Strong BBL Turnout Proves Dystopian Lit Isn’t Going Away Anytime Soon

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On Wednesday, March 28, sixty-three YPG members from fourteen AAP publishing houses gathered at HarperCollins to delve into the depths of dystopian literature. The panel featured Greg Ferguson, a senior editor at Egmont and editor of Ashes; Rosemary Brosnan, an executive editor in children’s books at HarperCollins and editor of Delirium; Stephanie O’Cain, an associate marketing manager at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers and marketer for The Last Princess; and Galaxy Craze, the author of The Last Princess.

Moderator (and YPG chair) Sara Sargent kicked off the panel by asking the contributors why they thought dystopian literature appealed to teens and YA readers. Rosemary speculated that teenagers feel they exist in a continuous dystopia, and that the worlds of these novels are ones they can relate to because their lives are just as full of exaggeration and melodrama. According to the author of Ashes (who is a trained psychiatrist), Greg pointed out that teenagers frequently feel they are being oppressed, and the reaction to rebel against any totalitarian regime or powerful adult figure is a natural one.

So what makes a dystopia a dystopia? According to Galaxy, an author working within this genre often seeks to take all the ease of society away—anything and everything previously taken for granted. Rosemary observed that writers often play with the structures of government, society, and family; environmental issues; and the milestones of adolescence, such as the ability to love.

Panelists also discussed their efforts to create an appealing book package for a wide variety of readers. Rosemary mentioned that the “escape factor” inherent in alternate-universe dystopias is significant in explaining the crossover appeal of YA for adults. Moreover, dystopian lit finds its roots in the science-fiction genre, which is historically more geared to boys. By creating strong female characters, more girl readers are being brought into the dystopian lit sphere as well.

Surprisingly, the panelists agreed that dystopian literature has not seen as much backlash for its often violent content as have other YA books that deal more with issues of sex and language. Amid some criticism that the subject matter is too dark, general consensus is that having a protagonist who is empowered and manages to overcome adversity is viewed positively.

The dystopian craze has affected all parts of the publishing process. It’s a common practice for houses to mine their backlists to find titles that could be repurposed and repackaged, and perhaps see a renaissance in the wake of the genre’s popularity. Jacket and cover imagery has moved from photographic to iconographic, following in the footsteps of successes like Twilight and The Hunger Games.

When asked to predict the next “big thing” in the industry, the panelists were quick to observe that it’s nearly impossible to predict what will trend until there is a stand-out success. In spite of that, though, they gave nods to horror, science fiction, and thriller genres, which are short leaps from the current dystopia craze. They also observed it would not be surprising to see any of these sub-genres melded with a dystopian background.

So, are you a dystopian lit fan? If you’re looking for a new page-turner, try one of these titles recommended by our panelists: World War Z, The Stand, The Handmaid’s Tale, Oryx and Crake, The Road, The Giver, Divergent, Ship Breaker, and The Year of the Flood. Or tweet us (@YoungtoPub) to recommend your own personal favorite dystopian book using the hashtag #dystopia!

And don’t forget to mark your calendars for YPG’s next BBL, which will focus on graphic novels. It will take place on Wednesday, April 18, at Penguin (375 Hudson St., NYC). We’ll see you there!

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