So, I walk into my local Chapters store a little while ago, one I hadn't been inside for in a while, and discover they've done a major reno. The small, tucked into a corner teen section that used to be there had blown up, moved and placed in a prominent location (taking over the entire back wall that had formerly housed the adult bestsellers). Whoa. How cool was that, I thought? So much more space, so much more prominence. Such an obvious example of how teen fiction has exploded in the last few years. It was both exhilerating and depression-inducing because in that split second I realized how lucky I was to be writing in such a hot medium right now and how brutally hard it is to stand out in an increasingly crowded market.
I've also been reading the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. It's an incredibly fascinating analysis about what makes 'outliers' - those who stand out from the pack or break out because of some amazing talent - so successful. And one of the things that I never thought about is the time in which you are living being so critical in making whatever you work on a success. Sure, I knew about the 10,000 hours of practice (and for writers - writing over a million words) being a large part of your success, but what got me was that sometimes (heck, a lot of times) its not so much how much work you do but just the time in which you are born or when you're living that makes a difference. For example, hockey players born between January and March are more likely to make it to the NHL than those born in later months because they get picked for minor hockey teams more often because they're just physically bigger so they get more practice, people who grew up during the Depression and then started working in the 50's and 60's had much more chance of making it simply because there were fewer of their age group in the population and the economy was booming at the right time.
So it makes me wonder are we in the best of times or worst of times for YA writing? Everyone is writing for the YA market right now because it is booming, but publishers are downsizing because people are supposedly reading less. More people writing YA makes for more competition, which makes for better books (the best of times - for readers anyway), but the economic climate makes it harder to break in or stand out because there are less publishers and less retail space to house those books and the competition is fierce (the worst of times).
Sigh. It's enough to make a poor YA writer nuts. But, like when I was born, I can't control the climate within which I happen to be writing. Maybe I might have had an easier time if I'd sold my first book in the 1990's instead of 2010. But, then again, would I want to be published when not many people were noticing YA and would I have been published because there weren't that many teen books out there then? Isn't competition a good thing, anyway? Upping your game is always worthwhile, right?
So then why did the sight of all those teen books make me wilt a little bit? Ah, well. Nothing worthwhile ever comes easy, right folks? :)