Monday, May 10, 2010

Young Adult: You Really Can Go Back

Ever wondered what the difference between writing Adult and Young Adult Fiction is? Ever had the inclination to write a YA novel but were afraid to try because what you write might too much for an innocent teenage mind? (Don’t laugh, there are some of us out there that are genuinely scared of this!)

During the RT Booklovers Convention, I attended the workshop Young Adult: You Really Can Go Back. Moderator Stacy Klemstein AKA Stacey Kade led the discussion, as panelists Kelley Armstrong, Caitlin Kittredge, Richelle Mead, Michelle Rowen, and Rachel Vincent talked about the difference between writing Young Adult and Adult Fiction-other than the character’s age, that is.

The first thing that any of these ladies will tell you is that they don’t change anything about the way they write when switching to YA. They don’t try to sound younger, they don’t try to avoid using profanity, and they certainly don’t avoid topics like sex or sexuality. Ask any person with a teenage in their home. Teens swear, teens talk about and are probably having sex, so if you’re not including this in your novels, then it isn’t real.

Now, that being said, you also have to keep in mind your target audience, including the country they live in, and their culture. Kelly gave an example about what different publishers and editors in different countries might say in regards to including profanity in the books.

In Canada- “Hell yes!”

In the UK- “Ditto.”

In the US- “Hold on. We have a few concerns regarding sales in the southern states…”

So, what does this mean to us authors? Nothing, because in the end, if there’s too much profanity, or if something is not quite right, it’ll be caught in the editing stages.

The panelist also warned that there are a couple of things to keep in mind. Beginning with the big no-no. Though flirty, sexy YA is on the rise, all agents, all publishers, and even the most lenient, caring parents agree that there are to be “No explicit sex scenes.” Sex can happen in the book, but when it does, it shouldn’t be explicit, and it should be crucial to move the plot forward.

The second thing: Pacing- you have to keep it moving! Teenagers get bored easily, so as Caitlin said, “You have to make every single scene count.” This means more edits, less words to further engage the teen.

The panelist also spoke about the marketing side of things. About how they keep their teen readers away form their more adult material.

The first and obvious way is your name. A lot of YA authors, like Stacy, will write under a pseudonym. However, none of the other panelists followed that path, Michelle and Rachel chose a much simpler answer—keeping their name the same but splitting their websites. (Their YA website being specifically designed to catch that age group’s interests)

How do these ladies discourage their readers from going into the “Other side?”

Richelle said that she didn’t need to. That most teens didn’t even know that she wrote adult novels, or are just plain not interested. Kelly said that she tells them that her characters are older. (What teen wants to read about someone thirty-something or other, having sex?)

I leave you with the last bit of interesting news that the authors shared in regards to the business of YA fiction:

All the panelists agreed that agents and publishers in this genre are extremely proactive. There is not as much marketing of yourself needed to catch the right person’s attention. If you are writing YA, then they will seek you out.


  1. Thanks so much for the report, Laura!

  2. Great stuff, Laura, thanks for summarizing the workshop. As someone who's currently collaborating on a first time YA SFR, that held a few surprises.

    I'll have to see if they'll this workshop in on the agenda at RWA, too.

  3. Thanks to all for reading!
    Laurie, I can't go to RWA this year, but please share what they say at RWA if they have it. I'd love to hear it! :)

  4. Excellent summary, Laura. Thank you so much for posting this! I've been thinking about going the YA route because I see a gap for POC characters and readers who would love to see themselves in the stories (especially speculative ones!). Plus I've been reading and enjoying so many YA books myself lately that it's become an inspiration to me.

    This helps a lot!


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