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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Do you remember your first time?

 A character in one of my stories pridefully calls himself a contrarian. I guess there’s more of me in my protagonists that I realize.
Me and my target Audience
I’m the genre-ista who insists that her chosen area is NOT really a separate genre. Young Adult is a category, a definition of the target audience, a market; just as Adult is a market and Middle Grade is a market. Like many other YA authors I write for both Young Adults and Adults and I know the differences. Emotions are richer with young adults; the teen years are a time when people experience the greatest depths of love, happiness, anger, or sadness.

I polled members of some of my online writer’s groups, the YA RWA chapter, SCBWI, and Teenlitauthors. Big shout outs and thanks to everyone who replied and shared their feelings on YA, you guys rock. Here’s what you all told me:

YA is all about VOICE

  • Just having a teen protagonist isn’t enough. Characters can’t suffer from "short adult syndrome."
  • "YA voice" means characters act and sound like real teenagers, instead of like adults *trying* to sound like a teenager. It means that the author understands how teens think and experience things and isn’t looking back with the I-now-know-better attitude.
  • It’s about making the stupid mistakes and letting whatever happens, happen. It’s not about sending a cautionary message to teens.

It’s OK to be edgy

YA deals with some pretty heavy topics, but it does so in ways that real teenagers would. Sometimes those topics are ugly. My stories take place in urban settings with a multi-cultural cast that faces issues including pressure for sex, family violence, bullies, illness, alcohol and drugs. Life experience at 16 isn't the same as 36. Teens and adults don't face the problems the same way, not even a life crisis such as an unexpected pregnancy or the death of a friend or family member.

Teens often handle even the most traumatic events in amazingly mature ways—sometimes even better than adults. But they do view/feel/react differently. If your workd speaks to someone going through trauma, that's an added benefit to writing for Young Adults.

Why I write for Young Adults

PULL is a contemporary novel, with a hint of turbulent issues and complex conflicts. Writing it gave me an excuse to feel young again, even though High School wasn't all fun and games. My stories take place in urban settings with a multi-cultural cast that faces issues including pressure for sex, family violence, bullies, illness, alcohol and drugs. My teens love their families, care about friends, and want to discover their real place in the adult world they are about to enter.

Are you ready for YA?

Young adults are some of the most demanding and discerning people on the planet. They quickly notice if things sound or feel false or if an author writes down to them. I tell my audience, "Open my book, I promise it's worth your time." If I'm lying, kids will drop me in a hot minute. But if I'm real they'll put me on their list of favorites and tell their friends; maybe even their enemies.

Write as if you were a teen instead of writing down to teens. Read as if these are the most important years of your life, because to teens they are. Revisit those strangely powerful and turbulent years when everything was possible and you could fight city hall. Remember the thrill of First Love.

Tell me what you think

Leave me a comment, I'd love to hear your thoughts. Let's discuss, is YA a genre, a category or does it even matter as long as theirs a good story about realistic teens?

Remember, all comments count as entries into the Romancing The Genre's monthly prize package.

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27 comments:

Katie McGarry said...

I have to agree with the third option. I don't think it matters as long as you tell a good story! I totally agree with the above though - if you're writing YA - it must have a YA voice.

Abigail Sharpe said...

I say about a quarter of my reading is YA (helpful when me and the kiddies are reading the same book!). I'm down with it as long as it's a good story. I don't know what they think, though. They haven't yet ventured into Adult to know if there's a difference.

Jo Ramsey said...

Great post, Barbara! I'm glad the groups were helpful to you. I also write both YA and adult romance, and it's definitely different to juggle between the two!

Micki Gibson said...

Your point about not writing down to teens really resonated with me. I'm a former high school teacher and I actually like teens, so nothing bugs me more than when I hear a writer say they want to hop on the hot YA market but that person doesn't really like their target audience. Or worse, doesn't RESPECT them. Thanks for a great post!

PJ Sharon said...

Great post Barbara. It's a multidimensional issue for sure, but I think you nailed it on several levels. Voice plus teen protag. plus issues seen from a YA POV=YA...I think.When I write my "Extraordinary stories of an average teen age life," I put myself in my 'teen age head' since I was one once upon a time, then I write from that place. It's very cathartic getting to re-invent and re-write those years. I'm enjoying the process, anyway. Thanks!

Judith Ashley said...

I think a great story resonates with readers for a variety of reasons. If the 'voice' is one we relate to, the story seems real.

I also agree with Micki that the writer needs to like and respect their target audience.

So I don't think it matters if YA is a genre or a catagory. What does matter is that the writer tells a great story in a voice the teen/young adult reader relates to.

Thanks, Barbara for a thought-provoking post and for promoting the Mega Give Away Box at the end of May.

Mary Jo Burke said...

Hi Barbara,

I was a teenager in the last century, although it seems longer ago. Now I have teenagers. The problems are the same, except for the Internet. Kids post their hopes, dreams, and deeds for the world to see. This makes for angst and great story lines. I've written an historical, YA, thrillers, and comedies. I'm a published paranormal writer. The characters dictate the genre. The writer's just there for the ride.

Mary Jo Burke

Therese said...

This attitude should be what all authors hold, they should never write down to their readers no matter who is the target audience.

Classic stories were targeted to readers - no matter their age. I personally feel a lot of great stories are hidden because by being marketed as a specific genre. Fortunately, that is one thing that matters less as time passes and readers keep spreading the word about a great story!

B. A. Binns said...

Micki G.,

Not writing down to kids was pounded into me before I decided to write YA. I was still in grade school - back in the day - when I moved to the adult department because the other stuff was written as if kids were...well, childish. Taking myself back to the not so thrilling days of teenagerhood is interesting, now that I get to see things from the other side.

Thankds for your comment.

B. A. Binns said...

Mary Jo, I too had my teenaged life in the last century *sigh* Your right, the problems are the same, and all huge for kids who are intelligent, determined but just don't have the life experience to handle everything, including the technology that exposes them to the world.

Sarah Raplee said...

I think that writing a story both teens and adults can relate to means writing teen characters that ring true to teenagers and to adults' memories of what it was like to be a teenager. For a writer who has been out of their teens for a long time, that may be difficult.

I agree that YA is more of a category than a genre.

A thought just occurred to me: I often hear about YA books 'crossing over' into the adult audience. How often do adult fiction novels 'cross over' to become hits with teens?

B. A. Binns said...

It's not uncommon, but it doesn't get the publicity because it's not seen as a shock. More and more teen librarians are posting books at first considered *adult* in the YA shelves because they know what their kids are looking for. And publishers are starting to put young-looking covers on books to help solicit YA readers. That happened with Norm Cowie and "The Adventures of Guy," intended to be an adult comedy, but snapped up in droves by YA readers.

J. Coleman said...

As usual, you nailed it. I love writing YA. I don't think mentally I've ever lost "seventeen" and I still think boys are hot. My stories all revolve around "first times" because they are so emotionally charged. Great blog!

Tam Linsey said...

I think labeling something as a genre is purely for marketing. I read across the board (and I love YA BTW) As you say, what is important is a good story, and characters who feel real, no matter what their age.

B. A. Binns said...

Tam, I attended an on-line chat sponsored by YA RWA a little while ago with an editor and she said much the same thing. The so-called crossover books gain their market more from having universal themes than because of their character's age.

Teens do prefer reading books about people around their own age, but they alwo want a powerful theme that makes them think. Adults don't care as much about protagonist age but they still want those strong, universal themes.

Give a reader both a character they can relate to and a far-reaching theme and you have them hooked.

Anonymous said...

I've also seen it go the other way, as in, some YA books cross over into middle grade. Some of the examples of this include "Zach's Lie" by Roland Smith and "Soldier's Heart" by Gary Paulsen. Both started off in MG but are now in both YA and MG at my library. I found that interesting. Also, books like "The Hunger Games," "Chains" by Laurie Halse Anderson and "Levithian" (sp?) by Scott Westerfield are now on our Rebecca Caudill Young Reader's Award lists. "The Hunger Games" won the award last year and I believe it was the first YA to do so. The list is geared toward a MG audience, ages 9-14. I just found it interesting what kids of all ages are starting to love reading.

Paty Jager said...

Great post! I know I could never get down the YA lingo to write a book for them.

Sarah Raplee said...

RECOVERED COMMENT -BARBARA BINNS POSTED:

Micki G.,

Not writing down to kids was pounded into me before I decided to write YA. I was still in grade school - back in the day - when I moved to the adult department because the other stuff was written as if kids were...well, childish. Taking myself back to the not so thrilling days of teenagerhood is interesting, now that I get to see things from the other side.

Thankds for your comment.

Sarah Raplee said...

RECOVERED COMMENT - BARBARA BINNS POSTED:

Mary Jo, I too had my teenaged life in the last century *sigh* Your right, the problems are the same, and all huge for kids who are intelligent, determined but just don't have the life experience to handle everything, including the technology that exposes them to the world.

Sarah Raplee said...

I think that writing a story both teens and adults can relate to means writing teen characters that ring true to teenagers and to adults' memories of what it was like to be a teenager. For a writer who has been out of their teens for a long time, that may be difficult.

I agree that YA is more of a category than a genre.

A thought just occurred to me: I often hear about YA books 'crossing over' into the adult audience. How often do adult fiction novels 'cross over' to become hits with teens?

Sarah Raplee said...

RECOVERED COMMENT - BARBARA BINNS POSTED:

It's not uncommon, but it doesn't get the publicity because it's not seen as a shock. More and more teen librarians are posting books at first considered *adult* in the YA shelves because they know what their kids are looking for. And publishers are starting to put young-looking covers on books to help solicit YA readers. That happened with Norm Cowie and "The Adventures of Guy," intended to be an adult comedy, but snapped up in droves by YA readers.

Sarah Raplee said...

RECOVERED COMMENT - J. COLEMAN POSTED:

As usual, you nailed it. I love writing YA. I don't think mentally I've ever lost "seventeen" and I still think boys are hot. My stories all revolve around "first times" because they are so emotionally charged. Great blog!

Sarah Raplee said...

RECOVERED COMMENT - TAM LINSEY POSTED:

I think labeling something as a genre is purely for marketing. I read across the board (and I love YA BTW) As you say, what is important is a good story, and characters who feel real, no matter what their age.

Sarah Raplee said...

RECOVERED COMMENT - BARBARA BINNS POSTED:

Tam, I attended an on-line chat sponsored by YA RWA a little while ago with an editor and she said much the same thing. The so-called crossover books gain their market more from having universal themes than because of their character's age.

Teens do prefer reading books about people around their own age, but they alwo want a powerful theme that makes them think. Adults don't care as much about protagonist age but they still want those strong, universal themes.

Give a reader both a character they can relate to and a far-reaching theme and you have them hooked.

Sarah Raplee said...

Barbara, thank you for answering my question about adult books that 'cross over' to the YA audience. Your answer makes sense, as does your last comment about universal themes. I really enjoyed your post and your comments!

Sarah Raplee said...

RECOVERED COMMENT - ANONYMOUS POSTED:


I've also seen it go the other way, as in, some YA books cross over into middle grade. Some of the examples of this include "Zach's Lie" by Roland Smith and "Soldier's Heart" by Gary Paulsen. Both started off in MG but are now in both YA and MG at my library. I found that interesting. Also, books like "The Hunger Games," "Chains" by Laurie Halse Anderson and "Levithian" (sp?) by Scott Westerfield are now on our Rebecca Caudill Young Reader's Award lists. "The Hunger Games" won the award last year and I believe it was the first YA to do so. The list is geared toward a MG audience, ages 9-14. I just found it interesting what kids of all ages are starting to love reading.

Sarah Raplee said...

RECOVERED COMMENT - PATY JAGER POSTED:

Great post! I know I could never get down the YA lingo to write a book for them.