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The Crossover Novel

I read a wonderful novel today and it got me thinking about many things, one of which is the question of crossover novels.

Crossover . . . the hill.
I hear this word tossed around quite a bit: Crossover. Agents and editors may be looking for a middle grade novel that would appeal to older teens or young adult novels that less-young adults would like. The publicity and marketing worlds that are opened by a crossover novel can be a boon to exposure and sales for that book.

What qualifies a book to become a crossover? As a full-fledged adult, I love reading picture books, middle grade, young adult, adult, non-fiction, poetry . . . I'm a target audience for everything. I know, however, that being dialed into the kidlit world influences my reading choices a great deal. For civilians, what makes them decide to pick up kidlit over another type of novel? Certain blockbuster novels have, of course, opened the floodgates and more and more less-young adults like YA, especially.

A 2009 piece by Sophie Masson on Writer Unboxed suggested that fantasy titles are the most read crossover titles, citing several classic fantasy works. I would argue that YA romance is a strong crossover, as well. What I would also love to see are strong literary kidlit works that crossover (like the one I read today), helping grow respect for a literature age-group that often is disdained. After all, The Art of Racing in the Rain has been rereleased as a kidlit book; someone out there knows there are readers of quality among younger consumers. So why not a two-way street?

My questions for readers: For less-young adults, if a book is marketed as a crossover (perhaps with a different "adult" cover), do you feel it is a more "legitimate" read for an adult? For young adults, which books would you love to see an adult reading? For everyone, do you think the idea of "crossover" is necessary, or is it one more way publishing and/or sellers try to pigeonhole readers? Are certain books better for crossing over than others?
Kristin Halbrook

Kristin Halbrook is the author of the critically-acclaimed young adult novels Nobody But Us (HarperTeen, 2013) and Every Last Promise (HarperTeen, 2015). She likes many things.

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  1. Personally, I'd like to be the judge of what is crossover. Something a publisher labels as being a crossover novel kind of sets up for disappointment for me because I go in expecting that I'll like it. I think they can have something mentioning it has crossover appeal in a blurb or testimonial (especially from a trusted author). I think the story just needs to speak for itself and whatever reader who reads it. I'm like you, I tend to read widely, but I don't go in reading a book thinking that "This book is for kids, so I won't like it." I just read the book who it's written and let it speak to me as a well written book, not a story in a category meant for certain people.

    So in the short of it, I think the publishers are pigeonholing books and novels, and perhaps setting them up for failure in my opinion.

  2. I enjoyed this article and it does us something to think about. The music industry also uses the term "crossover". I recall hearing that term first in connection with Amy Grant - a crossover from Christian pop to regular pop. It was hard to determine if the industry felt it was negative in some way and whether or not the Christian group felt it was a betrayal of sorts. My personal opinion is that she's one heck of singer regardless of the song and it's the same way with books. I can read Chris Rylander's The Fourth Stall with as much enjoyment as Veronica Roth's Divergent and then hop over to JD Robb's "In Death" series and stay up all night reading any of the three. Good writing is good writing. The term "crossover" is probably a way to increase sales when they dwindle in one group. It can renew sales into a whole new demographic. And that can be good for the author.

  3. Now I'm dying to know what the book is that sparked this post!

  4. I think it's funny as the UK versions of Harry Potter have two very different covers. One that definitely looks like a YA book (or perhaps even MG!) and the other is an adult version and they marketed the Adult covers in such a way that you wouldn't feel odd reading the book on the tube.

    In the end? I liked the Adult covers best but it speaks more to my aesthetic than anything else!

    I don't think it makes a book any more or less legitimate to the market depending on the cover. Of course, a lot of people buy books by the cover and if it's a way of getting an adult to read something during their busy life they wouldn't normally read? Isn't the most important thing to look at is that people are reading?

  5. I think one way in which some books don't have appeal is when they crossover in the wrong direction. Personally, I find paranormal romances rather dull, where as a straight plot-driven urban fantasy can be awesome. Romance readers might want to cross over into YA romances, or paranormals, or sci-fi romances, etc. But people who read sci-fi are usually disappointed by sci-fi-romance because they aren't living up to the sci-fi elements. To do this right you have to plot the vectors of which people tend to crossover in which direction, and delineate the boundaries.

    YA right now, is a big mess, because you can't separate out the romance YA (+ other descriptor), from the non-romance YA (+other descriptor). Readers, especially boys (and baby lesbians), might pick up a book with a cool premise, realize too late that it's romance, and end up put off the whole genre for life.

    People who like interesting plot ideas might like the Hunger Games, and people who like fantasy will give Harry Potter a shot, but people who don't want to read a romance novel aren't going to pick up a harlequin on accident. A romance can have crossover potential and it needs to be marketed correctly if it does, or it won't ever break out. With YA the uniformity of the covers make it difficult to pick out which ones are in which category. (Usually you can do a color analysis. If there are mostly greyish blues, it's going to be one of the depressing ones about suicide. If it's mainly black and purple with half a female face - paranormal romance. If there are goggles on the cover, there will be a male protagonist.) I think YA is trying so hard to crossover that its forgetting that it has to be crossing from somewhere to somewhere else.

  6. I like the "idea" of MG and YA books having the potential for adult crossover, but I think if those books are going to be picked up by adult readers they first have to make a splash in the age group they are MEANT for--which means they have to first and foremost be targeted to young people. Adults will gravitate to them because they get good buzz from kids and if they're well written and have a great premise, it will hopefully grow from there.

  7. I've read the suggestion that a lot of successful YA and preteen crossover has a primary setting outside of school, like a book centered on a family. As a writer of historical fiction, I'm glad to hear that some people feel HF makes for good crossover, because the themes and settings aren't built around school, popularity, etc., like many modern YA books. I grew up mostly reading HF and books that were written before my time (and therefore taking place in eras that are now historical), and I've found that most of those books I've revisited as an adult hold up very well and are just as enjoyable in different ways.

  8. I have a book club for 40ish readers wherein we read only books for young readers. I'd like to see some regular contemporary teen books crossover. I know the genre stuff does well, but what of some of the really dark contemporary. BOY TOY by Barry Lyga for example. That slayed me. I'd love to do it in my book club.

    I agree that ones that are less "high school" might do better. That said, I think a big part of the reason that Harry Potter crossed over IS the school setting, which made older readers nostalgic for boarding school or boarding school books.

  9. Well, I'm not an adult, but as a teen, I think there are actually quite a few adult novels that can cross over into the YA genre. I mean, obviously the classics, but then there are books like Austenland by Shannon Hale, which I think can appeals to Young Adults just as much as adults. And Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, I mean, that's an adult novel, but I know so many teens who LOVE that book.

    As for the middle grade-YA crossover, in that case, I don't really care. I'll read the book whether it's crossover or not and sometimes I hardly notice that it is a crossover. I don't think the label "crossover" really fits for any of these sorts of books. Instead of crossover, perhaps we should simply say "will appeal to a variety of ages and people." That seems like it would suffice without the confusion of the "crossover" label.

    Obviously, the adults you see around the YA book blogging world, are adults reading young adult novels. And as a teen, I certainly think that adults who like YA lit are pretty cool. ;) Other adults I know, on the other hand, I guess sort of view YA lit as amateur and not facing "real" issues that would interest them. And that kind of makes me want to shove The Fault In Our Stars in their face and say "Tell me. Tell me this isn't real. Tell me cancer is not a real problem and doesn't exist." You know? It just sort of annoys me when adults laugh at the YA book I'm reading and when I recommend it to them they find it amusing.

    Great post! :)


  10. Great article! Personally, I've always been a little annoyed about how everything has to be clearly labeled YA or adult. There is so much room for middle ground. As a 30 year old, I usually read adult literature, but have an open mind for YA. I usually read YA that is sci-fi/fantasy/paranormal because of the focus on the speculative content, as opposed to contemporary which is often more focused on teen issues (which I am happy to finally be over).


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Item Reviewed: The Crossover Novel Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Kristin Halbrook