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Wet Noodle Posse | Blog

Monday, October 15, 2007

The Current Young Adult Market and the GH

By Trish Milburn

The main thing I want to share if you’re considering entering or judging the Young Adult category of the Golden Heart is that today’s YA is not yesterday’s YA. By that, I mean we can’t go into the current YA field with the Sweet Valley High mindset. Today’s YA offers a tremendous variety of stories from paranormal to chick lit to urban and edgy. It bushes boundaries and boldly goes where YA novels typically never went before.

One of the things it’s hard to get past as a YA judge and sometimes even as a current YA author is the feeling that a book targeted toward teens needs to only portray teens with a solid moral code, that we as authors have a moral obligation to only portray good and safe conduct. Society pressures us into thinking that our fictional teens can’t drink or have sex, or we’re putting our stamp of approval on such behavior. Um, has anyone read the Gossip Girl books or seen the CW television program based on the Gossip Girl series? They are wildly successful, and the teens in them are not pure as the driven snow. But that doesn’t make them totally without scruples. It just makes them teenagers fumbling their way through what is probably the most tumultuous, hormones-on-overload years of their lives. Today’s teenage readers are sophisticated readers. If you give them a story that’s a poorly veiled morality play, they’ll stop reading. But if you give them a story that they feel is authentic, they’ll stick with it – and perhaps learn some smidgen of goodness without even realizing it. Even within banned teen novels it’s not evil incarnate. Plus, my question is what good is an unbanned book deemed proper for teens if no one reads it?

I’m not saying that all YA has to be filled to the brim with vice. There’s plenty of room in the marketplace for lots of types of YA novels. Our own Stephie Davis has done well with sweet teen stories where they get nowhere near intercourse. As a reader, I was still just as engaged and rooting for the heroines of her stories. And based on the comments of teenage girls who read her “Boys” series, these stories rang true for them even though they were of the sweet variety. I mean, what girl hasn’t pined for a guy and worried that she didn’t have a chance with him? Stephenie Meyer’s fantastic series starting with Twilight has plenty of sexual tension, and that’s part of what makes them unputdownable. Bella and Edward have a fantastic love story, but it’s not yet been consummated because of their main difference – Edward is a vampire and Bella is still very much human.

To me, the best YA stories devote at least some portion of the books to teenage love. Yes, you can categorize them as romances, but know that this is not the same as the romance in the rest of the categories in the Golden Heart – even if there’s sex involved. How many people find the love of their life when they’re 16? But at the time, it sure feels like you have. You, as an author, have to convey that. The characters can believe with every fiber of their being that they have found their soulmate, their one and only. And for the purposes of fiction, maybe they have. Stephenie Meyer certainly makes me believe that Bella and Edward are destined to be together. I’m not sure how she’ll finally accomplish this, but for now I believe it and wish for it.

Also, it’s important to note that while YA can have (and should have for the purposes of the Golden Heart) a love story in it, it doesn’t have to take up as much of the story as it would in an adult romance. YA novels not only tackle love, but they deal with other day-to-day things teens face – homework, teachers they don’t like, what they want to do with their lives, cliques and other social structure issues, peer pressure, problems at home, and a whole host of other things that seem tremendously important when viewed from the teenager’s point of view. You remember how everything was life and death in high school, right?

If you’re not entering YA but think you might like to judge it, I’d suggest picking up and reading several different types of YA novels between now and when judging packets go out. Read Stephie Davis, Stephenie Meyer, Libba Bray, Meg Cabot, Niki Burnham, Simone Elkeles, Lynda Sandoval, Gillian Summers. Spend an hour in the YA section of your local bookstore reading the back cover copy. If nothing else, I bet you find some new authors and stories you simply can’t put down.

If you have a YA story that can be completed by the GH entry deadline, I highly encourage you to enter. YA is often one of the smaller categories, so it’s very important to make sure the category reaches the minimum number of entries – 25. I can tell you from experience that it’s a huge thrill to win the Golden Heart for Young Adult. I wish all of you the best of luck.

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At 11:19 AM, Blogger Charity Tahmaseb said...

What a terrific post! You've captured so well what's going on in the YA genre. One thing I love about the genre is there is everything for every mood: romantic, gothic, edgy, sweet. You name it.

And there's some fantastic writing going on too. They're not calling it the "golden age of YA" for nothing.

At 12:20 PM, Blogger Theresa Ragan said...

Great post, Trish. Well thought out and so informative. I think I'll go in search of some of the authors you mentioned and see what's out there. Thanks!

I have two questions about entering the Young Adult Category in the GH: Anything goes in the YA(paranormal, suspense, historical) as long as the characters are a certain age? What, if anything, defines a YA other than the age of the characters?

At 3:21 PM, Blogger Jill Monroe said...

I'm really excited about the YA market - so much great writing out there!

At 3:28 PM, Blogger Manda Collins said...

Great blog! I don't write YA, but I love learning about new (to me anyway!) sub-genres:)

At 4:02 PM, Blogger Trish Milburn said...

Thanks, Charity. I do love how much variety and really quality YA is out there on store shelves now. I can't keep up with reading all the great stuff. I'm currently reading Adios to My Old Life by Caridad Ferrer, which won a RITA this year.

Theresa, age is of course a big determining factor. Most of the YA I see has protagonists that are between 14 or 15 and 18 or 19. Older and it becomes adult fiction; younger and it becomes middle grade fiction. Another thing is tone. Even if you're 50, you have to have a teen voice when writing YA. That doesn't mean it has to be full of current slang and brand name dropping like so much chick lit has had. In fact, it's better to make up your own teen-sounding lingo because actual slang goes in and out of fashion so quickly. Even though it might be decades since you were a teen yourself, you can still remember the "issues" you dealt with -- liking the popular boy that didn't like you back, peer pressure, your parents not understanding you. Those things are universal to teens, no matter what decade they grow up in. Capture those emotions. I know writers hear this suggestion all the time, but truly the best way to get the feel for the current tone of YA is to read a variety of what's popular right now.

At 4:03 PM, Blogger Trish Milburn said...

Jill, you're right -- there is a lot of great YA out right now. In fact, many of the best books I've read this year are YA.

Manda, thanks for stopping by. Hope you learned a little about the wonderful world of YA today. :)

At 8:04 PM, Blogger Gillian Layne said...

Trish, I am in awe of YA authors; much like inspirationals, another favorite of mine, they must keep in mind all these "rules", yet they manage to write the most compelling and unique stories.

I could never do it, myself. As the mom of one tween and two teen girls, my story would consist of "and then the brilliant young girl promised the handsome boy she would see him AFTER she'd finished college and attended law school on her full scholarship." The end :)

At 8:13 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

My 16 year old son has read and enjoyed Smack, and Doing It by Matthew Burgess. He said that since the subjects of teen sex and drugs are dealt with honestly, the books don't encourage that behavior. (Since his girlfriend gave him the second book, I was trying really hard not to freak out.)

I can remember reading The Basketball Diaries by Jim Carroll as a young person and falling under the counterculture spell. Now, that book seems stupid and misogynistic. So perhaps things have improved.

At 8:47 PM, Blogger Diane Gaston said...

I hope that the YA category gets its 25 entries. It seems to me that there is more interest in YA than ever before.

At 8:54 PM, Blogger Esri Rose said...

It seems like such a challenge to put your mind into a state where you write with a teen's voice, but keeping in mind adult concerns (not to mention market concerns). Interesting stuff!

At 8:58 PM, Blogger Prisakiss said...

Trish, I'm so glad you mentioned Adios to My Old Life by Caridad Ferrer. I really enjoyed the book, and thought she did a great job capturing teen lingo and angst, while keeping it real.

It was great to see Caridad's book recognized with the RITA win.

Your post hit the YA market right on the head. You got right to the heart of the teen market. It's no wonder your YA sold. I can't wait to snatch it off the shelves. :-)

At 9:44 PM, Blogger doglady said...

This really is a great post. I have got to get my BFF over here to read it as she writes YA. She has a live-in guinea pig in her 17 year old son. The great thing is that she writes from his point of view and more for boys than girls. I think they call it "lad lit?" As a former school teacher ANYTHING that can get teenagers to read is a step in the right direction. I've read the Meyers series and they are really well done. I taught high school kids, but I do not think I could write from their point of view. I greatly admire those who do!

At 11:41 PM, Blogger Trish Milburn said...

Gillian, LOL on your mini story synopsis. :)

JaneGeorge, I read Smack too, and honestly, it depressed the heck out of me. So dark. Perhaps it's very true to life, but dang. Not to say it wasn't a well-written book; it was and has received a lot of critical acclaim. But while I handle some "issues" in my YA books, I hope they're a bit more uplifting.

Pris, thanks for the compliment on the post. And Caridad is really nice, so it's always fun to read a book that's good by a nice person.

doglady, thanks for referring your YA-writing friend over here. Hope it helps.

At 2:15 AM, Blogger Trish Morey said...

""and then the brilliant young girl promised the handsome boy she would see him AFTER she'd finished college and attended law school on her full scholarship." The end :"

LOL Gillian, as a mum of my own mob of tweens/teen girls, I so get where you're coming from!

Trish Mi, great post.

At 10:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Trish - thanks for your thoughtful post!

I am one of those people braving the GH for the first time and as a YA author, so this was great to see.

I think one of the key things for YA's that push the sex back (and Twilight is a prime example) is having a believable reason for it. Twilight's Edward keeps putting off physical relations for a very good, very understandable reason that doesn't feel falsely created.

Kids are smart. They'll challenge you at every turn and finally there are books be written for that mentality - maybe that's why so many adults are reading them as well!

At 2:05 PM, Blogger PatriciaW said...

I'm reading more and more YA fiction because I've got a preteen who reads above grade level. And he's not interested in stuff that is heavily romantic, even if there's no sex.

He is interested, however, in relationships among peers, between boys his age and older male mentors, fathers and sons, older brothers and younger brothers...things like that.

These are not so easy to find. You hear all the time that girls read more than boys. Perhaps true but if and when boys go into the bookstore and find little more than a handful of contemporary stories that speak to them, is it a wonder? One YA author who gets this is Paul Volponi. I wish he were more prolific.


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