On Saturday I attended Foolscap, a small con held in Redmond, Washington. It's a strange sort of con: some panels are held in easy chairs in the corridor, there is much emphasis on wearing and making hats of all types, and mostly the bar was empty. A "relaxacon," in part, and yet the panels I was either on or attending were interesting.
Among these was a panel on YA fantasy and SF. The panelists were two very knowledgeable YA librarians and two actual Young Readers. Since I am writing a YA novel, I was very interested in what all these people had to say. Some of it was surprising.
Among the most popular of YA novelists is James Patterson. Yes, THAT James Patterson, the guy who wrote ALONG CAME A SPIDER and who appears to produce a novel every 15 minutes. His YA novel MAX was on a list of ten novels voted most popular by a wide survey of teens. Number one was GRACELING, by Kristin Cashore. Other things I either didn't know or else did know but were emphasized by the librarians:
Fantasy is far, far more popular with young people than is SF. Among less skilled readers, the choice is graphic novels.
The cover is extremely important. Both librarians said that over and over again they had "sold" a kid on a book until he or she saw the cover, at which point they said, "No, thanks."
Boys still don't want to read novels with girl protagonists. (Still!)
Sharyn November at Viking has been republishing classic fantasy, which has earned her the sobriquet of "goddess" among librarians.
The most important literary quality valued by teens -- more than character, setting, or style -- is a story that "goes somewhere" and does so at a reasonably fast pace.
Sites such as readergirlz.com help track what girls like to read.
In all, a panel far more useful than many con panels tend to be!