This topic seems as old as the hills now, doesn’t it? The whole adult fiction=good, YA fiction=bad argument keeps cropping up in hoighty-toighty magazines, newspapers and blogs and, frankly, I’m sort of surprised. Wasn’t everybody convinced by Margo Rabb’s excellent essay in the New York Times, I’m YA and I’m OK? Maybe the snobs don’t read the New York Times. And they probably don’t read the outraged blogs of prominent YA authors ranting against the whole presupposition that if it’s for teens it’s “facile” and “uncomplicated”, to crib some vocab from this New Yorker article about Kathe Koja’s Headlong, which I got from Carrie Ryan’s blog this morning. And I’ve already talked about Caitlin Flanagan’s hilariously insane article about Twilight in The Atlantic (which, BTW, was a trivia question this Wednesday on pub quiz, and of course we got it right). “I hate YA novels; they bore me.” Riiiiiiiight.
If people are supposed to align themselves with “YA” or “adult”, then let’s talk about the stinkers Team Adult has put out recently, versus the rockstar books on the YA shelf. But, in truth, there are SO MANY BOOKS on the market, obviously some of them (in YA and adult both) are going to be terrible, uncomplicated, flacid, boring, badly written, poorly edited, full of flat characters with no real substance, preachy, dismal, or chaotic. That’s just the risk you run by producing art for consumption. It’s not always going to be deemed great by all, or most, or even some, of the population. But that really has nothing to do with YA v. adult. I’ve read some really dumb adult books in my day, believe me. The shelf a book appears on, the catalog it shows up in, is not an arbiter of quality. DUH. You know what’s facile? The argument that if it’s YA it’s simple and if it’s adult it’s brilliant and complex.
I never set out to write YA. I never set out to write not YA, either, I just never gave it a lot of thought because I didn’t start learning about the market until a few years ago. I was writing All Unquiet Things and focusing on the story, when my grad school adviser told me, “This is great, but you know it’s YA, right?” I didn’t, but that was actually the best thing anyone had ever said to me, because then I went home and I wore Google out investigating every aspect of YA. That research has not only helped me in my writing career, but it helped me get my job at Browne & Miller, through which I met Joanna, who is now my agent, and it helps me in my day job all the time. Once Nic made me think about it, I was like, “Of course YA! That’s the perfect place for this book.” And I’ve never looked back.
In my opinion, there is a reason why YA and children’s books are doing fine (even well, in some cases) in this terrible economy while adult imprints are struggling, being reorganized, freezing acquisitions, and enduring layoffs. Part of that is, as people have said, because adults scale back their own purchases but still buy their kids things, I’m sure. But I think a lot of it has to do with how innovative the genre is, how many good books are being put out that adults are buying because they’re making such a splash (hello The Hunger Games), and, most importantly, how deeply supportive YA authors are of each other. The world of adult books is fraught with contempt and competition, especially in the “literary” genre. YA authors, however, are using the mediums of their audience to communicate with that audience, and they support each other immensely. What a great place to be a debut author. I’m so lucky.
I have to say that I’ve gotten nary a negative glance about writing YA from the people I tell about selling AUT. Everybody’s just really excited about my book and my accomplishments. Maybe some of my snobby undergrad or grad schoolmates would be condescending about it, but I don’t talk to those people, so I have no idea. I’m proud of my book. I’m proud of the books I read by other YA writers I admire. And my friends and family are proud of me. That’s all I care about.