Monday, April 02, 2007

YA: Older? Younger? In Need of More Editing? Who Knows.

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 @ 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.

My conclusions:

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.


Anonymous said...

Could the name be familiar because Michelle Trachtenberg played Dawn on Buffy??

Liz B said...

Anon, I have to confess that may be it.

Jackie Parker said...

There are so many things about that article that bother me. At the moment I'll stick with the 'shaping' thing. I wonder if his experience with the more girl, alternate chapters, 1st person thing was just one house? Those are pretty huge changes. I connect this all to (perhaps without merit?) to Alloy, whose whole philosophy creeps me out. Doyle definately makes generalizations, and I wonder if the one house that made those suggestions (if it was one) turned it into a trend.

Liz B said...

Jackie, I believe that editors can be very important; can see the "true" story sometimes; and at best do shape and help something become better. But there is a difference between shaping something and totally changing it. The idea that this is more than one house is almost scary (and flies against what we've seen published in the past few years, per Jonathan's article); so I wonder, does the publisher matter? Or is there a change, with publishers backing off the "ya to adult" crossover and instead saying "if it's ya to adult crossover, aka older readers, then it's best to publish as adult."

I'm a bit concerned with Doyle's addendum, also; that (if I read it rightly) it's not so much YA books in and of themselves that have a "stigma", rather it's the marketing plan and intended audience that are the problem.

Gail Gauthier said...

I heard an editor at a retreat say that there is a "YA voice." When questioned, she said that, yes, it was a first-person voice.

To me, this attitude makes a lot of YA books sound alike. The voice often sounds the same even though the books are written by different authors.

Jackie Parker said...

I am in no doubt that editors are very important to the process, and I can't say that I even wholly understand that process. What I wonder about is that I can't see how making ALL of those changes can result in a better book - I would see it as resulting in a DIFFERENT book. Perhaps better as well, but only if it remains a story that the author wants to tell - which would be difficult with the scope he relates. I would think that if they want such huge changes that the author & house probably don't belong together. In that, I can understand Doyle. My thoughts are along the line that since Doyle makes generalizations, why not about what the YA publishers say too? Is he applying what one said to the voice of all?

I think that attempting to find a magic formula that results in "teens like this" is rather shortsighted. They will end up with the same problem TV has when they assume such malarky.

I guess, biased as I am, that I was unaware of a YA Stigma. But then, I really hate pretentious literature and tend to live in my happy YA cocoon.

Liz B said...

Jackie, I think you and I are basically in agreement. The way the article presents it definately makes it sound like the book would have an Extreme Makeover; not only that, but that the changes seemed dictated by "what is ya" as opposed "how to make your book great." And one of the things I am also curious about is whether these are Doyle's generalizations or Trachtenbergs.

In terms of formula, and what Gail says about first person voice, my reaction is a loud NO. There is no formula; there are no absolutes; there may be trends, and right now first person voice is a trend. But a definitive characteristic of YA? Nope. Especially when, as Gail points out, it moves from first person making a book more personal to first person resulting in cookie cutter narration.

Jackie Parker said...

DEFINITELY. On all points.

web said...

Naw, it must be the Trachtenberg Family Players.

tanita✿davis said...

I, too, lived in a happy YA cocoon... unaware that my dearest dream, to write YA, was obviously tied up in my dearest dream to write blithering tripe and never pen a classic... grump, grump.

Have blogged about this in a confused sort of way. I hate it when I'm so annoyed that I'm inarticulate.

Unknown said...

I do see his point about teenagers "reading up" - I think by high school I was exclusivly reading from the adult section in the library. With that being said, many of the "older" YA books that have been published lately are housed in my town's library in the adult section and some of the books that I see as middle grade (ages 9-12) are housed in the teen section (I am trying to think of an example and my mind is blank, but I know they are there!)
I think though that teens reading "adult" books is not new, and I think that somtimes if you market a YA book in an adult market, you might get a braoder readership. Of course when you market it to adults, middle school libraries have a hard time putting it in their collections.

Sara said...

Quick question: When was this article from?

The WSJ will only let you see the first couple paragraphs without being a subscriber, and it doesn't even have the date (making it hard to just pick up the paper and look for it.)

Sara said...

Actually, never mind... I found the article in E-Library.

Anonymous said...

I met with six different YA publisher/editor teams who were interested in the book. With only one exception, they all felt proscriptive changes were necessary for their "market." What was most disconcerting about the changes suggested was that in general they had nothing to do with the book I was writing, but simply genre cliches that I had somehow "missed." In contrast, the editors at the adult houses discussed the book as it was, and how it might be a better version of that. My eventual editor, Lee Boudreaux, did a quite thorough editting job, I assure you.

As to the WSJ article itself, it should be self-evident that these type of newspaper pieces do not have the luxury to cover topics as expansively or completely as some would like. Obviously I talked much more about the issues involved and my experience, but the writer and his editor needed to cover a lot of bases, and did quite well, I thought.

I stand by my contention that the current marketing of YA books as a genre will prevent many books of quality from entering the canon of classics. I've mentioned King Dork before. It's a wonderful coming of age book, and it did quite well. But it was not even reviewed in the NYTBR, which kept it off many end-of-the-year lists.

Liz B said...

Larry, thank you very much for sharing more info with us. This confirms what I suspected, that your book is "adult" -- and the revisions were about "makeover," much like what would be needed to change a book from romance to mystery. Whether or not someting is YA or adult is more than just the age of the main character (or who ends up actually reading the book.)

I think the issue of marketing of/ and the mainstream treatment of YA is very interesting; but I guess we'll have to disagree about YA being a genre (I see genre as more for mystery, historical fiction, etc., and YA can and does embrace several genres.) Time will tell as to what survives years from now!

In the meanwhile, I look forward to reading your book.

Anonymous said...

I see a lot of ignorance here when it comes to the YA world.

First off, having a book reviewed in the NYTBR has nothing to do with year-end best-of lists (save that of the NYTBR). And really, the NYTBR coverage of both children's and YA is horrible from the get-go--and this, sadly, is the fault of the NYTBR, not of any of the publishers.

I disagree that the marketing of YA now is going to prevent books from becoming classics. On what basis can you come to this conclusion? How do you account for a book like Laurie Anderson's Speak, which by all accounts is a modern classic?

Just because you personally have not heard of a book does not mean that it's not a classic--it simply means that you are not as familiar with the YA world as you are the adult publishing world.

Liz B said...

Kathy, I've seen a mix of ages as YA readers; the "looking to read up" sixth graders, but also the older high school kids who read adult work but also remain open to YA lit. This idea of "growing out" of YA (the way one grows out of Early Readers) may have been true in the past, but I think it's changing as we change the books that are in libraries & bookstores. I read a mix of stuff as a teen; but I also remember "hiding" my YA reading.

Where the books end up reflects the library & community, I think -- in many ways it's not a simple question. That's why I'm hesitant to use simple answers (YA is always first person, for example; or being published YA means de facto that it will never be a classic). And where the book ends up in a bookstore is just plain weird; I've seen clearly older YA titles in children's sections on display tables; and very young J books in YA sections.

Sara, glad you found it!

Little Willow said...

YA is more than ages 12 to 16.
Kids get books from the YA section.
Teens get books from the YA section.
Adults get books from the YA section.

One woman in this article talked about kids outgrowing The Princess Diaries series. What?! I try to steer 8-year-olds AWAY from the series, because although the first FILM was G, but the books are definitely not G-rated. When the movie came out, we had a surge of younger kids picking up these and other Cabot books, then we heard from a lot of upset parents who didn't understand that films and books are not always the same. The Princess Diaries are more appropriate for late middle schoolers and high schoolers than earlier grades . . . and my goodness, when the second All-American Girl book Ready or Not came out, you should have seen me trying to get my manager to understand why he should not put that display NEXT TO THE PICTURE BOOKS!

I agree that we could have the next Mockingbird, Catcher, and Huck Finn on our shelves ALREADY - and those who won't go to the YA shelves overlook them. It's a crying shame. It's something I fight every day. I give adults teen books and juvenile books. I give smart kids contempoary books as well as classics. I encourage readers to read, read, read, to pick up books because they sound interesting to them, not because of the way they look (covers) or where they are shelved (juvenile, teen, or adult fiction) or their popularity or status (bestseller, known author, unknown author, big publisher, small publisher, self-published).

Lindsey said...

This whole article is making me feel depressed. It all seems so negative. To me, YA fiction are some of the best books out there. You get all the angst, passion, love, and adventure of an adult book, but it is usually shorter. (Maybe?) The voice is usually clearer, and the plots make me laugh and cry. I read this book Perfect by Natasha Friend. It is about this bulimic girl, but is so funny. Most authors would have written a depressing book with a defeated protag, but the character's voice was so quirky, quick, and emotive, I felt no disgust. I think that's why I like chick lit so much, the protags remind me of ya voices. Give me Sophie Kinsella or Jennifer Weiner any day over large, pompous adult books. Oops, my fangs are coming out.

bee said...

I agree with previous posters about the idea of growing out of YA books. While it's true that in my precocious early teen years I was interested in mostly adult book, I now find YA books to be some of the highest quality available.
I can't understand where the negative stigma of YA books comes from (maybe because I love them so much). I do think that YA should not be considered a genre, but if publishers are imposing so many restrictions on possible YA books then that may be where it's heading. I can only hope we don't begin to see cookie-cutter YA books taking over the creative and entertaining offerings out there now.

Anonymous said...

Is anyone going to Library Journal's Day of Dialog next month?

1:15–2:30 p.m.: YA Crossover
Many books speak to both adults and young adults, but how do editors and authors make the decision to pitch them to one audience or the other—or both?

I wonder if this session will clarify things or make it more confusing?