Thursday, November 18, 2010

So You Write YA, Who Cares?

The other day a fellow writer, Beth Revis, put up a post about age limits in Young Adult literature. While I happen to agree with some of the points made in her post, I had a hard time agreeing with others. I'm not here today to argue with Beth, however, or try to make a point that one genre is better than another. Our intention here at The Literary Lab is to try and show readers that literary fiction is not so much a genre as it is a part of all writing. My intention today is to strike up a healthy discussion along these lines. So read carefully!

Beth made some points in her post that I'd like to talk about. We'll  focus on what Beth says Young Adult literature is. Her first point after she quotes Jack Martin: "Teen books are like adult books without all the bullshit."

YA fiction is fast paced. Beth makes it clear that there is no wasted space in Young Adult literature. She also says Proust would not have cut it as a YA author.

Michelle: Most Young Adult fiction I've read is fast paced, but I'm not entirely certain that is because there is no "wasted space." I think part of it may be subject matter, the expected length of YA novels, and the fact that many YA novels I've read deal with highly appealing subjects to their audience, namely subjects that invite a fast paced plot. Teenagers like new, exciting things, exploration, and experimentation. They aren't settling down. They're just getting started with life, and many adults like to stay in this active phase so it's no wonder they love YA fiction, and it's no little wonder that for a long time the YA fiction style/themes/etc. have been crossing over into adult. I personally think this is fun and exciting, especially for adult readers who wouldn't be reading fiction otherwise.

Davin: Using Proust as the representative for adult fiction in this discussion is a bit extreme. Think of Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and Tolstoy, who all manage to write incredibly tight fiction. I'd argue that Proust isn't even that bad, given that his words actually add precision to his stories. Stephenie Meyer could learn pooper scooping from any of these writers, just as she could learn from J.K. Rowling. Both YA literature and adult literature can be focused. Honestly, I'm mad about the Jack Martin quote. It's much more accurate to say, "Good books are like bad books without the bullshit."

Scott: There are entire books I don't want to read. There are entire genres I don't want to read. Are they "wasted space?" Swann's Way is something like 180,000 words long, and not a single one of those words is wasted.

Beth's second and third points are that YA fiction has interesting characters and that YA fiction will get the reader emotionally involved in some way, whether that's negative or positive emotions.

Michelle: Absolutely! I've read many YA novels that support this claim. Of course, I've read adult books that support the same claim. Beth says YA readers don't put up with uninteresting characters. I don't think adult readers do, either.

Davin: Dit. to.

Scott: Trit. to.

Beth's final point is that Young Adult literature supports story above tradition.

Michelle: I will admit that YA fiction does seem to throw around extreme genre bending much more than adult literature dares to. This is a really fun side of YA, but I don't think it's unheard of to see this happening in adult literature, as well, as Beth says in her post.

Davin: In a way, genre bending is a bit of a tame art anyway, isn't it? Why simply bend a genre when you can smash through it the way some classic adult fiction has done? Yes, romance combined with sci-fi can be a fun read, but think of the books that totally make you see writing in a different way. One Hundred Years of Solitude did that for me, as did Light In August, Lolita, and Dante's Inferno. None of those books suffer from the need to conform to tradition.

Michelle: Yes! Davin, I agree. Annie Dillard blew me away with her philosophy and literary style. I changed my major from technical writing to creative writing because of her. Flannery O'Connor pretty much made her own genre. I don't think adult literature suffers from tradition. I think some writers might, but not the genre.

Scott: I am not attacking YA, and I would appreciate it if we didn't attack other genres to defend our own. But as Ms. Revis has thrown down the gauntlet, I ask her to show me the YA writers who are as brave and adventurous, as "genre-bending" as Umberto Eco, Jorge Luis Borges, James Joyce, A.S. Byatt, Iain Pears, David Mitchell, Virginia Woolf, Laurence Sterne, Iris Murdoch, Irvine Welsh, Mikhail Bulgakov, Vladimir Nabokov, Victor LaValle, Martin Amis, Salman Rushdie, Voltaire, Thomas Pynchon, William Burroughs, Toni Morrison, Margaret Atwood et cetera ad infinitum. Don't make me go on because I could all night. If you want to write YA then do it and don't apologize for it, but don't pee on me to make yourself feel better. [End of Scott's ranty rant.]

Michelle: So as I've thought more and more about all of this, I feel bad that Beth says she doesn't care that YA is slapped onto her book - she's happy just writing what she writes. I feel bad because it doesn't matter what label a book has. There can be exceptions, of course. An example is that my novella, Cinders, is sometimes categorized as Young Adult. I get a little upset about this because the main character is married, so she deals with things some younger readers might not be ready to read about. I think the book is more appropriately labeled as adult simply so younger readers don't pick it up thinking it's something completely different than it is. This, to me, is a good reason for a label/genre classification.

Scott says it's a marketing term, not a literary term. That's exactly what it is. It's CONVENIENT to categorize books into categories. It's CONVENIENT to say, "Yes, this book has a 16 year-old protagonist so let's call it YA". It's convenient because it works for marketing, for bookstore layouts, for giving awards, gifts, for determining if a book might be appropriate for certain readers.

We should all own what we do and what we write, but it's certainly not fair for anyone to say one genre is better than another. I've often felt looked down on for writing adult fiction since I live around and am friends with so many writers who write Young Adult, and I've gone through my little spells of woe-is-me because I feel I'm looked down on for self-publishing a novel. Nobody, however, has ever once said out loud to me that my fiction sucks because it's adult or that my novella sucks because it's self-published. All of that emotion is coming from myself. Even if someone does tell me these things to my face, it does not, nor will it ever make it true.

So you write YA, who cares? I personally think it's awesome! Write any genre. Tell a good story like any good writer, and readers and writers will respect you as just that - a good writer.

What do you all think? We're not trying to start an argument, but a bit of good-natured debate is always fun. We noticed Beth's post got a ton of supportive comments.

Beth Revis is the author of the novel, Across the Universe, which will be out January 11th, 2011 by Razorbill.


  1. Hmmm. This is a toughie. I think it all boils down to personal opinion. I write adult paranormal and urban fantasy and I don't think my books would be considered slow as far as pacing or uninteresting as far as character development. I'm not, however, an avid reader of YA, though I've read a few that I enjoyed. It's all about what you like to read. If you LIKE YA then the pacing, characters, etc. will hit home for you. If you DON'T like adult urban fantasy, then the pacing may seem slow and the characters may strike you as dull. Write and read what you like. Whatever floats your boat, right?

  2. I don't know how valuable my comments are to this article because I don't read YA books and I didn't read YA books even when I was a young adult. I was too busy reading Shakespeare and Tolstoy and Chaucer and Dante and other such writers because my father wanted us to read the classics. I read Stoker's Dracula when I was eleven years old. I also had no problem getting emotionally invested in the characters and found the stories intriguing and stimulating. I remember Crime and Punishment kept me up reading until the wee hours; don't even get me started on Edgar Alan Poe, and Naked Lunch simply blew me away as a teenager. These amazing writers broke all the rules when it came to language and structure not to mention that the satirical social commentary opened my eyes to the real world. deSade wrote about sex, politics, and religion like no one I had ever read before. He pointed fingers, exposed the hypocrisy, and never once attempted to hide it. His characters were tortured souls fighting against a world of lies and abuses. So I think it was the artistic anarchy that attracted me to adult literature long before I was an adult. I like adult themes. For me, it was like porn to a teenage boy. I like challenging use of the language, and I like vile and miserable characters that make me question my own personal dogma. I just don't find that sort of thing in YA lit. I cannot relate to the mindset, don't think I ever could. But that's just me. Now I am not saying that YA lit can't be anarchist and push the envelope, it can. A couple of years ago I purchased The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo and it's one of the top books I recommend as reading material for new authors. Of course it's an allegory, but it deals very candidly with privilege and racism and child abuse and other very disturbing themes not to mention her use of the language is stunning.

    That aside, generally I find YA literature to be a bit tame for my tastes thematically and in its use of the language and its thematic treatment of its subject matter. But that's just me. I personally need a whole lot more challenge in my reading material. Other's mileage will vary. YA literature is written for and meant for young adults, so it has its own stylistic rules and limitations. Many genres have rules and limitations. In my personal opinion, I want to read beyond rules and limitations and nothing satisfies that need better than adult fiction, doesn't matter the genre. Any genre can be literary if it wants to be, and no genre or style in inherently better than any other. They are just different. Hell, “Room” has a 5 year old protagonist and it’s not labelled YA. And as for genre-bending? WTF? I Haven’t read a piece of literature that could be smashed entirely into one genre. Remember, genre categories were developed by marketing companies and book dealers and librarians, not authors. We don’t really care what genre the work is, we care about the damn story. Is Phillip Dick Sci-Fi or Lit Fic? He’s both, and it doesn’t really matter. It’s the story and the message within that counts. Writing came first, the genres and their “rules” came later, much to my chagrin.

    Oh, I adore Proust, BTW, and Scott and I seem to have the same library card. But I would never look down on a genre. Everyone’s tastes and level of engagement are different.

  3. Amanda: Very good point! I think it's fun that you are writing adult paranormal and urban fantasy. I've read a bunch of those lately, and although I think they could find their way to a teenager's shelf, I also think they are more appropriate for adults for a lot of different reasons, the age of the protagonists one of those reasons, although not the biggest reason, probably.

    And I like your point about a story seeming slow and dull because it's not the genre you enjoy. I've recently had to stop reading one of friend's published books - an epic fantasy. I just couldn't get into it at all. Not because she's not a good writer, because she is, but it just wasn't my cup of tea in the genre field - for lack of a better term.

    Cheryl: Excellent comment, thank you! You bring up some great examples here. I think there are some YA novels out there that do push the envelope like you are describing here, but on the whole YA doesn't edge over to what I truly enjoy in literature. That doesn't make any less better than adult, just different like you say.

    I'm happy there are so many different genres out there, and that most good books don't fall into an easy category. That would make for a boring world, I think.

  4. Well, I certainly didn't mean to throw down a gauntlet!

    My point was mainly focused on YA as a misnomer for the genre--that it implies an age, but I think the genre is better defined as a style of writing, and that style incorporates certain tropes, such as faster plot, typically shorter work, etc., etc. I didn't really see it that different from comparing, say, adult fantasy novels to adult Regency Romances--certainly an adult fantasy novel is typically longer, with more of a focus on world building, and a magical element in a way that a romance novel is typically shorter, more romantic, and often relies on tropes such as a comedy of errors.

    I intended my post to be more of a comparison than an attack; if it came off as me attacking adult literature, I apologize. As a former English major who devoured adult novels in a literary setting, and later a teacher who expounded upon them to her students, I certainly do not dismiss the entire genre.

    But I also stand by what I said. When, for example, I say that YA books tend to have more interesting characters, I mean that YA tends to rely on that as a key part of the style--NOT that adult books DON'T have interesting characters. When I say YA doesn't waste words, I'm aware that not ALL YA does this--I'll be the first to say, for example, that the later Harry Potter books would have done well with a red pen and an editor inclined to cut. But I do think that YA will, for example, not use words that aren't serving the plot. I'm thinking of MOBY DICK--there are a LOT of words there, and while I'm not saying they're wasted, I am saying that a lot of those words don't directly serve the plot.

    Perhaps I'm defensive because some people consider YA a lesser genre because its label implies "childish," when it's my belief the genre is more about a writing style.

    As for Proust, we'll have to agree to disagree! :)

  5. The whole argument is rhetorical. YA as a label is for marketing and placement in a bookstore so that the largest population of intended readers will find the book easily. It does not - and should not - imply that it is a strict definition of who can / should read the book. That's just silly.

    I have two kids, and I read and enjoy picture books, early readers, and chapter books (in addition to adult genre fiction and classic literature) even though I'm pushing 40. When I think back to the middle-grade and YA books I read growing up, I know I would enjoy re-reading most of them today.

    YA is not always fast paced. I'm sorry, I read TWILIGHT and thought it was very slow, and it's a YA champion.

    Many commentors on Nathan Bransford's blog recently posted grievances regarding unnecessary padding in the Harry Potter series.

    And adult genre writers, James Patterson for example, have plenty of books that are fast paced (and to those who just threw up because I mentioned his name, the guy has earned over $350 million from his writing and has many loyal readers, he's doing something right).

    Some genres have their characteristics (what's the fun in a mystery where all is revealed in chapter 1?) but YA is an uber-genre. It encompasses fantasy, sci-fi, drama, mystery, etc. But these are not hard classifications, they are descriptions of the work, and they are necessary to market and sell it. The necessity stems from the purchasing habits of consumers, who look for simple guidance to find the types of material they are interested in reading.

  6. Beth: I figured you didn't mean to throw down a gauntlet, but your post did push a few buttons. It took a lot of courage for me to put this up because I didn't want you to think we were trying to pick on you. I just think there are some really good points in your post that needed to be discussed.

    I also know that you like adult literature. I remember that from posts way, way back, so I wondered why on earth your post was making it sound like you were putting adult literature down. Simply putting up that (awful and misleading quote, in my opinion) Jack Martin quote is what started the button-pushing, I guess.

    I can see what you're saying about YA literature. I don't really agree, but I can see where you're coming from.

    You make your strongest point in the second to last paragraph of your comment here about YA being viewed as childish. That's the real point here. Good writing is good writing. There are poorly done YA books and well done YA books. I suppose there is no need to even bring adult fiction into it.

    Thanks for coming by!

  7. Rick: It really should be rhetorical, yes. The problem, I think, comes in with children wanting to read adult fiction that really isn't appropriate for them, and then we've got all these dividing lines and crap and people thinking it should go the other way around as well.

    I don't think YA relies on a fast pace, interesting characters, or emotional intensity. I think YA relies on good writing, period. And we could argue all day about what constitutes good writing. I'll say, however, that it begins with good literary elements such as well-rounded characters and a thorough, satisfying plot.

  8. And yes, I know we could argue what constitutes satisfying, as well.

  9. I also agree that the YA genre shouldn't be thought of as childish. That is an excellent point, and one worth re-stressing. Some of the writers I admire most in the blog world write YA, and the winner of our first Genre Wars contest was also a YA story.

    Did Scott really say pee?

  10. Domey: I did!

    Beth: I totally understand that you don't want people to say that your book is "less than" some other kind of writing because of the YA label, and how you'd want to stick up for what you do. It's always an iffy proposition to compare styles/genres, though. But really, you shouldn't be put in a position of having to defend your work. De gustabus non disputandem, et cetera, and who are these idiots running down YA (and why are they doing it)?

  11. We should form a rebel group to break the knees of people who make writers feel like they have to defend their genre. I will assemble my pillowcase full of doorknobs.

  12. Genres shouldn't have to be defended, but it does happen. Writing shouldn't have to be defended, but it does happen. I think the best way to go about it is to strike up a discussion and conversation, get all sides and views, and go from there.

  13. I really liked Beth's post, because of her discussion about style being more the point than age level. Many adults avidly read YA.
    One critique partner I had told me she didn't like YA because it was shallow. I take offense at that. There are many YA and other kidlit books that have deep layers of meaning and import. Yes, they are shorter than adult fic. Yes, the are often faster paced and trimmed of heavy description or too much internalizing. But that's what makes them popular.
    There's room for everybody at the lit table. I personally read across genres and age groups, and I've loved everything from picture books to classic lit.
    As for Jack Martin's quote, I've always thought it was slightly tongue-in-cheek and not meant to be taken too seriously.

  14. I found Beth's post so enlightening that I posted a quote and a link to it on my blog.

    I think some of the discussion here is an apples/oranges thing. Beth is discussing the books being written right now for today's market. Classic literature or books published before 2000 belong to a whole different category.

    Right now YA is the "bread and butter" of the publishing industry. (quoting agent Sara Megibow there) Almost all other genres are in a state of gridlock. A few famous names get published, and a few designated "hot" genres, like steampunk and zombie mash-ups, but anything else by midlist authors--both unpublished and long established--is deemed "unsellable". I have heard this from many established authors. Their agents say the only way they can stay in print is to write YA.

    Because YA is the only living, breathing, growing genre in mainstream publishing, it has become what Beth describes. She's not PREscribing, but DEscribing what is happening NOW--not back when Monsieur Proust was searching for lost memories in the pastry shop.

  15. Anne, I should start by saying I am NOT an expert on any of this, but to me there is something fishy going on when a writer can suddenly sell their book just by calling it YA. First of all, that's a sign that one shouldn't feel defensive about the genre...obviously people respect and like it. But, on another level, I think it's impossible to describe what type of writing the genre encapsulates if indeed some of the books are just "adult fiction in disguise." Doesn't that mean that the adult fiction is just as enjoyable?

    Also, contemporary adult books like Water For Elephants and Lovely Bones (which I think is still called adult fiction, but maybe I'm wrong) come to mind. Both of those were wildly popular.

  16. Anne: You say, "Because YA is the only living, breathing, growing genre in mainstream publishing, it has become what Beth describes."

    I guess I'm not sure what you mean by "what Beth describes." Are you saying that YA *is* the only fiction being published today that isn't full of "bullshit?" Them's fighting words.

    And the classics continue to sell. There are something like 40 different editions of Jane Eyre out now. People are reading the classics every day. A couple of years ago there were *two* new translations of Proust's "Lost Time" books from major publishers, and those were expensive to produce because they were new translations, and that ain't cheap. Two years ago a new translation/edition of "Anna Karenina" was published, and it did well. So I am very skeptical of the claim that YA is the only genre doing well. I have heard that romance is having a great decade, and historical fiction is doing pretty well.

  17. Tricia, Yes, Jack's stupid quote was tongue-in-cheek. But I don't want it spread! :P

    I have also always hated Samuel Clemen's quote about writing a long letter because he did not have the time to write something shorter.

    For the record.

  18. All I can say to all this is this (yes, I did just type that).

    Cinders is SO not Young Adult- anybody who could possibly think that has never read it! It's just beyond me why anyone would possibly think that.

    Okay, that's all I've got.


  19. Davin: I love that Clemens quote. Them's fighting words!

  20. Bring it on, Bailey! I've got a pillowcase full of doorknobs!

  21. I regularly read books marketed for either middle-grade or YA, because they entertain me, not because they cut out any "bullshit". I don't get that quote at all. I also don't get the "interesting characters" notion -- who reads any fiction of any genre that has uninteresting characters? Hello?

    I'm having trouble envisioning people actually being rude enough to tell me I'm childish for reading such works, or looking down on me. And if I chose to write one, I can't imagine anyone thinking it was somehow easier or dumbed-down. Who are these people? I've not met them. And I've talked to a lot of people I don't know lately about books and writing, because of my novel being published this year. Naturally, their first question is always "What's it about?" I generally reply with either "It's a contemporary fantasy..." or "It's a fantasy adventure..." or "It's a serio-comic fantasy..." etc., but the word "fantasy" is standard and I have never once had someone wrinkle their nose or roll their eyes or say, "Ew. I hate fantasy", or "Fantasy is for kids."

    Never. I can usually tell if it's not a genre they normally read, because they go quieter and nod a lot, but they are always respectful and impressed by the act of writing a novel, of any kind. Maybe Beth is just hanging around the kind of people I never seem to meet.

    I also take exception to the genre-bending statement. The few times I've ventured into what used to be called in my youth the "mainstream fiction" section of a bookstore, (when did at least some part of it become "literary fiction", anyway? when I was a mere youth, it was mainstream or just plain fiction and it had everything from Steinbeck to Proust to Anya Seton to Chinua Achebe to Leo Rosten in it) I've managed to quite easily find things that you couldn't pigeonhole if you tried (Jasper Fforde, anyone? Christopher Moore? See Scott B.'s post for more).

    So what makes a novel "YA"? My Friend the Author Who I Am Always Quoting Here co-wrote several fantasy novels which were published as adult fantasy. The main characters were 18 in the first book, 19 (and married!) in the next. Then the YA market took off, and some bright spark at her publishing house decided to cash in by re-issuing them with new covers with the "YA" stamp. Are these novels adult fantasy or YA fantasy? Did the writing style change? Clearly not, since the publisher didn't alter a single word inside the covers.

    Personally, I would jump at the chance to have a book of mine tagged as YA. Those books tend to sell really well!

    -Alexandra MacKenzie

  22. I've really struggled with this conversation, because I found myself, frankly, devastated by the original post and all the hoopla and applause it got among my many friends in the blogosphere.

    As a writer and reader of adult ficiton, I none-the-less believe the power of quality YA literature and have frequently found myself speaking up on its behalf in rather lofty terms, as I did here.

    To suddenly find this loud, enthusiastic endorsement from YA writers and friends saying that, in turn, what I write is uninteresting and conformist was disappointing and, frankly, hurtful.

    This makes it hard for me to truly engage in this conversation in an analytical way.

    I'll try to summarize briefly:

    1) According to everything I keep reading, publishers regard YA not as a genre but as a reading level. If that's how the people who created and use the label mean it, I don't see the point in quibbling with that.

    2) Reading level does not now and never has equated with quality, even though many curmudgeons would like us to think so. There are great picture books and MG fiction, as well. Are those also crap like adult fiction?

    3) Wonderful examples of literary superstars can pulled from any reading level. Also, there are examples of terrible, commercial, conformist, stereotypical writing in all reading levels. I don't see any value in suggesting otherwise.

    4) Let's not confuse our own ideas of interesting with universal ideas of interesting. Just because you might find YA characters more interesting does not mean they are more interesting in some absolute sense. Different characters will engage different readers. That's what defines interesting.

    5) I often lament that westerns are not very often considered legit, literary fiction with a handful of exceptions that have little or no connection to the American Myth. Someday, I will write some westerns, and I will do so under a pen name to isolate the C. N. Nevets brand (as it were) from the taint of the horse opera. Sometime, I'd like to begin a cogent public discourse that legitimizes the western. I will not do so at the expense of romance, science fiction, fantasy, or mystery writers or their work.

    Genres and reading levels are all categories that help readers perform targeted searches for books they might like, and that help publishers market books to people as groups. No genre or reading level is inherently great or inherently terrible. Quality is entirely beside the point.

  23. Alex: Yeah, I thought about Fforde, and also Philip K. Dick (whose books continue to sell), and Ursula K. Le Guin (is "Wizard of Earthsea" a YA series now?) and then what about all the mystery writers? I hear mystery is doing pretty well these days, too.

    Anyway, this is all getting a bit tense for me. I think we should all be able to celebrate our favorite/chosen styles/genres without implying that other styles/genres aren't as good as the ones we like best. Because when we deal in vague generalities, someone's going to get hurt.

  24. Anyway, this is all getting a bit tense for me. I think we should all be able to celebrate our favorite/chosen styles/genres without implying that other styles/genres aren't as good as the ones we like best. Because when we deal in vague generalities, someone's going to get hurt.


    I think that is absolutely one of the best things I've ever read on this subject. Thank you, Sir!

    If all bookstores only sold our favorite genre how boring it'd be. Can't we all just get along?

    I happen to believe life is too short to worry about what anybody else is writing. I'm lucky these days if I can see and stay awake long enough to work on anything of my own.


  25. This was worth it for the Dit. to. and Trit. to. But it was brilliant for Scott's rant.

    As for truly interesting characters in adult fiction, can I please point thee to Zadie fu&*ing Smith? And it seems to me that she's sold pretty well. And for what it's worth, some of the genuius of work like that, I suspect, might be found in what is called the bullshit.

    Davin, happy belated bday!!

    Michelle, since I'm so bad about visiting blogs off the reader lately, I'll non sequitur here and say that I thought of you with the novel I'm currently reading: Anthropology of an American Girl. Have you heard of it? Self pubbed in 2003, developed a cult like following and now edited and revised and trad pubbed by an imprint of Random House. I think it's beautifully written and full of all these crazy, brilliant observations. It (the history of the book, not the story)reminded me of you, making your own path, rather boldly and thoughtfully.

  26. C.N. Nevets: Yes, please write a western! I would love to read it. -Alex

  27. Judging from Scott's plea for peace, these comments should entertain me once I have the time to read them.

  28. Justus, Scott also has a plea for no pee.

  29. Nevets does that because I'm his Pee. And you're my Pee, Scott. But Michelle is my Nong. As she is yours.

  30. @Alex - Just between you and me there is a western forensic anthropology story that will be submitted to EQMM sometime in the next few months, hopefully, and a couple more traditional western things in the works. :)

  31. Well the guy with the "bullshit" quote peed me off too. I'm all for forming a mob and taking him out. Who's with me? Domey, I know for sure.

  32. Tricia: I've read shallow adult fiction and shallow YA fiction. All fiction has the potential to be shallow, and I do think it's wrong to pin "shallow" on any one genre.

    I guess Martin's quote could be tongue-in-cheek, but I still hate it, haha. It just really rubs me the wrong way.

    Anne: You know, my publisher certainly doesn't think adult fiction is unsellable. My parents read adult fiction in spades. YA may be super, super hot, but people are reading other stuff, too. I'm certainly not going to jump onto the YA bandwagon and only write YA just because that's what will sell. I may write one or two YA books, but I'd hate to limit myself to one thing just because of popular taste.

    Like Domey and Scott say, I think there are wildly popular books out there that are labeled adult. I have many of them on my shelf. I think it's just easy to get caught up in the blogosphere right now - where most writers and authors seem to be in the YA market.

    Domey: I've never heard that Clemens' quote!

    Bru: I think it gets miss-categorized because of the cover and because it's based on a fairy-tale. Disney has done that... :)

  33. Davin, my time is short - busy making millions, ya know - but I found where Scott made a request concerning urine. I think we can all agree with that sentiment.

  34. Mizmak: Oh, I think it's great to be tagged YA, yes! But at the same time I don't want readers feeling like they were completely misled as to what's inside the book, either. I like labels to be somewhat accurate.

    I don't know where Beth is getting this attitude from people calling YA childish. It might be because YA is lumped with more Middle Grade? I have no idea. But even Middle Grade isn't childish on a lot of levels.

    Nevets: *BIG GRIN*

    Scott: Like Bru, I agree with you about celebrating other genres. I've been stealing the "celebrating" line from Davin for so long it's part of my vocabulary now.

    Jennifer: I've already had one offer from a small publisher (not my current publisher) to take on CINDERS, but I said no for many reasons. Let's just say things are in the works for the future.

    I think self-publishing can open doors for writers. It's not an easy path, and it's scary and risky, but sometimes it should just be about the writing and not genre or method of publishing. That's when things start happening.

    It's nice to see you here!

  35. I think you guys misunderstood Beth's intent. I don't really care much for the Martin quote, but YA does get put down as not being as worthy as adult literature at times, and I think YA writers can feel a little defensive about that.

    Here's an example: They get pushed around bookstores. In my Barnes and Noble the YA section has been three different places in the last couple years. It's incredibly annoying to have to go hunting the YA section down. Adult literature has not been moved once. There are subtle things that say YA is not worthy like rarely putting it up in the front of the store. Think about where the YA and children's sections are in your local stores. I've never been in one that has it right when you walk in the door. Please don't take this to mean that I expect YA to be front and center. I don't. It would be nice, but they rarely even put YA promotional tables up front (unless you're Twilight or Harry Potter). Yesterday there was a table up front with YA books on it for Christmas gifts. I was pleasantly surprised and started looking at them. It ended up being only half a table. I sighed and went back to the YA section.

    I love many different types of literature (even Proust in all his madeleine memory craziness) but can't say that I would have appreciated him when I was a teenager. If fact, I probably would have hated his writing as much as I did Conrad's or Melville's.

    You have to admit that adults are a lot more patient with digressions than teens, and a lot of adults like that YA literature digresses less than Adult (by saying that I don't mean to infer that all adult lit digresses--every book is unique).

    Wow. I got a little carried away with my comment.

  36. Lois: I get that Beth (and other YA writers) can feel marginalized, put down or not taken seriously. It's just that running down other styles and genres isn't necessarily the way to respond to that marginalization. I love Moby Dick because it's a good book and it stands on its own merits; I don't have to say that books which are not similar to Moby Dick are teh suxor or imply that books lacking the fabulous digressions and minute dissections of humanity are slight or "bullshit." So Beth's right to defend herself, but she's going about it the wrong way.

  37. Lois: Well, I'm just confused. We have Ann on one side saying not much is selling besides YA and that's all everyone wants and then you on the other side saying that YA isn't easily found or available in the bookstores. It's certainly easily accessible in the bookstores around here. Maybe it's just your area?

    I think what you say at the beginning of your comment about YA writers feeling defensive is exactly what we're addressing here. They shouldn't feel defensive, and if they do and decide to defend themselves they shouldn't make it seem like other genres should be put down for it. And who is making you feel that way, anyway? It may not be their intention. It may be that the three of us read into Beth's post incorrectly, if that's what we did - like you reading into other attitudes incorrectly, and nobody is really putting it down at all. Okay, glass half full. :)

  38. Uncle,

    I was going to point out that digressions aren't always bad, but then I saw you had already stolen the glory. Shine your own shoes.

    Upsetfully yours,

    Disgruntled Mad

  39. @Lois - It's confusing to me that your explanation of Beth's intentions in an article about YA not relating to age appeal to teenage readers.

    Whatever the intent, when you use hyperbole like "bullshit" what distinguishes YA and adult literature, you're going to push some buttons that really don't need to be pushed.

    In Beth's post, the broad brush painted in both directions. The strong implication that adult fiction is conformist and accepts uninteresting characters was paired with the equally broad assertion that there are no tropes in YA fiction. Really?

    I'm all for saying, hey a book is a good book regardless of its age group, reading level, or genre. But you can make this argument by throwing a parade for shared strengths and special uniqueness that does not cast aspersions on those of us who do not write or read one or the other.

  40. Lotusgirl- there may be some underlying reasons for the YA movement in your bookstores. The genre has been growing, and in some cases it would seem plausible that the section is moving to accommodate more titles, where the adult fiction market is more stable.

    Also, if it is a hot genre, they do not want it up front. They want you to walk past as many other books as possible on your way to what you want in hopes that you will buy something else (co-op deals with publishers that keep the front tables stocked notwithstanding).

    At the end of the day, the only thing that matters is the execution of the book in question. The more books you lump into a critical discussion, the less likely you will be in having valid criticism. When you open the debate to an entire genre, you know it's gonna get messy.

  41. Michelle, it is because of independent publishers like yours that I keep having hope. I think small publishers will continue to publish good adult fiction, which is why I hang on writing my own brand of sophisticated women's fiction. Maybe eventually even the big boys will come around.

    But I say again, lots of apples/oranges being compared here. When I talk about what "sells" I'm talking about what AN AGENT can sell to an editor. And what an editor wants is a potential blockbuster. And when a MG book outsells the biggest adult blockbuster of the decade (GW Bush's book vs. Wimpy Kid) then YA and MG are what the (BIG) publishers want.

    Lovely Bones and Water for Elephants came from a different era--before the editorial bloodbath of 2008, and when Oprah still had command of the industry.

    Since her abdication, publishers are not interested in anything but the next Twilight. So they'll look at anything YA, but not much else, and that means a lot of literary and edgy fiction is sneaking in through the YA door: good or bad, that's what's happening. It's where writers are allowed to be creative.

    Yes, READERS still adore the classics--I don't think I could live through this chaotic era without rereading Austen and Dickens on a regular basis. But if Jane Austen were reincarnated, I doubt she could get an agent. Not exactly high concept.

    NO, I don't think the industry is in touch with readers. They're kind of like the TV networks of a few years ago. They were so busy infighting, they didn't notice all their viewers going to cable

    So that's where the small presses and indie publishers come in--as Michelle is always saying. The current gridlock is going to be broken up somehow--either by making "YA" a kind of over-arching term meaning "modern lit" as Beth suggested, or by the next big thing...

    And who knows what that will be? Maybe the western will make a comeback?!

  42. Anne: Some good points, yes, but if this has only been going on since 2008 I'm not going to despair. Between this and e-books I think my head is going to explode and it's time to just step back from the blogosphere and focus on my writing. My publisher just took on their first YA book, so it will be interesting to see if it outsells all the rest of the books. It will also be interesting to see how MONARCH does since it's obviously adult. What's even more interesting is that I've had agent interest in MONARCH - yes, an agent interested in adult fiction. It still happens! :)

  43. I guess what it comes down to, Anne, is attitude. I simply can't go into this career of mine (that I've aspired to since I was ten years old) with any sort of negative attitude. When the negative attitude creeps in (like it did on my Innocent Flower post today), I have to confront it and shoot it down. It's something I have to do often.

  44. @Anne - Here's hoping you're right about the western. :)

    But, honestly, I know there's a whole lot of buzz and press around YA lit among agents and editors and publishers that we brush up against on the internet, and that's fantastic for the thousands of YA authors on the internet.

    I do know, however, of agents and editors and publishers who do accept, buy, and sell adult fiction.

    Not disputing the attention that YA is getting in a lot of spheres right now -- just not sure about seeping statements that fall just short of, "adult fiction is dead apart from self-publication and small presses."

    I'm excited for my YA author friends that the interwebs crackle with good news for them, just don't think we need to assume from that crackling that the news is bad for those of us in the adult scene.

  45. I'm going to say this as a FAN of YA fiction, not a detractor.

    To me, what makes YA, YA instead of another genre is the age of the protagonist. Period. Because every other thing said in the original post about YA is not exclusive to YA. The only thing that makes YA, specifically YA is the age issue.

    This isn't to say that it means adults can't or shouldn't enjoy it. Some of my favorite books EVER are YA books "Blood and Chocolate" by Annette Curtis Klause, for example. And I really love the Morganville Vampire series by Rachel Caine.

    I know some people don't like that YA can be boiled down like that. They think it makes others think lesser of them or whatever, but I write paranormal romance, and I'm self-published. Plenty of people think I'm not a "real writer". And I don't care. I'm making enough money from writing to not care.

    There comes a point where we have to get over our defensiveness and write and serve the audience we're trying to reach. Everything else is masturbatory.

  46. Michelle: Re: my comment about wanting a YA tag 'cause it sells better -- naturally, I don't think anyone should *deliberately* try to write YA solely for the money. We all know that using money for a fiction writing motivation is silly. Lately I've been in a "I'm Tired Of Working 40 Hours A Week To Pay The Mortgage In The Same Boring Job I've Had FOr 20 Years And I Can't Retire For Another 10 And I Wish That Authors Really *Could* Make A Living" mood.

    I also get your point about wanting your book to find the right audience, although when I was a teen (and even pre-teen), I read quite widely in the adult section and I imagine there are teens today who do the same who would enjoy your work.

  47. I'm trying to be positive, too, but I agree it's damned hard. I've talked to a number of agents who say they haven't been able to sell an adult book in two years.

    But some now say they feel a change coming on. A crack in the ice, maybe. Let's hope it comes soon. I've been knocking on agent doors until my knuckles are raw. When all the feedback says, "Love it. Great characters, great plot, timely theme. Don't change a thing, but I can't sell it," it gets depressing. Especially after five books.

    I went the indie publisher route once, but they went belly-up and I lost my shirt, so now I'm trying the agent route, but my timing has been lousy. Let's hope grown-ups will make a come-back. George Clooney makes movies for grown ups. Let's hope somebody in publishing follows his lead.

  48. Anne, that sounds rough! At least the agents who have rejected me didn't like my work, LOL!

  49. Wow. This discussion is a bit testy. I'm trying not to be the same way.

    Scott, I never took Beth's post to be belittling adult lit. We'll just have to disagree over Moby Dick. I'm sure if I hadn't been forced to read it as a teen then I'd probably be more open minded about it. As for Beth going about defending herself the wrong way, the same could be said for what has been done here.

    Michelle, I know YA sales are up, and I think that's a wonderful thing. There's some amazing YA lit out, and general readers are finally hearing about it. I go in bookstores wherever I am--and I've been a lot of places--so it's not just here. Utah is perhaps unique in the way they set up their bookstores. There are, per capita, a lot more teens there (I would think).

    Nevets, As applies to the age thing, Beth wasn't saying that YA books don't appeal to teens, she was saying that they appeal to more than just teens. It's not just about the age. It's about the way the books are written and that it could be considered as it own genre. I agree that a good book is a good book no matter who it's written for. It will still not appeal to every reader. I don't think anyone would argue that all YA fiction is free from flaws, neither would anyone argue that all adult fiction is.

    Rick, That could very well be part of the reason for the movement of the YA section in my bookstore. The placement of kids books in the back though has been like that ever since I've been looking for them about 18 years--before they became such a hot item. I agree that the more books you lump together in a discussion the messier the it will get.

  50. Michelle,

    In the comments you say "Genres shouldn't have to be defended, but it does happen." As an outsider, I find this blog post no different from Beth's. To me, it seems as though you, like her, are defending your genre.

    While I appreciate the sentiment that we should all just write without needing to defend ourselves, I think this post speaks to the contrary.

  51. Ina: Yeah, it could come off that way. Buttons were pushed, we felt defensive and we're bad at keeping our mouths quiet. We also thought this would be a good discussion. So far I think it has been.

    However, although we are defending our genre, we never say anywhere - or at least mean to imply or say anywhere - that adult fiction is better than any other fiction. I thought we made that clear in the post.

    I do say earlier in here: Genres shouldn't have to be defended, but it does happen. Writing shouldn't have to be defended, but it does happen. I think the best way to go about it is to strike up a discussion and conversation, get all sides and views, and go from there.

    That's all we were trying to do. I guess it might have come off a bit defensive. Discussion is always appreciated. Thank you for voicing your opinion. :)

  52. I get a similar reaction when I say I write fantasy. Either the artistic writers make me feel defensive because it is such a popular genre or other fantasy writers will rave about it being the best genre. Its not a better genre and its not a worse genre. It just happens to be the one I write in. But mostly . . . I like to think of clasification into genres as something for (hopefully) future editers to worry about. My object is telling the story the way the story wants to be told and I don't really care where it gets placed on the shelf.

  53. Lotusgirl: Bookstore stocking -- I worked in a bookstore for four years. What got put up front was nonfiction, because nonfiction outsells fiction, plain and simple. When I think of the bookstores I frequent nowadays, it's nonfiction up front and fiction in the back (or in one case, upstairs).

  54. Michelle,

    I understand and appreciate that you wanted an open discussion on this topic, and I'm not suggesting that you implied that adult fiction is superior.

    However, I think it's important to note that the way you (and the two other co-writers of this blog) handled it could easily make it seem like you were getting all up in arms BECAUSE what Beth said was correct.

    No need to get so upset if there's nothing to it, right?

    Ultimately, blogs are not official media outlets that publish nothing but supported facts, and they're not pretending to be. One person's opinion is just that: their opinion :)

  55. Hot Buttons Not To Push In the Future:

    What is Literary?

    What is Art?

    What is YA?

    Is Self-Publishing Bad?

    Honestly, we don't mean to upset anyone here. We're a blog that hopes to promote discussions, learning, experimentation, and good-natured debate. This isn't the first time we've brought up touchy subjects. I hope some of you here have learned or thought more deeply today about this whole subject. I know I have.

  56. Re: nobody's buying adult fiction these's my theory (not worth much, but I like to posit ad hoc theories that never amount to anything):

    Middle-grade fiction boomed post-Harry Potter. Those readers grew older and became Teenagers and Young Adults. Some of them even wanted to keep reading! Thus, the YA boom occurred. Well, if they're lucky, those Young Adults will keep growing up to become Adults, some of whom will even keep reading.

    At which point, pretty much any day now, the Adult market will boom and all those sparkly vampire lovers will suddenly want to buy Killing Hamlet.

    Could happen.

  57. By the way, Literary Lab, what's your record for Most Number of Comments on a Single Post?

  58. Mizmak: It was 96 comments on my "What Is Literary?" post. That was a dark day, I think...I think we made a lot of people upset that day. I sure hope nobody is truly upset with us, but tensions are running pretty high right now and I'm bowing out for the rest of the day. :)

  59. What IS literary anyway?

    Okay, here is Davin's Last Comment, and I speak for all three of us, even though neither Michelle and Scott have approved this message.

    Yes, we are defensive. We love adult fiction. It is great, but other genres can all be great too. You can love a genre, but love it for what it is. I love literary adult fiction. Not because I think it has better characters or depth or focus or excitement. I love it because I do, because it's my preference.

    I am the eggman, they are the eggmen.
    I am the walrus. Goo goo g'joob.

  60. Hahaha! This post had so many potty references. I count five!

    Whole genre bashing is bad, m-kay. It makes the rest of your points smell like poop.

  61. Great post! I think the thing that's so tricky about YA is that a lot of books fall in that "crossover" category where they could fit either in Adult or Teen fiction-land.

    In the end, my feeling about YA is that I know it when I see it, but I don't try too hard to define it. After all, the goal is to discover new books that I'll love and enjoy and it doesn't much matter where I find them (genre-wise) as long as I do. :)

  62. Davin said: "Anne, that sounds rough! At least the agents who have rejected me didn't like my work, LOL!"


    Now I'm tempted to start singing "Always look on the bright side of life..." complete with whistling...

  63. Interesting points all the way've put my thinking cap on me...thanks!


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