Christian Retailing

Fiction Focus Series: ‘Give them an author they can trust’ Print Email
Written by Christine D. Johnson   
Wednesday, 26 September 2012 10:39 AM America/New_York

Zonderkidz-GuardianPublishers provide an alternative that connects with YA readers

From fantasy to fairy tale and sci-fi to Steampunk, the Young Adult genre covers a broad range of fiction types—not all of which have yet entered the Christian market. With general market series such as “The Hunger Games” and “Harry Potter” appealing to teens, Christian publishers are offering alternative titles from YA authors, including Robert Liparulo, Nancy Rue, Stephanie Perry Moore , Melody Carlson, Sigmund Brouwer, Donita K. Paul and Lisa Bergren.

“If you connect with a reader during this time period, you may have made a lifelong connection,” said Shannon Marchese, senior editor, fiction at WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group. “The way to do so is to tell them a life-changing story and give them an author they can trust.”  

Not one particular type of book is associated with YA readers, but rather genres including science fiction, supernatural, action/adventure, everyday teen life and dystopian, said Becky Monds, associate editor at Thomas Nelson.

At Zondervan, paranormal is a subgenre that the company is making a “serious effort” to publish, said Annette Bourland, senior vice president and publisher, trade and Zonderkidz. 

Subtitled “What If Following Your Heart Meant Losing Your Soul,” Halflings by Heather Burch is “the classic story of good versus evil, but offers a very satisfying read without the vulgarity often found in mainstream publishing,” Bourland said, noting that the second in the trilogy, Guardian, comes out this month.

Zondervan also recently published its first dystopian novel, Replication by Jill Williamson, which examined the moral and ethical issues of cloning. 

Author Kat Heckenbach (Finding Angel, Splashdown Books) doesn’t find a “message of despair and hopelessness,” in dystopian fiction, as many expect to find, but just the opposite, she said. “I think dystopian fiction is popular because it sends the message that no matter how bad things get, there is always hope—and that teens have real power in seemingly hopeless situations.” 

Jenny B. Jones, a Thomas Nelson author, sees dystopian as a reflection of our times.


“Times are hard all around, from the economy to the environment to the government, and right now our literature reflects that, but in a hyper-developed way,” she said. “And there is always a thread of reality in these dystopians. The plot might seem far-fetched (a world where the ability to love is surgically removed, for example), but what a lot of dystopians do well is make it within the realm of possibility. Our tweens and teens are really thinking about their world, and dystopian is a natural reflection of that.” 


While dystopian is still a strong seller, “novels with ‘everyday’ teens, set in our own time are making a comeback,” said Monds. “These typically deal with heavier topics, like cancer, death and suicide.”

Nicole O’Dell based her “Diamond Estates” series on her experience as a resident at Teen Challenge as a teenager. In The Shadowed Onyx (Barbour Publishing, December), 17-year-old Joy Christianson faces depression after her best friend commits suicide, but seeks help at a home for troubled teens.

Appealing primarily to male readers, Andrew Klavan brings action to the fore with his high-stakes adventures, including Crazy Dangerous from Thomas Nelson.

His novels are impossible to put down and appeal to that hard-to-reach audience of teen boys,” Monds said.

In an altogether different subcategory, Zondervan has seen success with one of its young authors in historical fiction. 


“Perhaps one of our biggest rock stars is 16-year-old author Rachel Coker,” said Bourland, noting that Coker’s Interrupted was well-received by reviewers. “Rachel’s story is rooted in the Christian marketplace. She is homeschooled and her parents once were independent CBA retail owners.”

Coker’s next work, Chasing Jupiter, set in the 1960s, is slated for publication in January.

Looking into the supernatural is Karyn Henley’s forte in the “Angelaeon Circle” series, which includes Breath of Angel and Eye of the Sword, from WaterBrook Press. 

Thomas Nelson also looks into the world of angels with new voice Shannon Dittemore, who made her debut with Angel Eyes

“What I love about her stories is that her main character is a teen girl, like any teen girl, who has her eyes opened to a world of angels and demons that she didn’t even know existed,” Monds said.

Fairy tales are also prevalent in pop culture these days—in TV, movies and books, Burch noted. Shellie Neumeier (Driven, Risen Fiction), agreed, citing Melanie Dickerson’s work that “retells classic fairy tales with a twist. Her books appeal to the romantic side, but they take on social injustices at the same time.”


Zondervan’s success in YA has come with works “that have rich character development, interesting plot lines and a sense of exploration, meaning teens are not fed didactic answers about life and religion,” Bourland said.

“The most important element is to make sure the author does not talk down to the reader,” Monds said. “A teenager can smell condescension from a mile away. And if you are trying to preach something? Forget it. It is also important to relate to them where they are. Connect with some of the issues they are faced with on a daily basis. And finally, it has be a page-turner. The stakes have to be impossibly high, leaving the reader with no option but to stay up late into the night to finish the novel.”

Diana Sharples, author of Running Lean (Zondervan, May 2013), pointed out that YA novels have to written “almost as if they were written by a teenager. A stroke of death for a teen novel is to have an adult step in to solve the character’s problems!”

The genre presents a challenge for marketers, said Katie Bond, publicity manager at Thomas Nelson.

WaterBrookPress-EyeoftheSword“We must meet youth where they are, finding ways for great stories to be shared among peers and for authors to connect authentically with young audiences—respecting these intelligent young audiences who are exposed to more influences than any previous generation,” she said. “And we must simultaneously gain the respect of gatekeepers like parents, educators, school librarians. 

“But it’s worth it. When books capture the attention of youth and their parents, series can become family reads.  Our authors’ favorite fan letters come from youth who report that they had to fend off a parent for first dibs to read a copy of the latest offering from a YA author.”

Retailers must reach the parents of YA readers. Citing the 2010 Bowker PubTrack report The Children’s Book Consumer in the Digital Age, Bourland said that “79% of teens have read a book given to them by a parent,” and Bowker Market Research from fall 2011 reported that “60% of parents are considered ‘top sources of book discovery.’ ” 

Getting the YA reader into the bookstore can be a challenge and is an invitation that must be issued, Bourland believes. It’s important to offer a varied selection of titles, too, she said, sounding a note of caution: “Make certain this area isn’t placed with the children’s section.” 

Once you have the young people on board, Jones said: “So much of YA is sold by word of mouth. There are no bigger ‘book talkers’ than your YA audience.”