Monday, October 24, 2011

Branding in the YA Market

The other night I was watching one of my one true loves--America's Next Top Model.  I don't know if Tyra's gotten even more business-savvy because now she's a YA author but the last episode of ANTM I watched actually brought up some interesting points.

The theme of the show was branding.  I was really hoping to find a YouTube clip of the portion of the show, but apparently the only ANTM things on YouTube are a) parodies, and b) fangirls freaking out over the models' antics.

Anywho.  Tyra brought in Martin Lindstrom, described by the show as the "branding king."  He gave each model one word to be their brand.  As in, if their brand is fierce, when we look at their photos, the first thing that should pop into our heads is, "Man, that girl is FIERCE."  Or unique.  Or free.  Or whatever.

This got me thinking about branding in the YA market.  Branding is something that happens constantly in the book world--it's our shorthand for marketing a book we've read to other people.  How many times have you held a book out to a friend (or posted on your blog), and said something like "This book is a dystopia" or "It's like the Hunger Games, mixed with the Princess Bride" or "It's like an urban fantasy with a sci-fi twist?"  (Sidenote: If anyone can actually describe a book as the Hunger Games meets The Princess Bride, please send me that book ASAP.)

But of course, some books exemplify a brand better than others.  Here's my list of what I think is the ultimate in some of the most popular YA brands:


The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Why: This is the first book that immediately pops into my mind.  For me, Katniss is the ultimate.  All the elements I like in a dystopia are there: a post-apocolyptic/war-ravaged version of America, the Big Brother evil government, the rumblings of rebellion, and a twisted version of what America is now that shows me how the dystopia happened in the first place. If someone said to me, "Sooo, what's a dystopia, anyway?" the first thing I would tell them to do is read THE HUNGER GAMES.

Honorable Mentions: THE GIVER by Lois Lowry, 1984 by George Orwell, BRAVE NEW WORLD by Aldous Huxley

Paranormal Romance
The Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer

Why: While certainly not my favorite paranormal romance by far, I can't argue that these series was the lit fuse to the explosion of paranormal romance over the past 5 years. Who hasn't read Twilight? Or a summary of the books? Or seen the movie? Or listened to their blogger wife rant about it once or twice? I don't know that it would be the book I would recommend if someone was looking to get into the genre, but it's definitely the book I would reference to explain it.

Honorable Mentions: Wolves of Mercy Falls series (SHIVER, LINGER, FOREVER) by Maggie Stiefvater, HUSH HUSH by Becca Fitzpatrick

Sarah Dessen!
Why: Uh, do you even need to ask why? Sarah Dessen is the name on the lips of every teenage girl (or adult) looking for a quality, make-you-laugh-make-you-cry coming of age story that doesn't require anyone to drink blood, shapeshift, save the world, or wield a sword.  I mean, she had a book made into a movie that starred Mandy Moore.  There is nothing more contemporary than a movie with Mandy Moore.

Honorable Mentions: Stephanie Perkins, Laurie Halse Anderson, Jenny Han, Ellen Hopkins

Urban Fantasy
Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead

Why: I'll admit that urban fantasy is not a genre that I read a whole lot of.  I think a lot of people would've put Cassie Clare's MORTAL INSTRUMENTS series in this slot, but I haven't read them, so for it's the VA series by Richelle Mead.  Mead has created a full vampi-rific world, but also integrated it fully into the real world, meaning we got lots of great crossover scenes and conflicts.

Honorable Mentions: NIGHTSHADE by Andrea Cremer

The Harry Potter series by JK Rowling
Why: Because it's Harry Potter. Duh. But for serious, because Harry Potter has so many magical elements, world-building, character-building, plotting and twists and turns that this beats even LORD OF THE RINGS for me.  Because on top of all the awesome fantastic elements that Harry Potter encompasses, it's also fully relatable to all of us poor folk who didn't go to Hogwarts, which I think is an equally key element to a successful fantasy story as some awesome spells and a fire-breathing dragon.

Honorable Mentions: Tamora Pierce (SONG OF THE LIONESS), Kristin Cashore (GRACELING, FIRE), Robin McKinley, Dianna Wynne Jones

So of course I must have missed some great picks. And I'm sure my top picks are different from your top picks, so let me know!  What books do YOU think exemplify these YA genres/brands?


  1. This is a great post! I agree with all of your choices (special props for mentioning The Giver, which would have been in the top spot until YA dystopia, and specifically Hunger games, started happening, IMO). Sidenote: spellcheck still doesn't recognize dystopia as a word.

    The only one I would change as the top pick is the Urban Fantasy. Which, granted, I don't read a whole ton of either. But I think Holly Black exemplifies it the best.

    Also, I second the wanting to read a book that can be described as a mix between The Princess Bride and Hunger Games. Two of the best. books. ever.

  2. Sarah Dessen would definitely be my contemporary example, but props also to Elizabeth Scott and Deb Caletti.

    The Seven Realms books by Cinda Williams Chima are AMAZING fantasy books. I actually just read them last month or so, but they're totally one of my favourite series now.

  3. Great post!
    The paranormal romance and the urban fantasy I usually mix them.


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