So the latest article from the Wall Street Journal about YA lit is Teen Books Are Hot Sellers, But Formula Isn't Simple by Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg. (BTW, this name is awfully familiar but I'm not sure why.)
I found out about it from GalleyCat, and Andrew at Flux blogged about it. Full text is available at Media Info Center.
My reactions to the article:
- I find it very interesting that this article pegs YA at ages 12 to 16, while Jonathan Hunt's article from The Horn Book was about books at the older age bracket of YA. I think everyone is having a helluva time trying to define YA and I wonder what Trachtenberg would think of the three titles that Hunt highlighted. And it seems like all these people in various places are having the "what is YA" conversation.
- "determining whether a book should get a young-adult label is more art than science." True that, especially when we cannot even all agree on the age range that is meant by "young adult."
- Blogs are mentioned favorably in terms of being connected with teen readers.
- Potential YA editors told Larry Doyle how they would "'shape' his book for their readership." OK, here's my BIG question. The implication here is that YA books need more shaping than adult books; but isn't shaping what all editors do? Am I really supposed to believe that YA editors do more work on the manuscripts they edit, while adult editors do, what? Nothing? Most of the blogging authors I know are mostly YA/ children's, but I would really, really like to hear a "real live author" or "real live editor" respond to this. If you wish to do without using your name, email me at lizzy.burns @ gmail.com and I'll remove your name when I publish the ocmment.
-What is needed to "shape" the book included first person; increase the female quotient (huh? I guess all those "we need more books for boys" didn't make it to these YA editors); and "write chapters in which male and female narrators alternate." OK, this last part especially screams Nick and Norah to me.
- My guess is if the YA editors came back with more "we'll need to make changes to this" than the adult ones, it's because the book was indeed adult and not young adult. I'm further going on record as saying that when we eventually read this, the voice will be that of adult, not a teen.
- There is a mention a few times of "older readers", and appeal to older readers meaning don't publish it as YA. (Has Trachtenberg even heard of This is All?). I don't think they mean senior citizens; but I have a funny feeling they are talking either older teens or young twentysomethings, which, if this is true, is very interesting, as for a while I thought it looked like YA was being pushed into the older (16 to 24) age group. Seriously, read Jonathan's article at The Horn Book, then this, and I think you too will get confused.
- In mentioning how a book is published, Trachtenberg doesn't mention The Book Thief; and doesn't mention the Printz. In discussing The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, it's omitted that this book was published as both YA and adult in the UK.
- I appreciate the real! live! people comments (teens, teacher, bookseller), but as my friend Carlie would say, the plural of anecdotes is not evidence. And unfortunately, these individual experiences are not balanced by, say, a representative of YALSA talking about YA reading around the country or YA reading from ages 12 to 18.
- End result? Larry Doyle's book was published under an adult imprint. And he remarks on the stigma of being a YA author; something brutally reinforced by Trachtenberg's ending, wherein Frank Portman mentions how people ask him when he's going to write a real book.
Neither Trachtenberg nor Doyle know as much about the current YA field as they could, but Trachtenberg tries to be fair about it.
The "what is YA anyway" fight continues.
The "are YA editors too controlling" fight begins (with a possible avoidance of said fight if this example is read to mean the book was never YA to begin with; Doyle's apparent unawareness of current YA titles, along with his statement that YA titles "wouldn't become classics", makes me think it was not a YA book. Yeah, I'm talking a bit in circles, but it makes sense to me. I wonder at how "old" the narrator of his book "reads.")
Andrew at Flux's reactions are here, including the interesting info about how an adult book sells for more than a YA book. He also delves more into the classics bit; per GalleyCat, Doyle says it's not that he disdains YA, it's that "I was wary of the prepackaged marketing of same, as a genre with specific conventions, then sold into a narrow channel of readership." Oh. Well that clears that up! Not.
Let me know if you've posted your thoughts on this, and I'll edit this & add links.
Edited to add:
TedMack at Finding Wonderland has posted thoughts on the article
Edited again to note:
Larry Doyle has commented here and at Andrew Karre's Flux Blog.