April 02, 2007


In honor of National Poetry Month, one of my favorite poets, Judith Viorst.
W e i r d
My sister Stephanie's in love
(I thought she hated boys.)
My brother had a yard sale and
Got rid of all his toys.
My mother started jogging, and
My dad shaved off his beard.
It's spring --- and everyone but me
Is acting really weird.

Today I heard from my editor and my agent... the sand is pouring through the hourglass; my agent's impending vacation/Book Faire business trip nears... and though it's not like I can't do final edits without him, but after all my I-can-do-it-myself-isms, I now find that I'm a bit nervous to do this last bit without bouncing it off of him. It's all over to me and my editor now, and the feeling that I've had someone holding my hand (despite the fact that I've been chafing to be let off the leash) is coming to a scary end. Writers, writers... oh, the psychosis.

Meanwhile, Galley Cat gives support to the obvious: it's not easy to market to teens. The folks at GC are quoting Jeffrey Trachtenberg's article in the Wall Street Journal (thanks to A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy for the link to where the freebie version of the article lives!) which comes perilously close to snobbishness -- no, it doesn't just come close, it waltzes right on into it. Granted, those of us writing for the YA set know that there is a HUGE marketing element to the publishing, that the books are shaped and honed and aimed at their audience, with the knowledge that it is sometimes fickle. reluctant and overstimulated and easily disaffected. I can see where someone used to having more... control? of his writing, etc., might be offended and unhappy with the way the publishing machine works. (In a way, it sounds like this author was simply unhappy with a critique - and wrote up a piece on why he got away from the label of "YA" to the betterment of his piece. I'd be okay with that if I didn't feel like he was insulting those people who have stuck with YA/Children's publishing. Read Roger was recently noted that there are genre, commercial and literary division in adult lit that aren't taken note of with YA/kids lit. Maybe that should change - but for now? The whole marketing, targeting-shaping thing is how things are done..., and someone coming in from the adult literary world has to fit in to what's already here...just like the rest of us...

There are so many times when I pick up a book in the library and put it down again because it's writing about YA not written for YA readers. There is a difference... and most of the people with whom I've interacted in the publishing world know that difference. Suffice it to say, I, like many others I'm sure, will be interested in reading Mr. Trachtenberg's book...)

And then that nasty word, 'classic' came up again. The author maintains that To Kill A Mockingbird or Catcher in the Rye, if published nowadays "wouldn't become classics, except in the sense that Judy Blume books are classics."

... does this author truly believe that YA is so branded and marketed and shaped and pushed that no one intelligent reads it, and that the writers who write for young adults have no voice in this process (or talent in the work's inception?) at all? And once again what is a classic? What makes a classic? No one has ever been able to determine this Frank Herbert's Dune is a classic, and it was shopped to many houses before it was picked up. The Lord of the Rings series and several others were released to faint applause and only gained in commercial popularity later on. Does 'classic' mean the number of copies sold?

I hate the idea that anything labeled 'YA lit' is expected to be shallow and tepid and stupid and completely marketing driven like toys that come with fast food meals. It's much like the people who write the pink-covered books called 'Chick lit,' and I know I've never been easy on that genre... Mea culpa. Who knew people also thought that all YA lit was tripe. I've been coddled and protected, apparently.

This point of view, that YA lit is just this... commodity... doesn't take into account is that young adult is an age, not just a marketing demographic, and that young adult literature is written not solely to entertain but often to inform and to addresses issues which are endemic to that age group... not that everything is necessarily moral and lesson driven, far from it. I know I'm not saying this well... but I just want to say the guy is wrong, okay? And I am ...irritated. And climbing down from the soapbox now...

Happier Thoughts: In more news, the very readable Markus Zusak is the blogger-in-residence at Inside A Dog, the Australian YA lit blog that is so much fun to read.

NPR's Weekend Edition had such a cute little piece on favorite old toys. I have to admit that I never had a teddy bear, so, thinking it was what normal people had, I bought myself one from a thrift store in the 7th grade. It sits next to my bed still, and it is just as battered by someone else's past as if I had loved it all along.

And speaking of things to cuddle and love, BEAUCOUP CONGRATULATIONS and ¡felicitations! to the McLeans, and their already smiling cutest Pixie ever. Somebody just read that kid a story...

Meanwhile, the Guardian is loving them some Buffy... of course. Season 8 seems to be really catching on, which is good news for all fans hoping for another season! And Dragon-lovers will want to head over and check out Gutsy Readergirl and fantasy writer Janet Lee Carey's interview where she talks about her books, her writing life, and more.


Little Willow said...

Your teddy bear story is totally a story in itself.

Thank you for the email. I'm sorry that you can't have cats, because they have made my life so happy. They make me feel so loved. I miss her so much.

Your word verification just made me cry.

Sarah Stevenson said...

That whole "except in the sense that Judy Blume books are classics" phrase really bothers me. What makes a YA classic an exception? And why do we even need qualifiers if we're discussing YA classics, as if being YA makes a book somehow less legitimate than a book written for an adult audience?

My favorite books that I read as a young adult will always be special to me, and occupy a place that no adult book ever will--it's the time in my life when I did the most reading for fun, and for teens in general I think it's a crucial time to either gain or lose lifelong readers. I think it's rather belittling to dismiss the entire genre, especially if you're trying to write for that age group. It doesn't send a positive message to the readers you're trying to reach--who are much more savvy about being marketed to than seems to be the prevailing assumption.

I actually theorize that a lot of this marketing appeals (deliberately or not) rather to parents of teens who want them to read certain books, or who are trying to recapture what they see as their ideal years.

Anonymous said...

I've really been not wanting to respond to this article because it makes me so annoyed but you did a great job here.

As for the "except in the sense that Judy Blume books are classics" comment - I would think any author would be happy to know that there books had changed the lives of generations of young girls, like Blume's books have (especially Are you There God, It's Me Margaret and Forever).

I mean, I'm sorry, how higher of a standard than that can a writer wish for?

Colleen aks Chasing Ray

Anonymous said...

Oh, sounds like this guy wrote a book, shopped it around, and didn't like the reception it received. Frankly, this feels much like Madonna's claim that nobody's writing decent children's books, so she had to step in there and write one for herself...