‘Night of the Witch’ Shows What Happens When Publishing Insists on Catering YA Lit to Adult Audiences
Young Adult literature has suffered in recent years with the unprecedented rise in book banning across the United States, though that’s not the only problem facing the genre. On top of book banning, YA literature faces another problem: adult readers are increasingly influencing YA books. Sourcebooks Fire’s recent controversy surrounding marketing for Sara Raasch’s and Beth Revis’ Night of the Witch is a prime example of how publishers continue catering YA literature to adult audiences.
This isn’t to say that adults can’t read and enjoy YA literature. The problem arises when publishers prioritize feedback and requests from these adult readers. These adult readers usually mean no harm and are simply making suggestions based on their favorite genres or what content they want to see more of in books that they enjoy. However, they may not realize they hold so much sway with publishers because the average adult has far more buying power than the average teenager or middle schooler. When publishers see that YA literature appeals to adults, YA books are published that are targeted more at adults than young readers. This gets publishers the most profits, but it also defeats the entire purpose of YA.
Young adults need books that are targeted specifically at them and resonate with them, especially because books can be so helpful to them in this stage of their lives, when they are trying to find their identity and dealing with topics they may not feel comfortable discussing with others. While many BookTokers and BookTubers are trying to raise awareness about the many problems that catering YA to adults has resulted in, such as YA books being aged up, the category being at risk of disappearing, and the inflation of YA book prices, publishers are not listening, and the recent Night of the Witch controversy proves it.
Night of the Witch marketing fumble highlights a growing issue
Sourcebooks Fire is a publishing imprint that describes itself as being “dedicated to publishing quality fiction and nonfiction for young adults.” One of the books on the publisher’s slate is Night of the Witch, a romantic fantasy about a witch’s and witcher hunter’s unlikely alliance and the first book in a planned duology from Raasch and Revis. However, the publisher received backlash over one of its preorder incentives for Night of the Witch, which included a very steamy advertising image that seemed fairly adult-oriented. The incentive drew criticism as users pointed out that such an image shouldn’t be used to advertise a book for teens aged 14 – 18. Sourcebooks Fire responded by taking down the preorder incentive and confirming that it was reconsidering its approach.
TikTok user @emmaskies broke down very well what the problem was with Night of the Witch‘s preorder incentive. The problem was that it was clearly made to appeal to adults, especially those constantly calling for “spicy” YA books. This desire for “spicy” YA books is quite evident, especially considering the number of lists compiled by Goodreads and media outlets of YA books that are the most “sexy,” “steamy,” or “hot.”
The problem is not that YA books aren’t supposed to have sex and romance. YA books should absolutely explore sexuality and answer all of the questions teens have about sex and relationships. However, if it’s doing so appropriately, the sex isn’t going to be spicy, steamy, or hot. It will encompass awkward first times, experimentation, and moments of sexual discovery that resonate with what teens are experiencing or likely to experience. Adults won’t find this sexual content arousing because that’s not really its purpose in YA literature. Having steamy and sexy romance in adult novels and erotica is perfectly appropriate, but it doesn’t make sense for books trying to capture the average coming-of-age experience realistically.
Night of the Witch‘s marketing shows that Sourcebooks Fire is listening to the adults who want more content that appeals to them in YA books. We don’t know if the book’s content aligns with the marketing, but its marketing is prioritizing delivering on spice and titillation rather than delivering on YA themes. Adults have more than enough resources to find the kind of content they enjoy, but teen readers already don’t have a large category of literature devoted to them. It’s important that publishers ensure the YA books they publish are what teens want to read and not just what adults want to read. The YA genre must be preserved, and publishers must stop sacrificing relatable teen content to pique adult interests.
(featured image: New Line Cinema / Sourcebooks Fire)
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