism student Noorain Mohammed Nadim, points out, “I think most young Indian authors who write books in English use a simple style, as they would like to attract the masses. But no matter what the subject or genre, if the book moves my heart and provokes me to think then, for me, there will be no book more fascinating than that.”

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The e-market

Popularity: The Children and Teen section contributes about 25 per cent of the books category and young adult fiction (age 14 - 21) forms the biggest part of this. A lot of these titles have a huge fan following in India. The demand from the metros is higher. However, new authors do not perform as well as established ones.

Buyer profile: Mostly college students.

How it works for Flipkart: This genre has always performed well in terms of sales. As their popularity grows, we see this category driving a lot of traffic in the future as well.

Top five: The Harry Potter series, The Hunger Games series, The Heroes of Olympus series, The Twilight series and The Vampire Diaries series.

ANKIT NAGORI, VP Retail, Flipkart

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Sagarika Chakraborty

The young readers: are a hungry generation that wants to devour fiction, but not necessarily mean fiction without reason or romance. A few of my readers who have come back with the best feedback and understanding of the social issues in my book were much younger than I expected. Why blame them for picking pulp fiction when, as authors, that is what we are largely offering? I write keeping that very point in mind: to influence a million other 20 year olds so that they make my country a better place. They are not only important as readers but also as the next generation of future leaders and thinkers.

Market: It is difficult now and would have been more difficult then. However, if you talk about romance, college stories I believe that is acceptable. However when it came to stories that are bold and hard hitting, there would be barely any takers.

Young adult genre in India compared to the West: Growing, emerging and looking very bright. It’s wonderful to see a young boy, not from an English medium school, devouring a novel in a foreign language and appreciating the nuances. To me that is our first step. We need to make sure that he doesn’t remain stuck with romance and clichéd titles but appreciates much good literature, but I am glad we are making the first step.

My favourite reads: Ruskin Bond and Vikram Seth. If Bond made me appreciate the fine nuances of human life, Seth opened up doors to a wonderful world that brought in poets Pablo Neruda, Rainer Maria Rilke and others. I think regional literature is equally important. Prem Chand (Hindi) and Suchitra Bhattacharya (Bengali) have influenced me deeply.

Sagarika is the author of “A Calendar Too Crowded”.

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Tuhin A. Sinha

The young readers: are looking for fresh, intelligent stories where history, mythology and/or societal/political issues are merged with the narrative. The 16-28 age group comprises a very important chunk of readers and, whatever the story, it has to have elements and issues that appeal to them.

Market: Started to open up in, say, 2006. Before that it was very limited and finding the right publisher was tough. Otherwise the market for pulp fiction and romance will exist as it always has, though it might decrease a bit.

Good news: In recent years we’ve had successful books that weave mythology and history into the narrative. It’s added more variety to Indian fiction. I think our young adult genre needed this evolution.

Trends: Trends keep changing. I’m sure the unexpected success of Fifty Shades might just open up a new market here and many publishers might commission similar books by Indian authors. I guess we must move towards a scenario soon where every top publisher has a robust portfolio of books across the four to five important genres of popular fiction, including thrillers.

Tuhin is the author of “The Edge of Desire”, “Of Love and Politics”, “That Thing Called Love” and “22 Yards”.

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