a market survey.

I’ve asked this question on Twitter, but I’d like to get a few more opinions, so I’m asking it in this spot as well:

Would a setting of Nazi Germany be a handicap for a YA novel in the American market? 

Would the unfamiliarity of the setting make the novel less appealing to the average YA reader than a setting in the WWII U.S?  Or is 1940s America just as strange and unfamiliar a place to an 18-year-old as 1940s Germany?

Your opinions?


42 thoughts on “a market survey.

  1. George Smith says:

    Frankly, Marko, I suspect anything older than the YA segment would be unfamiliar. The WW II Nazi Germany setting might require a little more back story … but I don’t think the ignorance of that setting is any greater than the ’40s.

    Mind you, I’m speaking as a Canuck … and my mileage may vary.


  2. pdb says:

    No handicap whatsoever. When I was a YA, I loved to read about unfamiliar surroundings.

    Plus, don’t forget your target audience is probably steeped in WWII lore via TV, movies and video games (I can think of a dozen WWII FPS’ off the top of my head).

  3. Ritchie says:

    My observations are that current college graduates have not the slightest clue about either setting unless you stumble over a history geek. Social mores, shared cultural assumptions, technology, industry and economics of the time are utterly alien to them, let alone a cross section of YAs. If it really matters, I’d say that the environment will have to be constructed, perhaps by incorporating point examples that connect to the greater generality. The movie “October Sky” shows these differences very well.

  4. Albert Rasch says:

    WWII? Hmmmm. There was the Revolutionary War, or was that the Civil War…. Which was first? Why would they call it WWII if it came after two other wars….Or was that the second between the first two… I mean…

    I actually was subjected to an answer very similar to that with a group of fifteen year olds.

    Best regards,
    The Rasch Outdoor Chronicles
    Biology on the Bay: Mangroves

  5. Paul Michael says:

    1940s USA and 1940s Germany are each so different from modern America the average YA doesn’t have a clue.

  6. LabRat says:

    Not a handicap as long as you do a little real-world “worldbuilding”.

    Ellen Klage’s “Green Glass Sea” does this quite well.

  7. rfortier1796 says:

    I don’t think so, but I’ve always been a history/poli sci geek. I’d read it, but then again, I’m off like that. Watching Inglorious Basterds the other day, the movie made me think about what life was really like in Nazi occupied France, or Germany, or anywhere else during the war. Almost everything about it and “life at home” is about England or the US. ‘Least everything I’ve found.

    • MauserGirl says:

      There are tons of first-person accounts of daily life in Nazi Germany – *if* you have a good working knowledge of the German language.

      There are whole websites in Germany that deal with personal accounts from Zeitzeugen (witnesses to the times) who want to tell their own stories, talk to students about what “life was like” in the past, and connect with authors, historians, and school classes, to pass on their memories. Much of the material is available for free online.

  8. Trebor says:

    I think you’ll have a harder time selling publishers on a YA story set in Nazi Germany.

    If the story *has* to be in Nazi Germany to work, then write it that way.

    But, if the story would work equally well in WWII America, then that would be much more palatable to publishers. I believe that era would be as foreign to modern YA readers as Nazi Germany would be or even the U.S. Revolution would be.

    Do you know anyone in the publishing biz you could ask about the marketability of a YA set in Germany? Might be nice to get a pro opinion.

  9. Okay, I’m a tard.

    Whats, “YA”?

  10. Jay G. says:

    Dude, I swear to G-d if you write YA story where you make Nazis glitter, I will drive north just to give you noogies…

  11. Regolith says:

    Albert Rasch and Ritchie: The type of YAs that you are thinking of aren’t the type to read a book of ANY kind. That’s why they’re ignorant. Hence, it wouldn’t matter if Marko set the book in America, Nazi Germany or on the freaking moon; they wouldn’t read it anyway.

    For the type of kid that does actually read, I wouldn’t say that it’d pose too much of a problem.

  12. Cat says:

    I didn’t read YA even when I was YA, so I have no idea. If you can do something as interesting as Watch on the Rhine, I’d read it as an adult . (My first experience with John Ringo. Boy was I disappointed when I found out that his usual novel genre is soft-porn trash.)

    • No, his usual genre is Military SF. He has ONE series that is “soft-porn trash”, the Paladin of Shadows series.

      Marko, I say go for it. I would have read it as a kid. Of course, if you added vampires in there somewhere, I’m sure it would be more marketable! 😉

      • Marko Kloos says:

        Well, you’re sort of headed in the right direction with that suggestion, Christina. Sort of, but not quite. 😉

      • Paul Michael says:

        If you’re targeting the female YA market…

        * One part fictitious monster
        * Two cups glitter

        1. Apply glitter to monster
        2. ??
        3. Profit

  13. I don’t foresee any problems from the reader’s end – that is, as the past is a different country, so either place would be different from today and require worldbuilding.

    Putting something in a highly controversial time in an explosive location, and then letting your plot unwind as your characters make their way through a world going mad (whether or not you can tell from the surface of things) is much more likely to get your book noticed by a browsing reader than setting it somewhere not known to be interesting.

    That said, your world-building will have to go to extra lengths to explain that real 1940’s Germany is not the same as Tarantino 1940’s Germany or first-person-shooter 1940’s Germany, or internet-attention-span cliche of Nazi Germany.

  14. Dominique says:

    I don’t think so at all. There are a significant number of books set there, and non-American historical settings are just about their own genre of books. If you’re still uncertain, I’d suggest you poke at The Devil’s Arithmetic, or Number the Stars, both books set in WWII (though neither in Germany). And considering that the Diary of Anne Frank was on my school’s reading list, I don’t think that the setting has been entirely untouched.

  15. bluntobject says:

    Go for it. As Dominique mentioned, Anne Frank was on my “YA” reading list (alongside Macbeth and Julius Caesar, both of which are even further removed from YAs than is pre-Hiroshima Germany).

  16. B_L says:

    Go for it. Youngsters dim enough to be put off by a setting they are unfamiliar with don’t read in the first place.

    I liked Hunter Thompson, Hesse, and military history books when I was that age even though I was totally unfamilliar with dope, German weirdness, and badassery.

  17. Jenny says:

    Worked for Sound of Music.. 🙂

  18. Sendarius says:

    Given my experience of the YA market (none), and my experience of the YA demographic (little), I would only wonder about the ability of the author to avoid the “everyone knows that” trap.

    If the “world at large” setting of the novel has meaning and impact to the story, but the author doesn’t successfully and completely build the required world-view because of assumptions about the knowledge of the readership on his/her part, then FAIL ensues.

    Often-times, the author doesn’t even realise what the readership doesn’t know. At times I have been horrified by the ignorance about CURRENT world affairs displayed by various teenagers . I cannot imagine how the WWII environment could be conveyed successfully to the Y generation – regardless of the choice of Axis vs Allies locale.

    Oh, and Jenny? The Sound of Music dates from 1965 – it was closer to the end of WWII than it was to now, and how many of todays kids have ever seen it?

    • Brandon says:

      All three of mine, 10, 6, and 4, can recite large chunks of the script to you. They can certainly sing all of the songs. 🙂

      I think that the kids who are reading actual books are likely to be either more familiar with the setting or more likely to be open-minded enough to look into it further.

      Don’t underestimate your potential readership; give them something interesting, and they’ll handle the rest!

  19. John Gall says:

    I would suggest that you raise the age of your target audience into the adult range. Those YA’s who read aren’t locked into books written specifically for their age group and adults probably avoid the majority of books labeled “YA.”
    Why limit your potential readership?

  20. Shootin' Buddy says:

    Hmmm, think of the potential titles:

    Heinrich Potter
    Twilight (of the subhumans)
    The Golden Knight’s Cross
    New Order Rising
    Breaking Down Doors
    Are you there, Adolf? It’s me, Margareta.
    Bridge to the Polish Corridor

  21. Tam says:

    Whatever the setting of the novel, say something disparaging about kung-fu in it and you’ll get 160+ comments as the chop-socky fans fall to bickering amongst themselves.

  22. LittleRed1 says:

    I don’t see a problem. It is another country, if not another planet, for most YA readers today. There was a Newberry winner, IIRC about a girl who opens the door at Passover to see if Elija is there and finds herself in a Polish shtetl in 1938. Vampires, werwolves, who knows what else should fit right in. (although where a Slavic übermonster would fit into Nazi racial catagorization could be interesting. Would probably just eat the bureaucrats before they figured it out. Hmmm, that would be fun to read.)

  23. Mr Fixit says:


    based on my own children now ages 20, 14, and 10, I think that any setting other than current day would be equally odd. Given a good back story or details they could all work.

    My youngest is currently enthralled with the Red Wall series. He initially didn’t want to read it, but after one book he loves it.
    Even strange or foreign settings can work if the writer is good and has a good story.

    I say go for it.

    Mr Fixit

  24. Colin says:

    (daughter reads YA)

    Yes, it would hurt. Not to mention the setting may discourage teachers from using it in class (until it becomes a classic, that is :-).


  25. Scott says:

    Personal experience: daughter read WW2 setting story and did not like it. Not necessarily your target audience, but a data point anyway. I suspect that MOST WW2 stories contain images horrific enough for a YA to balk at the rest of the story.

    Consider WW1 or maybe our civil war instead… Or even Iraq/Afghanistan?

    • MauserGirl says:

      Just to add another perspective – maybe your daughter did not like the story with a World War II setting because the story itself was not well-written or did not hold her attention?

      I don’t know. When I was a young adult, I loved reading World War II stories. It seemed much more interesting than, say, World War I or the Civil War, because it was a more recent setting and I could still ask relatives (grandparents) about “back then”.

      IMHO any story about World War I or the Civil War would “contain images horrific enough for a YA to balk at the rest of the story.” At least if the author is neither sanitizing nor glorifying history.

  26. Wharf Rat says:

    i agree with most of the comments, that the kids who actually read anything more intellectually stimulating than Twilight would probably not mind a foreign setting.

  27. Assrot says:

    I spend a lot of time teaching YAs and it’s damn hard to get any of them to even open the cover on any book. They’re all too busy playing with their stupid little toys (Ipods, Iphones, Blackberries, etc.) and trying to be cool.

    I say go for it. It sounds good to me but then I’m a GA (Geezer Adult).


  28. Mer says:

    I’d be willing to guess that the average USYA is probably slightly more familiar with Nazi Germany that WWII US. History curricula are strange here.

    Regardless, Nazi’s are popular. It would probably be an advantage.

  29. mac says:

    Like several commenters above, I never read YA fiction when I was such. I did, however, read The Wolf’s Hour by Robert McCammon. It may not be what you’re thinking, but the setting is similar. I’d suggest you read it if you haven’t already. I’ve got a copy if you’re interested.

    Also, the YA novels I’ve read recently were written either by recently-grown-beyond-YAs or with a YA as a consultant. I found them terribly irritating. Cool, supernatural creatures lose their allure when they become teen fantasy.

  30. MarkHB says:

    I’d be really interested to read it. Also, as most YAs these days know their WWII history from Medal of Duty Call of Wolenstein III, it’s probably worth writing it on general principal.

  31. DO IT!!! I’m hoping my kid is as into WWII as my brother and I were. The AARP started sending letters to my brother when he was 10 because of all his interest in WWII (damn mailing lists). I don’t think it would be a hindrance at all.

  32. MauserGirl says:

    I don’t think that a novel set in Nazi Germany would be automatically a flop simply because it targets a young adult audience that knows as little about World War II as it does about the Civil War or the ancient Romans.

    But I think it would probably be a challenge for the writer, since you will have to write specifically for an audience that is quite likely to be clueless about the time period, so you may find yourself spending time on trying to explain things in a way that may or may not take away from the story.

    It will be an additional challenge because writing in a historical setting requires a lot of research. Not just big dates and facts, but little “how people lived back then” facts as well. If you don’t research well, the novel can end up being another cliche where every German is either a rabid Hitler fanatic or a determined member of the anti-Nazi resistance.

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