Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Why YA? Revisited

So recently on a writing board I frequent, a writer was expressing his confusion over why an adult would want to write YA. He had only recently heard of the genre (not the first writer I've heard say that lately). He mentioned that he had heard the YA market was hot (it is) and wondered if writers were choosing to "limit" themselves by writing in the genre simply because of the market.

Now, of course, those of us on this blog enjoy writing YA (and sometimes other genres). So while we can't understand why someone wouldn't want to ;) if it doesn't appeal to them, we're not going to tell them they have to read or write it. Historical fiction and erotica don't appeal to me, so I don't read or write them either.

Yes, the YA market is hot. This does not mean that writers who would rather not write YA should suddenly focus on YA. First of all, if one hasn't read the genre (as with any genre), that writer won't know what's been done, what hasn't, or what YA readers want. Second of all, writing solely for the market suggests that that writer has no passion for the genre, and will get left behind by the passionate YA writers. Third of all, there are many more YA writers now than there used to be--somewhat cause and effect of the whole genre getting hot--so even though they may be publishing more books, there's a lot of competition. Finally, and maybe most importantly, by the time a writer entering the genre writes a novel, edits, gets it beta'd, gets an agent, and edits it again, who knows what the status of the market will be? There are plenty of excellent agents who take non-YA, and plenty of publishers who are still publishing non-YA, it's just not as hot right now, and both are looking for "sure things" at this time. (As agent Nathan Bransford said a week or two ago: "Publishers right now want the surest of sure things that are so sure it beats surety over its sure head. And agents have to adjust what they take on accordingly." http://nathanbransford.blogspot.com/2009/06/stepping-up-your-game.html)

What that means for tomorrow's market? Who knows? The recession might be over. A new Harry Potter-type success might drive buyers towards a different genre. People might suddenly realize that it's a lot cheaper to buy a book and read it over the course of [insert reading speed here] rather than go see several movies in the same span of time, which would increase book sales, and hopefully make publishers less stingy about what they consider a sure thing.

So for the lucky people who love the genre, YA is the place to be right now. Why are we lucky? Because we already have novels. We're already in the process of writing/editing/betaing/submitting the novels we wrote because we love the genre. For various reasons.

Recently I answered a thread in a writing forum that asked what drew us to the genre. I went on a long rambling post there about how as my tastes changed over the years (from childhood to my late twenties (now)), I was still interested in the stories about teens and how it led directly into my writing about that age group. It's easier for me to point to tv shows for this because during college, I didn't read for fun as much. When I was a kid, I know I watched shows like the kid sitcom Saved By the Bell and was fascinated by the high school life I thought I was going to be entering. By high school, I was watching dramas instead, Buffy the Vampire Slayer comes instantly to mind (Buffy was just a year younger than me). I followed Buffy (and pretty much only Buffy) into college, where I was introduced to anime and roleplaying games. Many many anime focus on teenage protagonists, so I was still focusing my entertainment on teens. I played an anime-based RPG my last two years of college, playing a sixteen-year-old. This led me to writing fanfic for that particular game, and when I moved out of it, it was perfectly natural to continue writing about teens.

Other reasons "why YA" include things like the magic of first love, the appeal of coming of age, appreciation of tighter pacing, love of stronger voices, etc. These are things that I've heard other people mention as well.

Now, do you have to "limit" yourself to enter this exciting (well, to me) world? Not any more than any other genre. As you probably picked up on in the early days of this blog, the YAYAs fully support edgy YA (even though some of us don't read much of it ourselves). But can you get away with anything in a YA novel? Yes. And no. Remember publishers want the surest sure surety for their books. This means that they want things that are just different enough from what's selling that it's new and exciting without being so different that it's too much of a risk. Yes, you can have a different voice from the average YA novel. But you have to be willing to take on a few rejections from publishers who don't want to risk that it's not going to appeal to a teen. Yes, you can have rape, incest, more explicit sex, drugs, smoking, drinking, self-injury, etc. Those things are also very hot right now in the edgier YA market. But when the audience/agent/publisher feels they might be gratuitous, it's going to be asked to be taken out. And when you start piling them on one another, you're leaving "sure thing" territory and becoming risky. There is also a market for less edgy YA, which is what I would have been reading as a teen, so I'm glad for that. (And let's be honest, even now some of the edgy things that come out are not things I really want to read.)

The nice thing about YA is that there are so many different things to do within it. You have the same genres as adult fiction, just set with teen protagonists and themes. You can go edgy, you can go tame, you can go fantasy, you can go literary, you can go deep (Yeah, teens have already been taught metaphors and symbolism, you know), you can go fluffy, you can go dark. You can do a lot of stuff in YA.

If you want to :)

But anyway, why do you write or read YA? What is it that draws you to that section of the book store?


Summer said...

Great post. I definitely agree with the last paragraph. I like how diverse YA is. That's the best part. I just thought that as I grew up I would grow past YA but I haven't yet. I guess it just speaks to me the most. I love the energy in YA fiction.

Cat Hellisen said...

I seem to keep writing YA without meaning to. :D Now I've just given up fighting the muse.

I'm more interested in writing about a person discovering themselves and their relation to the world, their place or not place. And that you get mainly with younger characters.

YA is also bigger these days because what was originally just dumped in the fantasy section is now being herded onto the YA shelves. A good thing, yes. And no. Good because I love how in general YA will hold fantasy next to reality, sf next to the book about eating disorders in HS. But no because I think there's a bunch of fantasy readers who don't know about all these fantastic books sitting in the YA section. Kinda sucks.

Kirsten Hubbard said...

love this post, Sage.