My Entirely Non-Scientific Breakdown of What Defines YA

I read a lot of YA. Mostly YA. I write YA, so it’s important for me to keep up with what’s going on in the field, and I like reading my fellow author’s work. It’s also a category I enjoy in general–I read a lot of YA when I was a teen, and haven’t abandoned that side of the bookstore yet.

So I definitely agree that twenty-somethings can get a lot out of YA. They’re coming of age stories, and when you’re in your 20s, being able to reflect on your own teen years while also still feeling so close to that instability and possibility makes for a great reading experience.

However, one part of the post stood out to me: “As far as I can tell, apart from the unwritten no-graphic-intimacy rule, the only true requirement for a book to be considered YA is that the protagonist(s) must be somewhere between the ages of 13 – 19.” Sharma is making a point about how YA can consist of all kinds of genres and plots and emotions, which is true and awesome.

But this got me thinking about what actually defined YA. If the requirement is just that it’s about a teen protagonist, what about books like The Age of Miracles or Tell the Wolves I’m Home. Although those books have a lot of crossover appeal, I’d put them in the general adult fiction section of the bookstore, not with the YA novels. And I’d definitely classify The Book Thief as a YA novel, but its narrator is Death–not exactly your typical teenager.

So here’s my totally non-scientific breakdown of what makes a YA novel:

The main character is a teenager

Again, this can vary a little, but for the most part the protagonist is a teenager. This is about the teen experience, not about the kid or adult experience.

The POV is immediate

This is what makes the big difference for me. Whereas books like The Age of Miracles or even To Kill a Mockingbird are about young characters, and potentially read by teen readers, what makes YA particular is that it’s about that moment of the teen experience. It’s not set many years later, from an adult perspective looking back on this experience. It’s set right then, when the emotions are high and the future isn’t always clear.

The POV is close

Even when a book is written in third person POV, I find that YA novels are written much closer to their main characters’ perspectives. Adult novels tend to keep their characters at more of a distance. One thing I like about YA is that the narration isn’t afraid to get into the emotional messiness.

And maybe most importantly…

Teens are the intended audience

There have been a lot of articles in the past five years about adults reading YA and if that’s okay (of course it is), but they’re not the people for whom the books are written. These books are written with teens and their particular experiences and pressures and dreams and realities in mind. When I write YA, I want to connect with teens who are experiencing a lot of things for the first time and forming their identities and figuring out who they want to be and where they want to go. If these stories also connect with adult readers, that’s fantastic. But it’s secondary. Teen readers, YA is yours, first and foremost.

No matter what makes YA, it’s exactly where I want to be as a writer.

Are there any other features that you think define YA literature? Share them in the comments!

Attention MA Authors: Marketing and Bookstores Talk at the Writers’ Loft!

Allison PH flyer finalThese days, most authors have to finagle a lot of their own promotion. And unless you have a background in marketing, it can be difficult to figure out what’s worthwhile and who you should connect with and how you should plan for events.

That’s when you bring in the experts. Wednesday, July 22 (tomorrow!) friend, writer, and former bookstore event maven, Allison Pottern Hoch, is giving a talk at the Writers’ Loft about book marketing and working with local independent bookstores.

I’m excited to hear Allison’s advice and figure out ways I can better market my work and connect with the wonderful people at our local bookstores. Come on out and take notes with me!

Links Galore

Lots of link-y goodness:

Links Galore

A few more links for today:

YA in Non-YA Media

I was visiting my parents this weekend, and I saw this poll in my mom’s copy of Women’s Day:

Two of the four books they suggest are YA, but they’re not called out as such. It’s not a poll about what books moms are stealing from their teens’ bookshelves, or what YA women would like to try. They’re just listed as books. Granted, they’re not at the top of this poll, but I’m glad to see The Hunger Games and The Book Thief listed here without being labelled as an “other.”

Modern Publishing Choices

On her blog, Shannon Hale shares some thoughts on traditional vs. self-publishing. Very much agree with her stance overall, especially:

“For those who are self-publishing because they’ve been rejected by professionals, I would ask, Why in such a hurry to be published? Someday you may wish you waited to put your very best work out there. And if this book is your very best work and it’s smokin’ awesome, then patience, it will find a home.

For those who prefer the control of self-publishing, I say, more power to you. It’s not the route for me, but I can see it would appeal to some.”

The control factor seems to be huge in self-publishing. If you want to be the #1 person behind your books in terms of content, marketing, and sales, go for it. It’s a lot of work, but it’s doable.

But if you’ve been rejected by lots of editors and agents already, maybe your book isn’t ready to meet its audience. There are a lot of stories I’ve worked on that haven’t come to fruition and I’m really glad they’re not out in the world for everyone to see. Does that mean writing them was a waste of time? Of course not.

Like Shannon says, this does not mean that there aren’t fantastic self-published books out there. Heck, I’ve read some pretty amazing fanfics in my day, which were certainly as well-written as any given trade fiction. But if you want to go down the self-publishing route, you need to think a lot more about how your audience will find your book and why this is the best way for you to connect with readers.

Side note: every time I type “self-publishing” I really want to type “elf-publishing,” mostly because I like the image of elves in curled-toe shoes and adorable hats making tiny books.

What You Can and Can’t Get From Blogging

There’s a lot of pressure now for writers to have an active social media life. You need to blog, tweet, pin, reblog, and “like” things. It’s necessary for your career as a writer, people say. You need to have an online presence.

Okay, maybe that’s true. You don’t want people to Google you and come up with nothing. You want people to be able to find information on your writing, maybe how to contact you, etc. But what does that mean for how much work you should be doing on your social media platform?

Roni Loren has a great post up about if blogging is worth the time/effort and what you can expect to get out of it. In very short, blogging generally won’t make you sell a gazillion books, but it’s a wonderful way to connect with other writers and/or readers who already like your work. One part I liked in particular:

“Having a blog just to have one is worse than not having one at all. If you’re not somewhat focused in your content and you aren’t giving the reader a takeaway, no one is going to stick around except your mom and a handful of others who are writing about Random Randomness…Do it because you enjoy connecting with people, don’t do it because you think it’s going to vault you up the bestseller list.”

Blogging is work. It requires upkeep and, even if you’re not blogging every day, you want to set up some kind of schedule for yourself. I hate seeing people’s blogs that only list a post every couple of months. And maybe part of that problem is not knowing who you’re trying to reach. Writing for a void can be disheartening.

If this isn’t your first time at my blog, you’re probably aware that I blog a lot. (If this is your first time, here, howdy!) Mostly it’s because I find things online that I like to share. It’s way easier than emailing each person I think might be interested in whatever I’ve found, and it has the potential to connect me with other people who like the same kind of things. I rarely post about my life because I don’t think that would be as interesting. It would end up feeling more like a chore.

So even if you need to have some kind of blog, don’t think that it has to be any one way. Find what works for you, and remember to keep it fun. If it’s not fun, it’s just something else to stress about that won’t necessarily get people to like your fiction. Blogging is its own thing, and can be really fun. Just don’t think of it as a make or break for your career.

(image: JISC)