By Kristi Cook
I thought I’d start my monthly posts about young adult novels with the most basic question possible–why YA?! I’ve had several people ask me this as I make my transition from writing adult historical romance to paranormal young adult fiction. I mean, okay, everyone knows that the publishing market is contracting in general, and things have gotten pretty tough in romance-land, while young adult fiction seems to be plugging on ahead, with new authors breaking out left and right with bestselling series. So the obvious assumption is, ‘jumping on the bandwagon, eh?’.
And I guess the answer to that is both yes and no. Make no mistake, things are definitely moving and shaking in YA publishing in a way that they, well….aren’t….in romance. It’s a wide-open market where most anything goes, and where there are three or four times more publishing houses putting out young adult titles compared to romance titles. Add to that the fact that the average YA debut author gets a significantly higher advance than the average debut romance author, plus a good chance at hardcover-to-paperback publication (something only “big names” in romance can hope for), and well….writing YA seems like a pretty sweet deal.
But here’s the catch–it is a sweet deal, if your voice is suited to YA. If you’re comfortable with teens and their world. If you don’t think the point of young adult fiction is to “preach” to teens, or teach them lessons. And lastly, and perhaps most importantly, if you read a ton of YA and are familiar with the market.
I can’t tell you how many times adult romance authors have said the following things to me:
“Hey, I’d love to get into YA! I’ve got this manuscript that no romance publisher seems to want–I’ll just change the characters’ ages and pitch it as YA!” (Uh, no! Simply changing the characters’ ages to make them teenagers does NOT a YA make)
“I’d love to write YA. What do you do, just simplify everything and use easier words and more basic language?” (No, no, no! YA fiction isn’t about dumbing down your prose. Teens do NOT appreciate being “talked down” to!)
“I think I’d be great at writing YA. I have so many important lessons I’d like to teach teens!” (Again, no! Teens can spot that they’re being “preached” to right off the bat–and they won’t like it!)
Or even “Oh, I’ve heard it’s so easy to get published in YA–everyone’s doing it now!” (It’s actually no easier to get published in YA than it is to get published in anything!)
The truth is, successful YA authors are successful at it because it’s a market they love. That they read. That they’re familiar with. They know the difference between MOCKINGJAY and THE MOCKINGBIRDS. They know why some vampires sparkle. They know Carrie Ryan from Carrie Jones. In essence, they know the market.
This isn’t to say that you can’t learn the market, too. But don’t necessarily expect the transition to be an easy one. YA fiction falls into most publishers’ children’s publishing programs, often completely and totally separate from their adult fiction programs. As in, different editors, different acquisition teams. Though some agents rep both children’s and adult fiction, there are also some agents who don’t rep both. For some authors, this might mean seeking out a second agent to rep your YA fiction.
It was a tough road for me, making the transition. I started writing my YA debut, Haven, in 2005, and it won’t see publication until 2011. Somewhere during that time, I went from ‘someone who occasionally reads YA fiction’ to ‘someone who almost exclusively and obsessively reads YA fiction–as in, oh, about 10 titles a month’. I think, more than anything, that shift was the key to my crafting a manuscript that eventually sold.