Getting YA Crossover Handsells Right


Kenny Brechner - April 14, 2016

Here is a list of three things which, once you come in possession of,  you feel a powerful need to share.

  1. Good advice
  2. An epiphany
  3. A great book

For example I came into some excellent advice the other day by way of experience. Here it is. Never train voice recognition software when your dogs are barking in the background. Heat juice donuts worms cattle of of of of of of .*  Unimpeachable good advice if there ever was any.
Now that I’ve shared that, I’ll move onto an epiphany. Booksellers who read and love young adult books think about crossover appeal all the time. Suppose one has a great YA book which one is sure has crossover appeal. How and when to break the ice with an adult reader who is not accustomed to reading YA?

One issue is that we have to approach the matter with the genre of the book being a caveat, laying out the book’s virtues but mentioning that it is Young Adult. ¬†It has to be mentioned as it would be dishonest not to. I have had many really good successes but the inherently tentative nature of the approach is unsatisfying and counter-intuitive to great handselling. One may feel that genre bias is a prejudice that will melt away in the presence of a great book, and sometimes it does, but then again sometimes it doesn’t.
The other day a good customer came in and was browsing. He has a big interest in mystical matters, Nordic runes, Wicca, and many esoteric spiritual matters. A thought came to me. He’ll love Half Bad. Unlike many uncertain YA handsells to adult readers, this one had an element of epiphany. I knew it was right. Topical interest transcends genre. A great book on a topic of strong personal interest is always welcome. A Jane Austen fan will love Enthusiasm not because it is a great book but because it is a great Jane Austen-themed book.
The beauty and importance of making these connections is that the aspects which define Young Adult as a genre; the content parameters, moral relation to audience, subtle calibrations of emotional immediacy, and the necessity of hope, explain themselves to an adult reader once they are immersed and engaged with a great YA book. Getting it right once removes the awkwardness from any future conversation about a YA title. It cements the bond between bookseller and customer in the best manner.
Booksellers, particularly owners, are rightfully risk-averse when it comes to handselling. With enough precision we can achieve low risk and high reward here though. After all, we owe it to category three!
* (It just doesn’t work at all. Arf arf arf.)

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