Tapping the Market for YA Book Clubs for Adults

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Adult fandom of YA lit seems safely beyond a passing trend. And YA book clubs for adults, many started several years ago, are still going strong. As a follow-up to our October 6 story on YA book clubs for teens,this week BTW talks with several booksellers about starting and building YA clubs for adults, as well as introducing the uninitiated to the world of YA literature.  

While many adults already happily gobble up YA lit, it’s still a market where there’s room for growth. In a Reading Group Guides’ survey published last September, 68.6 percent of respondents had discussed a YA book at their meetings. Still many adults “never drift into the YA department where these books are shelved and thus are missing some gems,” said Carol Fitzgerald, co-founder and president of The Book Report Network (TBRN), which includes Reading Group Guides and Bookreporter.com.

Before Shannon O’Connor became the ABC Children’s Group Manager at ABA last month, she was the children’s buyer at The Doylestown Bookshop in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. Three years ago, she launched the store’s YA book club for adults, which is now conducted online.

A children’s book enthusiast who had ventured into YA lit even before she had a professional reason do so, O’Connor said that she found reading YA as an adult could be a lonely experience. “When I finished reading something amazing and troubling and could think about nothing else, I had no ‘real life’ cohorts to talk to about it.” She figured that starting a YA club for adults would encourage the sorts of discussions she wanted to have. “So in part, it was selfish!” she said. “But I did sell YA books to adult customers, so I knew there was an audience for a club like this.”

If store staff members are excited about YA titles, “bringing them into the fold can really help you brainstorm ideas, spread the word, and generate members,” O’Connor said. However, she doesn’t recommend starting a YA club for adults if staff has never sold YA to them. “Absolutely keep trying to sell YA to everyone you meet (because it’s great), but it’s hard to start a club if you don’t have a field of potential members. Work on seeding the ground first,” she said.

The Doylestown club has a core membership of five and is marketed via store posters, social media, and word of mouth. “The latter method was the most successful in the end,” O’Connor said, adding that the book club should be viewed as a long-term project. “It takes a while for book clubs to grow,” she stressed.

Although the Doylestown YA book club generated only modest sales, O’Connor said club members developed a relationship with the store and were more likely to shop there for other reasons, something she believes is even more important than a once-a-month book club buy.

Two of O’Connor’s picks for Doylestown’s YA book club for adults were Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers) and Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer (Graphia). Loving a book isn’t necessarily a criterion for good discussion, O’Connor added. “Some of our best meetings were centered on books that we didn’t particularly like.”

In Chicago, The Book Cellar hosts an independently run YA club for adults that meets at the store’s café, which helps boost sales of coffee and snacks. 

Book Cellar owner Suzy Takacs said the club draws mostly an early-20s crowd that buys some copies of the book from the store, though she wished they bought more.  “We post their event on our website and our printed event list, and we have a special shelf for all book group books,” Takacs said. 

The Book Report Network’s Fitzgerald noted that readers in their 20s are an untapped YA market. “Many 20-somethings are reading YA, but these titles are not being actively marketed to them….” The Book Network will be launching 20SomethingReads.com in late January or early February as a resource for that demographic, she told BTW.

At Pudd’nhead Books, the YA book club for adults seems to run itself,” said Nikki Furrer. The six-month-old club grew out of customer interest, and about 15 - 20 people participate. “We had so many adults reading YA, and they were all very curious about other adults reading YA, and they wanted to meet each other.”

The club doesn’t demand much in the way of resources and is good for business. “Even if someone doesn’t want to read the next selection, they’ll pick up other things to read until the next month,” said Furrer.

At Skylight Books, the Pardon My Youth YA Book Club, which has been running for three years, is aimed at the “young and the young at heart.” Award-winning YA author Cecil Castellucci, aka Miss Cecil, (First Day on Earth, Scholastic) is the club’s founder. “I just love Skylight books, and I love YA, and they are so supportive of me, and I love helping them out (sometimes with outside events or hosting authors in store),” she explained. “I asked them if I could do a YA book club, and they said yes.”

The Pardon My Youth Club is open to all ages, but adults are in the majority.  ”We have had teens come,” said Castellucci. “We have one regular teen, Mia, who is absolutely brilliant in her conversation. She really brings (and the other teens, too!) a lot to the group. We often ask them to tell us what it’s like in the thick of it (i.e., in high school).”

Pardon My Youth serves to spread the word about YA lit beyond club members. “I know that a lot of adults will read some of the genre books with no trouble, but they seem to not cross over to other kinds of YA novels,” Castellucci said. “Also, it always makes me sad when adults seem ashamed that they read YA.  I wanted it to be a place where we could meet and talk about all kinds of YA books for anyone that was interested.”

The club’s reading list and blog aren’t just for attendees.  “I think that a lot of people follow along by themselves and read the book, but don’t show up,” said Castellucci. “They like the suggestions and read those on their own.”

Selections are generally kept to books that have been out for at least a year. “That way we are giving love to books that may have been off the shelf for a while,” she said. ”It brings a few copies back in the store.” Pardon My Youth members buy the books, and Castellucci hopes others find the books on the store shelves as well.

Some of Castellucci’s picks for the Pardon My Youth Club are Ash  by Malinda Lo (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers), When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead (Wendy Lamb), The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare  (Sandpiper) ,  American Born Chinese by Gene Yang (Square Fish), and Tyrell by Coe Booth (Push).

Castellucci also stressed that a book club requires dedication. “Just keeping it going,” she said. “A book club is what it is. People come and go. But it gets books out there and it gets books read and that is great.”

Booksellers looking for additional YA title and author suggestions for adults can visit Bookreporter.com’s Young Adult Books You Want to Read; the Reading Group Guides’ list of the most-loved YA/Kids Books discussion books; Pardon My Youth club’s reading list; NPR’s Hooray for YA: Teen Novels for Readers of All Ages; and Library Journal’s Best YA Lit for Adults, Part 1 and Part 2.