We’ll just leave this here…

Are you looking for a way to pretend you’re being productive and waste a little time on the internet? Have we got the place for you!

I mean, you could buy a book. That’ll give you loads of time to waste and also help feed a poor, deprived artist (hey, Starbucks doesn’t pay for itself).

But you could also do this. (<—- come on, you know you want to.)

Writing Through the Ages

So. Let’s pretend we already had the conversation about how long it’s been since I did a post (on anything, but particularly on here) Input quirky banter about long absences and fond hearts and blah blah blah.

Right. So last week Kate gave us a lovely post about what we’re looking for in YA books, as a publisher. So in connected vein, I’m going to talk about an important part of writing your next YA masterpiece. The art of writing characters who come across as the age you intend them to be.

I’m sure we’ve had the experience of a character, in whatever medium, not acting their age. A ten-year-old who suddenly talks like a college student or a college student with the mental acuity of a ten-year-old. And while absolutely a character can have those things, as a flaw/bonus, things need to be properly grounded.

And now I’m going to miraculously poof out five ways to do that.

  1. Read. No really. Go find a book written for the age group of the character who needs to carry your story. Are you writing mid-grade, about middle school kids? Find books meant for middle school kids and books about middle school kids.
  2. Listen to real people. Find a popular youtube channel, since there are kids of all ages out there making their own videos. Watch a few and see how they talk, what their interests are, all of that. Have a friend with a kid in your age range? Maybe take your friend and their kid to a movie (this means you don’t have to be responsible for the small human, and you can see how that parent/child dynamic works too). Take your college-age niece to lunch. And then recognize that all of that is how they behave with you and not how they’ll behave with their peers, etc.
  3. Be prepared for rewrites. As you are not actually–presumably–a teenager or a ten-year-old, there will be moments when you fail, particularly in dialogue, and have to change it.
  4. Go with your gut. If you read something and it sounds wrong, or makes it hard to read, don’t do that thing. Simple, right?
  5. However much market research you’ve done, do more. Read more. Watch more. Write more. You’ve got a story to tell, so tell it.

Because everything else can wait until after it’s written.

What the heck is the YA market?

When I was a kid — yes, I’m going there — there was nothing called YA. There were kids books and there were adult books.

Yes, books were sort of grouped in the kids section by age range, but there was no separate place for books aimed at what we now call young adults.

YA is now a market and so now we have to figure out how to define that market. From my perspective, YA contains books aimed at people aged 12 to 18. (Which does not in any way mean that you have to be that age to read them.)

The rule of thumb when I was a baby-author and getting the hang of this publishing thing was that a book for kids was grouped by the age of its protagonist. For example, books aimed at tweens would have a protagonist who was approximately fifteen/ in high school. Books aimed at high school students generally featured seniors in high school or kids just entering college.

That’s not exactly how it works anymore.

YA features protagonists who are the same age as the readers, or just above them. Right now, they’re chosen ones fighting in dystopias, or quietly desperate high school struggles, or soul-shattering stories written by John Green. Now, as a reader, you don’t have to decide if something is YA, it’s right there in the section of the bookstore labeled YA.

I don’t have that luxury. I’m over here on the publisher side. I have to decide if it belongs in that section of the bookstore.

How do I do that? I fall back on what I know. If the protagonist is between fifteen and twenty-five, check-box one is achieved. If the story is something that follows a general pattern of what’s in the market right now for YA, check-box two is achieved. If the writing is over-blown and annoyingly pedantic… erm… no.

I have nothing against poetry. I have nothing against using multi-syllabic words or facing difficult concepts in a story. Let’s face it, Harry Potter has racism, fascism, class warfare, prisoners of war, torture, and death. Hunger Games is children literally hunting each other. Difficult storylines, difficult words, none of that is a problem. Sex, violence, cursing, none of those things are deal-breakers anymore.

Talking down to the audience is. Pretending to be hip is. (What is it you whipersnappers say? “on fleek”?) Don’t do that, please.

Still, bottom line, when I’m looking for a YA book (and let’s face it, our line does need some), I’m looking for a book that hits the sweet spot in terms of age, reads quickly, and doesn’t make me question whether or not I’ll need to talk to the FBI about the author.