Friday, September 3, 2010

What Are We Doing to YA?

This post is more of a question than most of mine are. I fully admit that this is all speculation. But it's something I've been wondering for a while.

Has the internet community changed YA?

Am I right in thinking that YA writers are the most active online? We tweet word counts and deadlines and what our main character would eat for breakfast. We friend each other on Facebook and leave each other rep points on AW. We have blogs just for posting excerpts and shit like this. We know each other's names, agents, and editors like we're all related. We're The Contemps, the Debs, the Tenners, the Elevensies, the Musers.

The word "blogosphere," ugly though it may be, is so appropriate. We're our own little biosphere. We have staked out our little corner of the internet, and we're loud and social and crazy and God knows I'm part of the problem.

And lately I've been worrying that it really is a problem.

To put it plainly, I'm starting to wonder if YA is turning into something written by/for the internet community under the guise of writing for everyday teenagers, and that who likes you on the internet is more important to your career--or, if not to your career, to your psyche and your perception of your success--than if teenagers are picking up your book.

Is the gap between "successful" author and "author teenagers want to read" getting wider and wider as our main audience to impress becomes bloggers and librarians instead of teenagers themselves?

(For the record, I realize and acknowledge that some of us are teenagers ourselves. But if you're reading this, you're not the average book-reading teenager. You know too much. We've relinquished our right to be considered the average YA reading teenager.)

Are we getting too self-referential to be relevant?

I don't know. But recently, YA has started to look very clubby to me, and I'm wondering if that's really fair for the readers. If we're writing to be social, are we doing our readers a disservice?

We give each other biased Goodreads reviews because we don't want to piss anyone off. We tell people we love books we haven't read just because we're friends with the author. We're so loud about the books we love--which should be a great thing!--that we might be fooling ourselves into thinking that our tastes reflect those of a teenager.

We hear so much about publishing trends. Vampires are in, vampires are out, zombies are in, zombies are out, angels are in, angels are out. But a teenager who loves vampires wants to read more about vampires. She doesn't give a shit whether it's out or not. So is our perception of a "saturated" market affecting her? I'm not saying, obviously, that we should all be out writing vampire books, but wouldn't it make more sense if we did stuff steadily instead of in trendy slews? And wouldn't that be possible if we weren't so intent on responding to and competing with the authors we follow on Twitter?

I think the reason I'm posing these questions is that lately I've felt very disillusioned and overwhelmed. I still love YA. But when I'm writing stuff like #magicgayfish, I start questioning my own relevance really, really easily. I love that you guys are all over it, and obviously I hope that teenagers would have the same reaction, if the thing gets published.

But how closely does our taste reflect that of an actual teenager?

Are the boys we swoon over the ones THEY find hot?

Okay, I'm asking a lot of questions. So here's what I think.

What was initially cool about YA, in my opinion, was that it had the least adult influence from the shelf to the hands of the reader. YAs pick out and buy and read their own books. Their parents don't screen them first. And obviously [adult] publishers still have to decide to publish them (and that's a HUGE thing, but we really can't change that) and the bookstore or the library still has to decide to stock them, but it was still more direct than other childrens' books. It's the kid's wallet, the kid's choice.

And now for some reason, it looks to me like we're letting it become books about teenagers and for adults rather than about teenagers for teenagers, and the way we're going, I don't think that's going to change.

WE'RE the ones counting down the days 'til the next big YA comes out.

WE'RE the ones fantasizing about ourself and the Next Hot Boy.

WE'RE the ones trend-chasing and trend-hating and jacking up the Goodreads reviews.

I think in the future, people are going to equate expecting YA to be only for young adults to expecting science fiction to be only for scientists.

I don't know. I've had very many emotional crisises lately where I'm like I DON'T KNOW WHAT TEENAGERS WANT. So maybe I'm just projecting. But I still think the market shift is noteworthy and worrisome.

Your thoughts?

139 comments:

withouts said...

Wow! It's almost like you pulled this from my mind.

This is exactly how I've been feeling lately. Now that I've discovered a lot of YA authors on twitter it just seems like a lot of them are in these little cliques and it's almost like high school tbh. Oh and there's a bit of agented author circle-jerking (for lack of a better word) going on too.

Robby said...

You are so right, so right, SO RIGHT.
I've been feeling like this as well. No hate from this boy here. Just love. You are so brave and brilliant.

Phoebe said...

I have about ten minutes before I have to work, so this will be rough, but: Yes. Yes exactly.

I've worried about this as I've entered the YA blogosphere--because I come from poetry, where poets write pretty much only for other poets, and have quickly made themselves irrelevant. And you see shades of this in author review policies and the like (the GoodReads issue is something I've written on extensively before). The needs to the reader--which is what critical writing potentially addresses--aren't seen as nearly as important as the promotion of one's colleagues. And the whole thing about authors having these accessible personas online is such a new marketing thing, and I don't know how much most teens care about the author so much as the book. For example, when I was in high school, Megan McCafferty was all the rage. I loved her, but the only thing I knew about her (or cared about) was that she was from New Jersey and had a short story in Seventeen.

I think in the future, people are going to equate expecting YA to be only for young adults to expecting science fiction to be only for scientists.

As an SF nerd, I think the SF community is actually a pretty good model. It's reader-centric, rather than promo-centric, and that's evident in the blogs of the more public writers--John Scalzi, etc.

Phoebe said...

There are typos up there. Pls ignore!

hannah said...

Phoebe--very good point. I didn't mean to imply that SF is like that, but that if it were, it would be a good analogy for what I see happening in YA. Sense, I make it?

erica_henry said...

I can definitely see your point and understand your concerns. You have raised some good questions that I definitely don't have the answer to. I think the internet is awesome and horrible for tons and tons of things. I have been reflecting on these kinds of questions myself.

For instance, when I started my blog (which I tend to work on for a while and then forget about for a while) I mainly geared towards writers. I didn't even see a problem with that at first. Then I realized, that I should be gearing towards teenagers because that should be my ideal audience since I write YA.

Anyway, I just wanted to say that I totally respect and understand your questions that you are posing. Definitely gives me some things to think about and reflect upon.

Rebecca B said...

I was hoping you'd do this post!

I'm thinking out loud here, but perhaps some of this is because only fairly recently YA has been labeled its own genre? I feel like in the past, there were books with teenage protagonists and coming-of-age stories and sometimes teens read them and sometimes adults did. There wasn't such a push to market books as YA versus adult. I'm not exactly sure why that changed and YA became its own genre, but it seems to me that once that switch happened books started to be written for an audience as opposed to just being written because there was a story to tell. Once you start writing for a specific genre, then there are conventions etc. . . .

Janelle said...

Wow. Food for thought.

A friend and I were having a similar discussion a few months ago. The gist of it was that we started focusing strictly on YA because it did seem like it was for adults. Even though it was written about 15-18 year olds, the subject matter was intended for older readers...the ones who blog and review the books.

I don't know what to make of it...

hannah said...

Rebecca--that's a GREAT point.

hannah said...

Hmm, does some of this have to do with the lack of mainstream buzz about YA? It's not like we get the NYT reviews adult books do, unless we're INSANELY popular. So we have to build our own hype? Yeah?

Kara Mustafa said...

Disclaimer: I agree with everything you said, and it's not because we have the same agent. Not because I like your books. Not because I'm afraid to disagree with someone in the YA community. I just agree.

Now, I avoid Goodreads for the reasons you mentioned. It's way too clear to me that most of the reviews are biased. Goodreads should be a place for readers to candidly REVIEW books, and it's sad to me how it's become just another tool for authors to cross-promote each other. As a twenty-year-old who still avidly reads YA, I'm a little frustrated that I can't find honest reviews from people like me.

I was a teenager and YA reader before I was a writer. I'd like to see more teenagers involved in the YA community. I could ramble about this for pages but I think you summed everything up perfectly.

Krista Ashe said...

Ugh, I just went through a whole, long post, and blogger ate it, dammit!

Anyway, I totally love this post. It's full of so many goodies that you could glean out into another posts.

First, I agree with you about the whole "saturation" issue with whats in and out, but what do teens really want to read. I know most of my students hadn't even heard of Mockingjay or some of the really buzzed books.

And yes, I hate the cliquishness of the YA Community. It's almost like we've reverted back to high school in the way some writers treat others. You've got the popular cliques, the on the fringes people, etc. Or people resorting to HSish behavior of thinking they're better than others just bc they have an agent or a deal.

I also wonder about Goodreads reviews. Are writers really honest out there? We're taught to fear "the man", and that negativity can come back to bite us in the ass.

Anyway, great post!

~Jamie said...

I've been thinking about this a LOT lately.

Here's the thing--all this will NOT equate book sales, and that's where the truth lies. We can read each other's stuff, write (fake) reviews, and blog until the end of days, but if kids aren't buying, then we aren't successful authors.

That's the beauty of the teen audience. Our little circlejerk means nothing to them. :)

jaclyndolamore said...

I think I write for my own inner teen, first and foremost; what I would have wanted to see on the bookshelf then. I also come from a background of loving and reading kidlit all my life, so I like to hope I follow in the footsteps of the children's writers who have gone before me, and they were wise people. I don't write YA because it's hot. And when I was a teen, I did feel like the YA section was sadly limited and I wondered where the books I really wanted were.

Still, you do make some interesting points. I often struggle to find the proper voice for my blog/Twitter etc. because I'm not sure who I should be talking to. Other writers? Bloggers? Teen fans? My internet audience is some of all of the above, but what a teen fan wants and what a fellow writer wants might be totally different. And then, some teen fans are aspiring writers, so they might want writing info...but others won't be. It's really hard to figure out how to spin the whole thing.

Still, at the end of the day, I try to write good books that I would have loved as a teen, I social network not to be popular or sell books particularly, but to have friends and some kind of social life, because I'm a full-time writer in a city with a fairly sucky literary scene and without the internet I'd go nuts, or to discuss topics I find interesting.

maine character said...

It’s definitely good to question if our audience of peers online is creating a certain type of writing, a sort of self-spiraling eternal loop, where the outside influences and needs of our actual audience aren’t being heard.

It’s something to guard against, to suggest we get the water in the pool here checked, but I think everyone’s tapped into life well enough to keep the water fresh.

And it’s definitely important to keep our fiction writing separate from our blogosphere writing. Like at an open mike, we may Twitter and comment and all with each other backstage with great fun, but when it’s our turn to get on stage, we know we either got to deliver the goods for that audience out there or step down.

jaclyndolamore said...

(BTW, this is also why I love to do school/library visits, so I can meet real teens who are not necessarily following all our blogs, and why I think it's important to ask them questions too if you get a chance.)

Samantha said...

But...I AM average, I really am! I mean, sure, I read a lot more than some teenagers, and I watch a lot less tv...but I still count!

Vee said...

Magic gay fish is relevant, and if it's not relevant. I was super excited about it, so I told a non-blogosphere teenager about it and she went "HELL YEAH. AWESOME. MUST BUY."

Now that I've established the relevancy of magic gay fish, I think you're making a really good point here. I feel like, in a lot of cases, the blogosphere has hijacked YA in terms of what IS trending. Real-life teenagers may still want to read vamps, as you mentioned, but the online YA community is over it.

I think the blogosphere is creating trends, as opposed to following them. I'm not sure whether that's a bad thing necessarily -- it could be a good thing that diversifies the genre and what not. With YA appealing to more and more adults, and all this crossover business etc it seems to me like it's going to be problematic. Because the blogosphere will create trends that appeal to adults more than YAs (given that the majority of bloggers are either teens-in-the-know or adults), and YAs won't have anything much to read again -- that's a frightening prospect.

I do think I'm *slightly* immune to this at the moment, and haven't noticed it as much, because I'm Aussie. The blogosphere might influence the US authored YA I'm reading, but so far it hasn't touched my Aussie YA too much -- I think that's beginning to change, though.

As always, great post -- so freaking observant and opens up important discussion.

Julie said...

I think you make some good points, Hannah. I love when YA is raw and edgy and real but some of those soccer moms that started with Twilight are looking for squeaky clean teen stories about a boy with perfect husband qualities which i highly doubt many teenage girls actually think about.

I'm a very lucky YA writer in the sense that I teach and employ many teenagers. I have gobs test readers at my fingertips and they will flat out tell me, "No, way would a guy my age ever say that!"

The stories that have gotten the most positive feedback from my target audience are the once where I embarrass my characters mercilessly. Even when I reread some of it I can't help but think, this is such an exaggeration! No one obsesses over nonsense that much.

Then I'll open and email from one of my 14 or 15 year-old readers who will go on and on about how the exact same thing happened to this girl at her school and so on . . .

To me, the teen years are like child birth. The horror fades with time. If it didn't no one would ever be stupid enough to have more than one child. A 30 year-old (like me) is likely to write a teen character that is just a shadow of a real teen because that's what the memories look like now.

I would love to know how many YA authors get actual teens to read their story before submitting it anywhere?

I did a really in-depth post on getting teens to read your unpublished YA book and actually tell you what they think of it, but I had to delete it because it had excerpt from TEMPEST.

I've heard someone talking about a new category called "New Adult" for 20 somethings. I'm not sure if its a real thing or not? Something like that might help with this problem?

Christi Goddard said...

I just blogged about this earlier:

http://christigoddard.blogspot.com/

And I both agree and disagree. Yes, there are genres, and people gravitate towards others in that genre, but there is also a sense of community. I write fantasy, but most of my friends write either romance, thrillers, or YA. Yet, here I am on your page and you write YA. We have 'our' places we go for what 'we' like, but in the end, we are all back to each other, cheering each other on through our highs and lows, regardless of genre.

As for the market, I agree with the trending issues. The industry decides if there's too much of something and starts to slim it down. Yet, in any particular genre, the same readers will continue to read that genre, no matter how many books there are to choose from.

No genre is better or worse, right or wrong, because genre is based on personal preference. It's not a popularity contest, and most don't (I think) judge a person's writing ability on the number of friends or followers they have. To have readers, it has to be about content, no matter if it's the printed word or a blog post.

And while 'we' are the ones excited for the next YA to come out, we are also cheering on other genres, excited for new authors we've discovered in the blogosphere. That's what keeps the train going - advertising and getting the word out that there are great books on the horizon.

E. M. Kokie said...

Hmmm...some interesting questions, but what I think they reflect is more what it feels like to be inside the bubble of the active online YA writing community - and less what it feels like to be outside that bubble.

I think many techers, librarians, and teen readers know very little of what goes on inside the bubble, and that is a good thing. And even some editors and agents are really not participating in this bubble commnity. Some very influencial and sharp editors and agents are notably absent from it, and many others visit but do not live within it.

Those people outside the bubble are writing, representing, acquiring and publishing YA books, regardless of what happens in the bubble.

And many of those books are exceptionally popular, and even sometimes highly honored.

So while I think these are good questions to ask of those of us within the bubble - ie, are we becoming so insular as to cease to be relevant outside of it - I think for the large part it's like being in the popular, most elite clique in a high school. Those in the clique sometimes think they are more relevant than they are, and often the world outside the clique carries on with little notice of it. ;)

Fantastic YA books are being published, with connections to the bubble and without. And some less fantastic YA books are being published, again, with connections to the bubble and without. But it's never a bad idea to stop and assess where we are and if we are relevant and effective beyond our small bit of the universe.

Krista Ashe said...

I've been blessed as a teacher to having willing teen readers. They loved my YAUf when it really wasn't that great. It's unfortunate tht I don't feel I can value their opinion b/c they're not the industry.

Jennifer Hoffine said...

Wow. Big thoughts. Good questions to ask.

As a newbie to this blogosphere,I'm torn. Social medias provide unparalleled opportunities for authors to connect with readers. It also strikes me that there are YA bloggers out there whose only agenda seems to be a true love of books and YA. For us writers, the need for Google popularity, Twitter connections and marketing opportunities breeds too many conflicts of interest, too many chances to muddy the waters. It would be nice if the YA Blogoshere was run more by the teen YA audience than us.

As for what to write and what teens want,write what your inner teenager wants. I'm sure she's still in there, you just may have to dig a little deeper, under all the professional muck, to find her.

aspiring_x said...

i must be totally unobservant because i hadn't noticed all the clubbiness... or too new maybe?

i think it's wonderful that writers try to support and encourage each other... but that doesn't mean we should target adults with our writing...

you've given me lots to think about! (like usual!)
thanks!!

hannah said...

You guys are all making such amazing points.

Jamie--I TOTALLY agree that it doesn't equal book sales, and that's kind of what I'm worried about. That the people we view as being these really successful writers because they're hos on the internet aren't the ones that people are picking up. And that we're trying to mimic the careers of, for lack of a better word, the wrong writers.

Livia said...

So I'm not *that* worried. Because there aren't enough of us writers to make a book truly a success. For a book to break out, it has to hit it big with a general audience. Mockingjay sold 450,000 copies in the first week, and YA writers make up a very small percentage of that. Books like twilight, also, are successful not becayse YA writers like them (in fact, most writers disparage them), but because teens love them. So the teens still have the final say just by sheer numbers. I think one group that has more influence than writers are librarians. They're the ones with the direct conenction to kids, and I do feel like librarian support really can help make or braek a book.

Lisa Schroeder said...

Haha - I love what Jamie says!! On the money, Jamie!

I think YA authors feel helpless in what is now a VERY competitive market. They feel like they have to be doing something to try and sell books ALL THE TIME. So they tweet and blog and tweet some more and people look at some of them and go, am I supposed to be here all day too, talking as much as she is? And the noise JUST GETS LOUDER.

At the end of the day, it's still about writing a good book. And we all know what makes a good book.

I'm on-line because I like to be knowledgeable about the business, I like to chat with other authors, I like to connect with some of my readers, etc. On the other hand, there are days I HATE being on-line. When it seems like everyone is talking about a book I'm going WTF about. Or a huge deal that brings out that little green monster. And so on those days, I get off the internet.

I don't think being on the internet sells books in a huge way. A big publisher push and a huge distribution and ads everywhere and fancy displays - that sells books! And even if you don't get any of that, I hardly did anything to promote my first novel and it's now in its 8th printing and still on the shelves almost three years after it came out. That's all entirely because of word of mouth.

Did you get the PW Children's Bookshelf? It had this fascinating article about THE BOOK THIEF, and it's crazy success. Marcus Zusack said he thought it would be his least successful book. It's historical fiction! It's about Nazi Germany!! Since 2006, it has been on the NYT bestseller list almost every week. Something like 1.5 million copies are in print! Kids, teens and adults are all reading it.

You know - I say write a good book. Write a book YOU would want to read. It may sell, it may not, who the hell knows. But for me, if I'm not enjoying the actual writing, then why am I doing this? I have to enjoy it. I have to write the kind of books that come from my heart. Let everyone make the noise, if that's what they want to do. I just want to write books and have fun with it, you know?

hannah said...

Oh, Lisa, sing it sister.

Phoebe said...

Phoebe--very good point. I didn't mean to imply that SF is like that, but that if it were, it would be a good analogy for what I see happening in YA. Sense, I make it?

Oh, I totally hear you! Like I said, I come from a background that's like that--poets writing for poets--and it sucks. Balls.

Also, I'm loving a lot of the comments here already. Like jaclyn, I write for my own inner teen, but I think as an adult writing for teenagers you have to be aware of the complexities/impossibilities of that (it's difficult not to candy-coat one's teens, no matter how hard one tries). Also, Kara, come friend me on GoodReads (phoebereading). I'll hook you up with some great, critical reviewers. And write some of those reviews yourself! Be the change you want to be!

Thanks for starting this convo, Hannah.

hannah said...

I hadn't even thought of the poets writing for poets thing until you brought it up, and that's SO interesting.

Lisa Schroeder said...

E.M., I was writing my post while you were writing yours, I think. I love what you said. And I think it's very true.

Julie said...

Hannah, check out this kid's analysis of a very popular YA series. Its fricken hilarious! He needs to be the spokes person for all YA books. Perfect example of a typical teen, right?

http://nymag.com/daily/entertainment/2010/08/mockingjay.html#photo=17x58914

Lauren said...

I'm so torn on this issue! On one hand, I think a lot of us YA writers / readers / advocates still deal with a lot of grumbling from the non-YA world -- comments of the "Oh, so you're writing something like Twilight," or "When are you going to write a REAL book?" or the occasional riling-up-the-general-populace-about-YA article in the NY Times or other major media source that takes everyone three steps back from where we'd like to be regarding the public perception of YA lit. I love that people have built this online community from scratch, and that its size and enthusiasm defend YA against the people who rail about it.

I also think that the community has has a positive effect on getting the word out about smaller, quieter books. Yeah, Hunger Games didn't need much Internet cheerleading, but I suspect that book bloggers and tweeters helped give a boost to books like Harmonic Feedback and The Sky Is Everywhere.

I say all this as someone who's an observer to the "bubble" -- a rabid observer (you should see my Google Reader list; it's ridiculous), but an observer nonetheless. I started working on my first YA novel in 2005, and started looking for info online about publishing in 2006 -- and I've watched the community explode before my eyes. I quit my decade-old blog in 2007 to focus on my novel writing... sometimes I wonder if that was the wrong choice, because it's made it hard to network with all of you lovely people (who I feel like I know, but I know none of you know me!). I read all the blogs and tweets and forums, but I haven't made much of my own noise. It's hard to know how and when to start speaking up! The community has grown so large and yet also so fragmented in places, I almost wish I didn't know so much about it. Reading all the blogs and forums has helped my writing to some extent, but I'm at the point now where I feel like blocking it all out for a few weeks while I finish my revision.

E. M. Kokie said...

Lisa, I started to write a long "Yeah, that sounds dead on" comment to your post, and then saw your comment on mine. : )

Suffice it to say, "Yeah, dead on, Lisa." And if we ever find ourselves in the same city, we should have a beverage and talk.

Emily

Jess said...

I agree with Jamie, Lisa, and E. M.! :)

Shaun Hutchinson said...

When I read reviews of my books or get emails, the ones I really pay attention to are the ones from teens. One girl in HS didn't like Deathday 'cause she dealt with horny boys enough at school that she didn't want them invading her books. A bunch loved it for the same reasons.

I think what make a book relevant isn't whether goodreads loves it or whether twitter opens a vein and gushes blood over it (we all know twitter, like facebook, is for old people now) it's whether it's relevant to YOU. Magic gay fish is relevant and teens will buy it because you fucking love it. Personally, I don't think we give teens enough credit. Sometimes I think we're so busying trying to be the next JK Rowling/Stephanie Meyers/Suzanne Collines that we forget to be ourselves.

I'm 32. What the hell do I know about teens today? Everything. Because I was a teen. The things I went through as a teen are the same things teens today are going through. Sure, the names of the bands, the names of the drugs, and the kinds of trendy clothes have all changed, but the feelings are the same. If you tap into that, then you're relevant.

I mean, aren't we all really magic gay fish in the end?

And yes, yes, yes, YA is cliquey. It's like an incestuous freak-fest and I love every single one of those people. But I'm not worried if they like my books. Yeah, it's cool to be liked by your peers, but if one kid picks up my book and feels like I wrote it just for him, then everyone else can use it to wipe their butts and I'll be happy.

Darn, I think I just rambled all over your blog.

hannah said...

"I mean, aren't we all really magic gay fish in the end?"

I think I just rambled all over your face, if you know what I mean.

Ted Cross said...

It feels to me that my two sons (10 and 12) prefer adult books, but adult books are getting pushed out of the way by the economics of YA. After all, if YA books will be purchased by both kids and adults, publishers have incentive to buy YA rather than adult. I'm a relative oldie, and I feel like nowdays I have to be utterly brilliant to get published as an adult writer rather than simply a darn good writer.

hannah said...

Ted--Wow, that's really interesting, and I don't have any trouble believing that...seriously, whoa.

Myla Fantastik said...

This is a problem in all forms of art, I find: people performing their trade only to impress others in their trade. Visual artists do it, poets, musicians, writers of all genres. I actually participated in a very well received (by the audience, not the other artists, lol) art installation that played upon exactly that issue.

Then again, for this particular problem, maybe we need a new genre? Let's just be blunt and call it YA4A :)

Elana Johnson said...

Dude, I've so felt this! Mostly because I'm not part of the "club." At the same time, I'm not sure I want to be part of the club. I do enjoy reading YA novels, and I don't think that's a bad thing, but I don't want only adults to read my book. It's definitely something I've been stewing on.

nomadshan said...

My goal is to write a book I would be excited to read. And even though I'm 40, a HUGE part of me still feels 15 and drives what I choose to read. If a kid likes it, cool. If an adult likes it, cool.

I do feel the clubbiness of social media - I get you there - probably because I was outside such clubs as a teen. But I think most of it is done with good intention. Sure, there's a lot of not-quite-honest reviewing going on, but teens aren't dumb. If they want to know where a reviewer is coming from, they can find out with minimal research if that reviewer is in the same publishing "class" as the book's author.

From what I hear, though, teens don't buy books based on recs by adults, even if they're authors. They look to their peers for recs. (And, of course, that's a generalization and something I picked up online from a non-teen, so. Grain of salt.)

I write MG + YA and know that I'm likely to have few young followers on Twitter, the SM platform I prefer. Hell, I have one teen follower I can think of, and she's an author herself, so...more of a professional peer. I use Twitter for professional networking and don't let the clubs bother me. I don't review books. I do promote my agency mates and projects I'm personally excited to read.

I guess all this is to say: good for you for standing back, taking a breath, and iterating what bothers you about the situation. You can choose your own path to your goals and your readers. And you're honest and thoughtful enough to effect change if you see a need for it. Good luck. :)

hannah said...

Thanks!

"From what I hear, though, teens don't buy books based on recs by adults, even if they're authors. They look to their peers for recs. (And, of course, that's a generalization and something I picked up online from a non-teen, so. Grain of salt.)"

And this is COMPLETELY what I mean. That our views of what teens actually read our completely skewed by what WE pimp out. We assume that the stuff we hear about on the blogs are books teenagers are really picking up, and a lot of the time that's just not true.

Arlaina said...

There are as many kinds of teenagers as there are types of people. I say, write one book at a time. Make it the best book it is. Let it be what it is trying to be. Try and sell it. And then write another one. When we, as writers, let the audience determine what we create, we're not doing capital L literature, or teens for that matter, any favors.

I think that because the YA world is so communicative and small that it gives the illusion of a beast that can be conquered. As writers we always want more control over our work and I think that by sticking a finger in all these different pies, we feel that we can ensure that our amazing and delightful ground breaking book will get the respect and readership it deserves.

I sound like Yoda, but I'm all up twitter's butt and love it and I love the NYC YA community but long ago, before I even handed in a full MS a wise editor told me to beware and to tread carefully, that it could get to feeling like actual high school quick...

And on another note, I have not been a teenager in a long freaking time. I have no idea what real time teens want, only what I remember I wanted and what was important to me then, now, same dif.

I love you hannah. Not because we have the same agent or because you might one day help me sell a million books but because you are a great writer and a fearless individual who isn't afraid to ask the hard questions. And you make me laugh.

madameduck said...

This is brilliant! It's like you managed to write everything I didn't even realize I was thinking! Fabulous post. Amazing comments! And, despite everything it says in the post, I'm going to retweet and reblog and facebook it and pimp it any way I can.

But seriously, I've written about something similar to this. I feel like the "blogosphere" is almost turning all of us YA authors into clones of each other. We're all reading the same writing books, sharing the same novel recommendations, critiquing each others queries, until all we're pumping out is identical combinations of all of our collaboration. Heck, even the agents we query to now have YA novels out there in the world that they're promoting for each other.

On a related note: anyone see Suzanne Collins on twitter/blog? People can preach all day long about the necessity of an online presence to be a successful author, but in the end, it really does all come down to good writing, as it should.

Janine said...

It seems to me that largely Actual Teen Readers are unaware of a writer's internet presence. Maybe that isn't true. Seems to be true. On that note, I'm not sure how much it MATTERS how often you tweet, how much you blog, etc. other than it helps within the YA community. Which is not a bad thing. Also, if any reader should wander in, I'd want them to be happy reading.

For me, the important part of YA is its honesty. As long as the books continue to be honest, YA as a genre will change, sure, but continue to be awesome.

hannah said...

Great points, Janine.

I love you, Arlaina.

Graystone said...

I've been feeling this way lately, and I kind of feel like taking a [maybe permanent] break from blogging. It's the only way I social network, so I'm glad that I'm not all over the place. It'd be hard to break away from all of that, if that weren't the case.

Interesting post. Thanks for it.

maine character said...

To back up what Janine said, my high school nieces are really smart and into books, but have very little interest in authors online.

During one visit, they showed me their favorite author’s books and I immediately brought up his blog, like voila!, look at this! And they weren’t interested in the least.

I didn't get it at the time, but what I later realized is they're not into the craft of writing, or influences, or what music the author likes. They love the characters, the story, and where the book took them. That, to them, was all that mattered.

Also, about writing for an audience, I've always liked this quote.

Nobody knows what audiences are like. Every writer who’s ever had a huge success wrote what he wanted to write, and it hit. Nobody sits and says, “Okay, the formula for a show is we’ll have a nun and a dog and Abraham Lincoln…” It never works.
- Stephen Sondheim

Suzy said...

*Better to write for yourself and have no public than to write for the public and have no self."

~ Cyril Connolly 1903-1974

Dominique said...

This post has been interesting food for thought. While I'm saddened to think I'm no longer the average YA reading teen, I do like to think I'm still in touch with what teens read. Still, it's an interesting subject to note, and I've no doubt this post will come back to me next time I enter a bookstore.

shvetufae said...

I love this, Hannah. Thank you.

Shveta

squinto said...

As a new teen blogger who's really passionate about books, your post has really made me wary about the whole blogging community. I mean, yeah, I definitely see some of the clubbiness going on. I've only been at it for 3 months and I'm seeing that the same kinds of books are promoted though that just might be because of the bloggers' individual interests.

But I guess that's an issue here; while I do like to surround myself with different types of people and books, I still see that most bloggers like the same things and promote the same things and it does seem to be a frenzied circle of the same thing over and over again. And I'm guessing publishers base their assumptions on these active bloggers, thinking that their views are reflective of those non-blogging teens out there.

And because a lot of authors do blog and come into contact with these bloggers, you're saying that maybe that's what influencing them to write, and not their inner muse? That's a really intriguing question and the possibility scares me, because does that mean I'm contributing to what might be a brainwashing community? Scary.

And your 'what teenagers want' query also made me curious. Because primarily, as a writer, I just write what I want to write... not for a specific market or audience but just for myself. And now I'm questioning that. Hmm..

If this is a bit self-involved, rambling, redundant, or doesn't make much sense, I apologize. Your post was insanely thought-provoking and I get a bit weird in the head when I think. Heck yeah, I am so tweeting it. :D

hannah said...

Squinto--all amazing points. And it's interesting seeing so many people talk about writing for themselves...I don't think that I do that.

Don't get me wrong; if I don't like something, I'm not going to write it. And I obviously write books that I want to read. But am I conscious of my audience? Oh, fuck yeah. My first loyalty is to my audience.

Kristan said...

Lots of great comments, and it's late so I'm not gonna be awesome and contribute much, but I do want to say that I love this post, and I think it's my favorite thing on your blog so far. (Granted I've only been reading for a few weeks... But still!)

Tara said...

I was just linked here--wow, what an interesting discussion! I'm an agented, published author who is not 'in the club'. So it's not just those of you who aren't agented or with book deal. Granted, social interaction isn't one of my strengths and I don't know how to be anyone but my blunt self. Also, my book is pretty small and unknown. Although, I thank Lauren above for mentioning it! :)

Over my three years of being part of this whole crazy publishing world, I've seen a few writers get big heads, I've seen a few writers quit...and everything in between. The people I talk to now on a daily basis are not the same people I talked to when I started this journey. Or even the same people I talked to a year ago. If I've learned anything about this community, it's writers tend to bud up with writers who are in the same place in their careers. Honestly, I wish it wasn't like that. I definitely try to make an effort to talk shop with unpublished writers or those looking for an agent. In fact, sometimes I prefer talking with unpublished writers because we just tend to focus on WRITING. Not all the biz BS, which can make you forget why you love writing in the first place if you let it.

Anyway, like Lisa said, there are some days where I just need to avoid the net and what I like to call the 'Twitter circus'. I was the awkward sarcastic goth girl in high school..and I suspect I'm still that girl--just without the raccoon make up. I agree with Shaun that we never forget our teen selves, and what we went through--no matter how long ago--is still relevant today. My number one goal is to write books that speak to teens, especially those who don't fit in or those with self-esteem issues. Compliments and love from other writers is AWESOME, but teens are the readers I most want to hear from. And if my book can even make one day out there--I've done my job. Whether I'm Miss Twitter USA or not.

-Tara Kelly

hannah said...

Tara--amazing. And I'm so, so looking forward to reading Harmonic Feedback, by the way. And I'm not just saying that. I was on your website this morning.

I mentioned up a comment that my first loyalty is to my audience--I always say that my second royalty is to unpublished writers.

Beth G. said...

I agree with you, but to a point. I do think that it's 50/50. We are both our own best friend and worst enemy.

Why the blogosphere is our BEST FRIEND: Writers need support. It’s great to know that we’re not alone. Don't take this the wrong way, hannah, but you are a huge inspiration to lots of authors because, before sites like this and several other writers' became popular, the agented and published lorded down on little ones and wrote all about what you should and shouldn’t do, what was right, what was wrong, what they’d done that separated them from the rest of us minions.

That could crush fragile writers like myself, when writers were all rules. That was awful, and I can still think of one or two writers who do that. (Will not be mentioned here.) I appreciate that they were trying to help, but it was soul-destroying. Writers like you showed us that, yes, writers are just like everyone else. The day before they signed their agents, they really were unsigned, unagented authors like the minions they dish out advice to. That's a boost.

The YA clubby thing – is it true? Yeah, but, to be honest, I like belonging to a club. :) It’s a comfort to me. And so many “adult” writers look down on YA as being barely-genre that I don’t think we’re hurting too many people by clubbing together.

Some writers need motivation. Sites like AW are great for that. I’m obsessed with writing down my WC in public places – because it gives me a sense of achievement. Even if nobody gives a crap, I can still feel like I’ve set a goal It’s purely psychological…but a lot of writing is. Some people hole up in their bedroom and disconnect the Net. Some people need the awesomeness of AW to keep pumped and confident. I know I do. Seriously, the number of ledges those people have talked me down from – because I’m emotional and impulsive and intense and hypercritical, and they’re not. They show me that it’s okay. I know this sounds a bit Malcolm X-y, but I hope I’ve made my point.

Why the blogosphere is OUR WORST ENEMY: I don’t know about you guys, but I’m self-destructive. I look for reasons to hate my manuscript. The blogosphere gives me new reasons each and every day to hate my manuscript.

There will always be people who use the Net for their nefarious (ha) ends. And I think this is more prevalent on AW than anywhere else I’ve been. There are AWers who tell you what you should or shouldn’t do. That angel books will never sell. That this is in or this is out. And that is a huge problem. Sometimes I feel like getting into a fight with an AWer by yelling at the top of my lungs WILL YOU JUST BACK YOUR SHIT DOWN! (ooops. Sorry. Getting emotional here) Because you can make anything and everything work. But sites like AW make it seem like, if you do this or this or this, there will be a god with a fireball to smite you down.

But…in a way, that’s the curse of writers. We're trying to make of, often, a senseless business. But it doesn’t mean shit. Because for every person who says you should never do it, there is someone out there who has done it and sold it and continues to sell. We want our rules because we want to believe that there’s a reason why the business is what it is. And that’s a problem, yes. Has it been intensified by the blogosphere? Probably, yes. But there are still books out there like ON WRITING that sell and sell and sell. It doesn’t start with the blogosphere, and it won’t end with it either.

The bottom line: I couldn’t live without sites like this and AW. I am obsessed with sites like this. Are there problems? Yeah, but there are problems with everything. We have to take the good with the bad – we can block the bad out, for the most part, and the good stuff is so freaking important to losers like me that I think we need to keep it going.

Oh God. This is much longer than I thought it would be. Sorry hannah and any other poor sap who is reading this. (Shit. I’ve actually written more words for this than I’ve written for my WIP in TWO DAYS.)

Megan said...

I wasn't going to say that I blogged about it earlier (cuz everyone hates self-promoters) but then I saw Christie do it, and thought, what the hell!

So I've blogged about it :P

http://bookworm-megs.blogspot.com/2010/09/hannah-moskowitz-what-are-we-doing-to.html

Hannah: amazing post. It really made me think. Up until just then, I was in love with the YA blogging community. But you rightly pointed out so many flaws and it has made me think - are we writing for them or us?

Sometimes the whole club-ness of YA authors does remind me of high school - maybe some of them are so stuck into high school and can't leave and that's why they write about it?!

In some form or another, I agree with what everyone has said.

Again, Hannah - brilliant post.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Hannah, you said the very things I've been wondering myself. I see a lot of hype about books, but it's not the teens who are hyping about them. It's my fellow bloggers. I've watched teens look at books in the bookstore, and they aren't buying the latest hype. They buying books I've never heard of, from series I never heard of.

I don't see them looking over the "New Books" table. They're at the back of the store, combing through the shelves for the vampire books, teen chicklit books, etc.

e. f. danehy said...

Amazing post, even better discussion.

All I can do is look at this post, this discussion, these comments and feel... relief. Inexplicable relief. In high school I refused to be someone I wasn't, so I can't explain to myself why I've felt this compulsion to be "popular" in the blogosphere now. That's not who I am, and it has nothing to do with who I am as a writer. I poke around with my blog and Twitter but I've always felt like I wasn't doing "enough" to "fit in" with the YA blogosphere crowd. Like I needed to somehow compete with the internet presences of so many others.

But you've all said it: the writing, the quality of the product -- because we are in a business, selling a product -- is what sells it. That's the most important part. Working on making my book the best it can be, writing for that picky 14 year old reader I used to be -- that's what I cannot lose sight of. I work best when I'm lost in the world of my story -- not lost in the world of the Internet.

Thanks for the (surprisingly) much-needed reminder.

Angie said...

Lots of things to think about here, and I sort of agree with what Janine says. I mean I kind of think all of this blogging/tweeting stuff is more to show agents and publishers that you're out there trying and making connections with the industry, but will it really matter for sales? Probably not.

hannah said...

I'm obviously not against social networking--I mean, look at me--but I wonder if it's invading our writing process, not just our publicity process. Who are we writing to impress?

And if the answer is "yourself," all the more freaking power to you, seriously. But if I'm being honest, if I were writing for myself, I'd be saving it on my hard drive and calling it a day. I wouldn't care about being published.

And I clearly care about being published.

Michelle Witte said...

This is definitely something to ponder, as I'm a writer and have worked in publishing for the past 6 years.

A month ago, I opened a bookstore specializing in kids and teen books. It's been an interesting process, seeing who comes into the store and who buys what.

I think there are three general categories of people who come through the doors (completely based on what I've observed so not even remotely scientific).

1. Parents and grandparents of children up through preteens. Sometimes they bring their children along, other times not. But they're usually picking a book for their child, asking for recommendations on what they might like. My first question is always, "What books do they like?" Or some variation, including genre, sports, subjects they like in school. Based on that, I try to think of a book that fits in with those tastes and pray I'm guessing well. I've yet to have a book returned (though we've only been open a little more than a month). Maybe I am getting some of it right. *fingers crossed*

2. Twilight moms. This is the category you refer to here. Adults reading teen books because they're cleaner with nice stories wrapped up neatly at the end. There's nothing wrong with this at all, and I'm actually seeing this as a growing segment of YA readership. As a bookseller, I'm not going to tell an adult they can't read that book. Heck, that's what I do all the time.

Writing for writers is obviously a variation on this, but I think the same principles apply. And I do think that, even though it's not wrong to write for this audience, it's something to be aware of. If you're writing for this group, understand that you might not have a large young adult audience, but the books can still be popular. As of now, though, there isn't a genre these books fit into, and so they're placed in young adult because that's what they most closely resemble.

3. Tween and teen readers. More of these are stopping by the store, as school just got back in session and they're not all over the place like they are in summer. It's interesting to hear what they like to read and what they're interested in.

Honestly, thinking about it, I don't recommend a book to anyone without first asking what they like to read. If they ask about a book we have on display, I obviously answer their questions and point out what type of book it is (realistic, fantasy, steampunk, etc.). Really, though, I let them wander through the store for several minutes, then I check on them to see how they're doing, if they have any questions. My favorite thing, though, is to see which book they've picked up, then commenting on how much I enjoyed that book, or interesting tidbits about the plot if I haven't read it. If it's the kind of book they really enjoy, I'll often suggest a similar book(s) that might also appeal. But I never just push a book I like, unless it fits with what they've already mentioned liking.

I'm glad you posted this, because it's good for me to think about my style of bookselling, to realize if there's something I can improve on or a way I can connect better. I love the discussions I have with teens who come in, often in groups of their friends. We've had great conversations about this or that book. I must be fairly young-minded, because I adore talking with them like that. Age doesn't make a difference because we all share an interest. I have one group of jr high kids that stops in every few days. I wonder about them if they haven't stopped in at least once that week. Seeing what each prefers is sometimes surprising and often hilarious.

Long story short, I love selling books to teens/tweens because they're so much fun, but also because it helps me to know who these books are for, especially with the stories I write.

Michelle
owner, Fire Petal Books

Sarah Harian said...

How the heck are you in my head?

This was my conclusion this week when dealing with the same exact topic:

I wrote a manuscript.
I made the manuscript fit the profile of "marketable" based on what everyone read on the internet and what I thought my fellow writers would like to read, and also taking into consideration what agented writers and writers with book deals have written about online when dealing with YA literature.
I needed a total slap in the face before I realized that it never was the book I wanted to write. Hell, teenage-Sarah wouldn't have picked it up. I don't think there are very many books on the YA shelves now that teenage Sarah would have picked up. And when people online talk about trends, the market, what's hot and not, I have thought to myself from day one, "This is never something I would have liked as a kid".
I guess it's safe to say that I'm rewriting the MS completely against "online market rules and trends". Screw word count. Screw PoV. I'm writing what I would have liked to read as a teenager. I'm writing book that, when teenagers and college-aged kids ask me why they don't see more of on the shelves because they know I write YA(which happens a lot), I respond with, "it's not really 'marketable' from what I've heard online".

Thanks for this post. What a coincidence that I was dealing with this same battle earlier this week.

maine character said...

You’re right about how YA blogs are often simply writing to each other. We have the same interests, get the same jokes, and we want to have people over to our website to hang out and chat. I love that – checking out a new blog and seeing familiar faces in the comments and thinking, hey, this must be a cool place.

But do I ever see real teen readers hanging out there? Not really.

Take Laurie Halse Anderson’s blog – one of the reasons I read it is because the people who comment are all teachers, librarians, authors, and aspiring authors. It’s all adult to adult. She’s got tons of teen readers, but all these teens skip the blog and go right to her e-mail, telling her how much they loved a book or asking if she’ll help with their book report.

Having a presence on the web for people to find you and your work is absolutely a necessity. But putting a lot of time into blogging isn't going to catch the attention of teens unless you're that very cute guy named John Green who cranked out those hilarious vlogs.

So should you keep blogging anyway and try to bring in YA author followers to get your name out there? I’ve added dozens of blogs to my Reader, but I nearly always end up deleting them unless those blogs both teach good stuff and are entertaining. That’s difficult to pull off, especially week after week, when you might spend your time better with your fiction.

In the end, one shouldn’t blog unless you enjoy it for itself. If someone from the future told you you’d never get published, would you still keep posting on your blog? If the answer is no, then maybe you're not wired for it. You won’t have the enjoyment and catharsis of writing the blog to keep you going when everything else looks bleak.

In short, if you’re doing it for anything but enjoying the camaraderie and support of like-minded people, like a beach house in which everyone gets together to share stories and tips and jokes, then maybe you should look around and find where you'd rather spend your time.

~Jamie said...

So, Hannah--I think the questions is... what are we going to do about it? :)

Seriously, I don't know--but a LOT of us agree with you, should we do something? Would it help if we did? Is it something worth fighting over, and if we do fight over it, can we even make a difference?

hannah said...

Sarah--Really interesting, and good for you.

I do have a good thing going for me there--I LOVE YA. I have never had trouble finding stuff on the shelves that I love.

hannah said...

Except...it's been harder in the past few years. And maybe that's just because I'm getting older.

Maybe not.

There are still amazing books being published all the time. Absolutely. But I think a lot of them are getting lost in all the noise of the Big Buzz Books that may or may not be what teenagers really want.

Annikka Woods said...

(Dang it...the internet ate my lovely comment! Let's try this again, shall we?)

A few comments from me here. First, I'm adding this disclaimer. I'm NOT a YA writer. I write MG/Adult sci fi/fantasy/UF/horror (or so I've been told). I read YA books from time to time, but that's because if the story is good it's an easy read. I don't write for this age group, and I don't know enough about the YA blogosphere to make a lot of commentary.

I do have a few things to say, however. I've watched things change over the last 25 years when it comes to books. There was a day when YA lit was tossed in with adult books because they were the same genre (fantasy, sci fi, horror, etc.). Then someone in marketing noticed that tweens/teens flocked to a certain group of authors. This is what started the YA/teen sections in the bookstores.

Once that niche was discovered, authors and publishers jumped on the YA bandwagon and began churning out books that turned a quiet little bubbling brook into a bloody great canyon filled with raging whitewater rapids.

These days, YA books are the "big thing" for people to read - whether it's tweens/teens or their parents. When it comes to the tweens/teens, they want books that are interesting and that relate to their lives. They also want a community that exists where they are to discuss these things.

Hence the blogosphere for the YA authors and their readers. Honestly, how many tweens/teens these days do you know who aren't connected to the internet in some way or form either at home or at school? Most of the people I know with kids in that age group have already given their children cell phones with data packages and complain bitterly about the cost of texting, twittering, myspace surfing, etc. But the majority of kids in these age groups = the very demographic YA authors are writing for - are "wired in" to the blogosphere.

This is both a good thing and a bad thing. If used right, it's a good way to promote your books and see what your readers are thinking. If used wrong, it can make or break someone. It can enlighten, enrich, and uplift people...or it can destroy them.

Good, old fashioned book clubs did something similar without the help of the internet. But now, with the increase in people being online and working with social media, social networking, etc., it's become easier to type in a few words and suddenly you're the center of attention.

In regards to the Goodreads thing, I'm of the mindset that I don't care if you're my friend online. If I don't like your book I'll post a review to let you know why I don't like it - so others can read it and find out something they might not have known.

I think, unfortunately, that even if we wanted to we couldn't excise the need for the blogosphere. I think what we do need is to minimizet he damage and figure out what kind of scalpel/pen/who knows what to use to help mitigate the damage before it truly gets started.

(These are all my random opinions. I'm not as informed about such things as some of you, but this is how I feel.)

hannah said...

Jamie--I seriously, seriously wish I knew.

I think a lot of it HAS to start above us and trickle down. We need to change the way we market books, and we need to give up the concept of big books. And that's not something people want to hear. Or even want to consider.

Annikka Woods said...

Please pardon the typos. I've been up since 3:30 am so I'm not quite as quick to see the mistakes as I normally would be.

maine character said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Trinity Faegen said...

Fascinating post. I admit, the YA community took me by surprise. My background is romance & I came to YA expecting the same sense of community, but it's not. I frequently feel like the new kid at school, with braces and dorky glasses, eating lunch alone. Not that people aren't friendly, but the whole insular bubble seems inpenetrable, and that's what's bizarre to me. Romance writers tend to take in the new kid, say "Tell me about your work," then dole out advice by the pound. There's a lot of back slapping and attagirls, but also brutal honesty, and weirdly, the green-eyed monster rarely shows up. If someone lands an agent or a deal, everyone looks at it like, Hot Damn! There's hope for me!

Maybe the esprit de corps in romance stems from the fact that most romance writers are adult women, and most romance readers are adult women. They actively engage online about the books they read. It seems to make a difference in selling books. You're engaging with those who buy and read your work.

Maybe the disconnect in YA is a generational thing. I actively look for teens on Twitter (that sounds bad, doesn't it?) but they're not there. My romance readers are there, and on Facebook, but those teens are elusive. We're expected to be plugged in, so we join up and make friends and talk to one another about books and business, but because those teens aren't there, we wind up selling ourselves to our peers and colleagues.

In YA, it seems, since the teen readers are texting or IMing each other instead of going online to talk about the book they just read, the main form of real feedback is sales. I never see mentions of PC Cast on Twitter, or on blogs I follow, yet her House of Night books hit the NYT regularly, and they're everywhere. (Incidentally, PC is not on Twitter.) Teens obviously love these books. Where do they talk about them? Not Twitter.

I think when we look outside the YA community, things are clipping along just fine. There are more books for kids than ever before, and they're actually reading them, which is a win, all around. I may be wrong - I frequently am - but I think the online YA community is a drop in the ocean, and what goes on there doesn't affect the market one way or the other. If it affects an author's writing - her subject matter, her style, voice, etc. - I'd suggest she stay off of the Interwebs while she's writing. That way lies madness.

cynjay said...

Michelle Zink had a great post awhile back (of course I can't find it now) where she was polling teens at her school events and the percentage of teens who were even aware of author blogs/twitter accounts and online reviews was teeny tiny. Thinking about that always makes me feel better.

Qtrdmn said...

Great post. I think we must remember why we write. Yes, because we love it, but we do want to get published. I think if you allow it to become high shoolish it will happen.

I write YA, but there are certain YA novels I can't read. However, some of it is just a great story with a MC that happens to be in their teens.

I also read YA, because I have children and as they grow, as a mother I want to know what they are reading.

Thanks for your honesty. And it is something to ponder.

lkmadigan said...

"That's the beauty of the teen audience. Our little circlejerk means nothing to them. :)"

TELL IT, Jamie.

FYI, I write books that won't leave me alone. I write to please myself first, teens second, and the rest of the world last.

Lisa

hannah said...

Okay, I have a question for everyone saying they write for themselves.

Then why are you writing YA?

Assuming you're an adult, there HAS to be a reason you're writing for teenagers. If you're really writing for yourself, why are you writing a YA book? Are you really doing it for your teenage self? Teenage you is all grown up now. So why are you writing YA?

writerjenn said...

Wow, I have a totally different view of the blogosphere.

It's its own community. I think those of us who participate it influence one another, sure, and we develop friendships and we cheer one another's successes and commiserate over low points. And as for honesty: I've said openly on my blog that while I will not post negative reviews of my colleagues' books, I also will not praise a book unless I can do so genuinely--I don't care who wrote it. If I say a book has good dialogue or a funny main character, I absolutely believe that.

But getting back to the influence issue--Are there readers out there who have no idea this community exists? Yes, of course. Many, many, many of them. The blogosphere is a subgroup, not the whole group, of readers. There are other subgroups to be found at schools and bookstores and book festivals and libraries.

I have an internet presence because it's a simple way to reach a certain subset of readers. (Also because I have fun here.) But I don't expect that subset to represent everyone.

I don't mind that many of the readers I interact with online also happen to be writers. Because writers LOVE books. They read a lot of books, they buy books, they buy books for their kids and their classrooms and libraries and stores. They recommend books.

And the YA blogosphere is a place in which there are many teens who keep blogs and discuss books and buy books and go to author events and I find that, frankly, wonderful. I wish it had existed when I was a teen because I would have done exactly that; I probably would've been a book blogger.

My own blog is about writing because, frankly, the other parts of my life are either not interesting or are personal. I figure that the only reason a reader might look me up online is because he or she liked my book, and in that case, the reader might like to know a little about how the book came about. If the reader never looks me up online, that's OK too.

I welcome every reader--whether they find my book via social media or via some other route. Any other route. Because there are so many routes, and the blogosphere is only one of them. It isn't the whole world.

Sarah Harian said...

"There are still amazing books being published all the time. Absolutely. But I think a lot of them are getting lost in all the noise of the Big Buzz Books that may or may not be what teenagers really want."

YES. This especially took me by surprise, how a book could get so much hype before even being available to kids, and how we as writers enhance that hype online between ourselves, even if a lot of us didn't get ARCs, and how we don't even know how teens will take to it.

hannah said...

Well freaking said, Sarah.

jaclyndolamore said...

Man, this has been so fascinating! There are lots of things I could talk about. I'll pick one for now, the writing for yourself vs. writing for an audience thing. Hannah, I think you're right that some people do write based on the trends being discussed in the blogosphere, but...I still think many books sold are not like that. I consider trends in choosing projects, but I definitely don't write to them. A lot of the stuff I'm writing is yanked from the stuff I was writing as a teenager, I'm just better at finishing, structuring and polishing now. Sometimes it does happen to coincide with a trend like my mermaid book, but that plot was something I started writing ten years ago. Obviously I am, and all of us are, inspired by the things around us and the world we live in, but I don't THINK there is a huge group of people trying to recycle ideas in a bubble...sometimes it's more like collective unconscious. But maybe I'm wrong. I don't know what other people are thinking when they write stuff.

Also, I mean, YA books still always have to get through the gatekeepers of agent, editor, marketing. This has always been true. I sure as heck didn't see the books I wanted to read when I was a teen, that's why I ended up becoming a big anime geek back then. Japanese girls' comics seemed very tapped in to my teenage desires in a way American stuff wasn't. I obviously wasn't the only one because anime exploded when I was a teen. When I was a teenager, editors of books were NOT acquiring what I wanted. I don't know if anyone was writing it, but it wasn't on shelves. I preferred manga and indie, creator-owned comic books to pretty much any mainstream fiction available, and it wasn't the comic format so much as it was the type of stories in the pages. There was no big internet community back then to make everyone write the same thing, but I don't know that it mattered. I mean, back then I had even less opportunity to tell writers or publishing people what I wanted to read. I just had to poke around the bookstore and hope something turned up. If I was a teen nowadays, at least I could start blogging and maybe add my voice to the conversation...

...which then brings me to the idea of whether we even should write FOR an audience, or find out what teens want and cater to it. I mean, I do love to know what teens are reading and what they like and don't like, but OTOH, a lot of times you don't know what you want until it's there. If J. K. Rowling had asked me what I wanted years ago, I probably wouldn't have said "Harry Potter!" (okay, I DEFINITELY wouldn't have said that) but that's what she gave us, and it was great.

Plus, I mean, 1000 different teens will want 1000 different things. Just like 1000 adults. Honestly, the things I want now are not that different from what I wanted at 14, the only real difference is my teen self was more willing to tolerate cheesy dialogue and melodrama.

Just some rambling here...

hannah said...

Jaclyn--very, very true. It's impossible to please every teenager, absolutely. But I can't help but want to know that there's some little group of teenagers out there that wants exactly what I write, you know? I want my fucking niche market, damn it.

Trinity Faegen said...

But, then, are we all suck-ups? I tend to get excited about a book because I want to read it. If I say so, am I pimping someone's book? Is that how it's perceived? I can't say, Gee, kids are gonna love, love, love this book! All I can say is, Damn, I wish this book was in my hands, right now!
I love reading like John Lennon loved guitars. I learned to read a long time before I learned to write.
I guess it comes down to the ability to find sincerity, or something.

Annikka Woods said...

Hannah, as I said before I don't write YA. I write what appeals to me. Sometimes I write things that I guess could be classed as YA because that's how I feel that day. I know a few YA writers from the local NaNoWriMo/Spec Fic group and they all say the same thing: they write to please that inner piece of them that loves teenagers and wants to tell them a good story. I know someone who's a published romance writer, part of the RWA, and has written three YA romance novels she's currently shopping around. She said she wrote because her daughter wanted a book she was allowed to read. (My friend writes some racy stuff in her normal romance novels.)

We all have our reasons for writing what we do. We do it for ourselves because we enjoy what we're doing. We do it for our potential audience to hopefully entertain them.

jaclyndolamore said...

And why do I write YA when I'm adult? Well, I may have grown up in some ways...more self-confident...um...more focused? That's about it. My tastes in entertainment haven't changed much, and adult books are mostly blech to me.

Phoebe said...

Then why are you writing YA?

Assuming you're an adult, there HAS to be a reason you're writing for teenagers. If you're really writing for yourself, why are you writing a YA book? Are you really doing it for your teenage self? Teenage you is all grown up now. So why are you writing YA?


Some of this will likely sound tongue-in-cheek or snarky, but I swear it's not meant to be:

-Because I'm playful and passionate, and the literature of adults, and the adult world, make little room for passion or play.

-Because I love the intensity of the teen years--how raw they are, hormonally, physically, and emotionally. Because I find more narrative possibility and potential for conflict in the lives of teenagers.

-Because no one is filled with more possibility than a teenager. Because their futures are open, in terms of career, romance, and who they intend to be. Because teens still have the sense of wonder of childhood but are beginning to see the truth about the adult universe around them, and as they move from one sphere to the next, it sometimes seems like anything is possible.

-Because I find the adult world of literature comparatively stifling, comparatively boring, comparatively depressing. Because I can't pretend I'm not interested in writing books about mermen and aliens, and my experiences in the adult world of literature has shown me how unacceptable these interests are to most adults, and even many adult writers.

-Because adolescent bodies are changing, and when you write science fiction and fantasy about creatures who fundamentally are not human, it's easy to find metaphorical possibilities in the lives of teenagers.

-Because I'm a fundamentally immature person who has yet to feel truly comfortable in adult society, even at the age of twenty-six. Because my mother, like me, says she feels essentially twelve. She's never lost her inner child, either, and so I'm unlikely to lose mine. And don't want to.

hannah said...

Anikka--I love your friend's reason.

Trinity--Yep. It's a truth in advertising deal. It starts out with a grain of truth, but then it rolls down a giant hill of bullshit and everything snowballs from there.

lkmadigan said...

Here's the answer I gave in an interview last year for "Why I write for teens:"

"The teen years are seething with emotions and close friendships and first-times and revelations and music and parties and innocence-versus-experience and emerging identities and …"

That's why I write YA.

hannah said...

Phoebe--Love your reasons as well.

hannah said...

Oh, but ew, this is starting to sound like I think it's my job to validate people's reasons. Ew. That's not what I mean at all.

Seriously, write whatever you want for whatever reason you want. You don't need my approval. I'm just throwing it out as a corollary to the discussion.

jaclyndolamore said...

Hannah: Well, that is understandable. I would love to know more about who is enjoying my book and why. I don't get much feedback from actual teens. I have my first library visit with a book club of actual teens who have actual read the book in a month and I am SO excited to hear from THEM. I mean, it's great to get notes from writer friends or librarians who loved it, but...I want to know I actually got to some of my intended audience...

I do think there are some fans for everything though...whether we hear from them or not. Some of my favorite things are so damn obscure.

OMG I need to stop commenting and get back to work.

Daryl Sedore said...

My 12 year old is reading Stephen King's "It" right now. She just finished "Caught" by Harlan Coben. She's been reading adult books for years. She was never interested in YA and never will be.

I have no problem with the genre, which by the way, is fantastic because I love seeing the younger generation reading too.

My only beef is some of my favorite authors are now writing YA: Harlan Coben, John Grisham, etc.

Let the adults have their fun and the YA have theirs. They need to leave our authors out of it.

Sometimes the greed of the Big Six impedes on the pleasure of our little mix...in genres

clairehennessy said...

I found this post really interesting. (And also found it via Twitter. Which. Hmm. Everyone really is reading the same stuff...)

It's always slightly bizarre talking to actual teenagers about books - while some are aware of the Big Writers according to the blogosphere, many aren't, yet still read quite a bit.

M.J. Horton said...

I'm not sure if this comment will make as much sense as I hope it does. :)

I'm one of those teenagers that knows too much (hehe). All I know is that the blog reviews and commentary are nice, but at the end of the day I know my friends. I can't account for all teens, but I know that I'm much more likely to pick a book based on my friend's positive comments rather than a blurb. What matters in the end is awesome writing. Writing that teens will run and tell their friends about.

It may seem like we're molding sometimes, but we're not. We can't mold teens book interests because they will end up liking whatever it is they like. It doesn't matter if bloggers and publishing folks online say the vampire trend will end in a couple of years. If teens want if to go for five more years then it will. It won't matter if we say mermaids will be the next big thing. If teens buy and say to their friends that aliens will be the next big thing...then aliens it shall be.

I hope most of us blogosphere inhabitants realize that. I think we do. What I think most are looking for companionship even if we say it's for promotion or connections. Even if it doesn't bring on huge sales, I still think it's for someone to share this journey..thing with. You know it's like having a loyal friend to travel with you during a zombie apocalypse. It may not keep you from getting your brains eaten, but at least you have someone to keep you company.

As a teen, I don't even know what teens want. But I will never, ever tell teens what they want. All I can do is write for them and with them in mind. Give them the best writing I can. Then hope that once it's out there in the world that they wanted it. :D

Tawna Fenske said...

I love that you had the balls to say this!

I come from a much different writing community (romance) and I've always watched the YA crowd with fascination. It's like some strange cross between a sorority and a cult -- not that there aren't positives to it, but it's very different from what you see among authors in my genre or mystery or crime-fic or whatever.

I particularly like what you said about YA books becoming books about teenagers for adults. While there are certainly shifts in the audience in my genre, the primary demographic doesn't waver much. With YA, I often find myself wondering, "who are those books for, anyway?"

Food for thought, and thanks for giving such a unique perspective.

Tawna

hannah said...

Zombie metaphors always make me very, very happy. Thanks for your thoughts.

Michelle Witte said...

I have to run at the moment, but I'll be back to read the rest of the comments. (There are so many now!)

But when someone asked what we can do about it, the thought I had was about Deviant Art www.deviantart.com. How many of you have heard about it? Or have you even posted stuff and interacted there?

That's where I've found tons of reading/writing/artistic teens online. I did a little bit on there a few years ago, but I think it very well may be an untapped source for YA writers. Many of them write fan fiction and post their stories and poetry. It's interesting to see the things that they're writing about.

Does anyone know of other websites (creative or not) where teens congregate? I know HarperCollins has InkPop, but I'm not aware if that is doing what they intended with getting teen writers to participate in the online community.

One thing that really taps into the teen mindset is surrounding yourself with them. I'm realizing how insulated I was from teens before I opened the store. For me, this is the best way I can connect. But I'm sure there are other ways, like volunteering at a jr high or high school, youth groups, sports, etc.

I'm curious to hear others' thoughts.

hannah said...

Michelle--Simon Pulse has PulseIt, but I don't know how effective that is either.

Anne said...

As for translating into book sales, I am going to be 27 and almost everyone I know reads YA. Not just my writer friends but other moms from my daughter's school to middle aged women at my husband's job.

Some teens read up, some adults read down. I think many YA readers just want an escape from reality. These are tough times. Just like when the drinking age was lowered to 18 during WWII so that soldiers could cope with the pain of war--adults need an escape from real problems while teens need an escape from temporary problems. Both have a need for the same book.

In the end I think the fact that this is possible, that these cross purchases are even happening, means YA writers must be doing something right.

Renee Collins said...

I'm SO happy for this post!! It perfectly articulates thoughts I've had, but have never put to words.

And since my blog/twitter presence is so pathetically NOT in The Club, it wouldn't have made much of an impact if I had written about it. :)

So, THANK YOU!

elissa said...

I haven't been in the YA scene long enough to feel the cliqueishness, really...I mean, I guess I'm always the sort who's pretty clueless about popularity, anyway--ever since I *was* in high school I did my own thing and attracted friends who could appreciate that.

I have found a lot of support and a sense of community in the YA blogosphere, as well as a wealth of information, but I think it's true what a LOT of previous commenters have said: teens don't pay all that much attention to the authors of the books they like.

I know I teach 8th grade, which is the lower end of the YA audience, but most of them do not have any sense of the authors' online presences unless I call their attention to it (this author is a friend of mine...hey, look at this great blog post by this author, etc.) Many of them don't even know the author's name, haha. A few of them are anxiously awaiting the release of a big buzz book, but more of them find out about good books later--through recommendations by their friends, from librarians (where they are still lucky enough to have access to librarians), from their teachers (this is where I do most of my promoting of fellow authors...to actual teens!), and from whatever the publishers/booksellers have given prominence in the stores. In that last case, I really agree that a lot of the diversity and availability of good books is limited by the practice of building buzz for a tiny number of titles.

Um, I hope I was making sense. I've been thinking about this topic a lot since we first started talking about it, and I'm not sure what the answer is, or how can we as YA authors ever really know what teens are going to want to read.

Nick said...

I don't think it's an issue. If you write only to *current* young adults, your target audience is going to continually outgrow YA. I think the reason YA is so successful is because it's so character driven and for readers who don't want to feel like they are reading a textbook. YA is easier reading than some "adult" books. I don't have to feel like I need to map out where in the certain city things happen to be, because the reading is focused on fun.

I wasn't reading novels for about 5 years, and then I picked up a few YA books and fell back in love again. I eventually drifted back to "for adult" books and after reading ten or so of them, I got bored and stopped reading for 3 or 4 months. I'm back to YA and feel the reading drive again.

Anna Scanlon said...

It's true, but the Internet is changing almost all industry and we're all figuring out how that's affecting technology. Naturally, it's nice to meet other writers, especially when your profession is so solitary.

I do see what you're saying about writers writing for other writers and I definitely think that's valid. However, people undoubtedly do the same kissing up and giving favorable reviews to their buddies in ANY industry--not just publishing. But you're right that this one is about a connection to your audience. It's not easy to find the right balance...

girlsinthestacks.com said...

Please note I am not a writer but a librarian who is a lover of all books.

Maybe the label is wrong? What is YA vs what is adult? There are plenty of YA books were the line drawn is thin and could easily be an adult book. (The Strongbow Saga by Judson Roberts, for example)

And is it wrong to write a YA book that adults love? Writers should write the stories they need to tell, stories that are bursting forth that can’t be abated till written down completely. If it is a book that appeals to teens only then great, if it is a book that appeals to teens and adults then I think that is great too.

As for disingenuous reviews, well that is appalling.

However, counting down days until a book release, or finding a new fictional heartthrob...to the mundane readers (adult) that is an outlet of escape from realities of everyday life; cooking, cleaning, chasing toddlers and PTA meetings. It’s our passage to another world. We do that not only with YA, but adult books too (Sookie Stackhouse anyone? The Passage?). A good book is a good book.

Great questions and comments...even though I probably missed the whole point of your post!

Lisa Amowitz said...

I think the online YA community is a wonderful thing! As I've moved slowly (very slowly) from outsider to fringy insider my confidence and understanding of the business has grown and I've learned so much over the years. I don't necessarily think teen readers are as interested in the authors of their favorite books as they are in the characters, so I see absolutely nothing wrong with this community we have built. Most other arts communities have had this for years. It's about time writers have their own industry community. To some more successful authors this may feel shallow, like posturing, but know that you are helping to inspire and inform new writers everyday. So don't sweat it. We're all just people, trying to follow our muse. Once our book is in the hands of a reader (and what's wrong if our readers are adults and college kids? I teach college and a very good chunk of my students who do read LOVE YA.) YA is eternal. It is coming of age, always a mainstay in literature. I wouldn't want to write any other genre. And let me make this clear--I am writing first and foremost for ME. If someone else wants to read it, that would be heavenly and I hope they do. And I love chatting with writers on Twitter, just as I love meeting other liberals, people who love to cook and people who are obsessed with certain TV shows. EVERYONE is connecting. Not just us!

gae polisner said...

I haven't read all the comments... so, if I'm repeating, I'm sorry. I think this is a great post and VERY worth exploring, but I have to say -- maybe because I'm older, in my forties,(phew, maybe one of the few good things about being so old?) i have to say, NONE of this applies to me. I write for YA's stories that interest me, about feelings I felt as a teenager, that I still feel as an adult today.

I don't write for any particular audience though I do hope an audience -- especially of teens -- will find me and appreciate me, and moreso, my books, and nothing I read "out there" influences what I try to write, or how I try to write it. What still influences me in that regard is any gorgeous book that makes me want to better my craft and the stories I try to tell. Maybe because I write realistic fiction that borders on literary (hopefully classic, funny, poignant and smart), the social networking doesn't one iota affect my writing, or what I choose to write, except that sometimes I have to put earmuffs on so the chatter doesn't make me panic or doubt what I am doing here or whether my book will live up to all the hype out there. (sometimes this takes two pairs of earmuffs and a pair of blinders as well).

I do think all the YA bloggers are doing a great service for YA in terms of awareness and sales (although I wonder if there will be a pop of the bubble down the road) but I also wonder about all the 4.5 and 5 star reviews and what that constitutes for a young reader versus what it might constitute for me or for a staid book reviewer.

And, btw, I am constantly amazed by the talent and profusion of young adult young adult writers. ;)

I don't know if I've really said anything here.

But it's a great post and great food for thought as we go.

Girlinbetween said...

You're right Hannah and this post is really thought provoking and brilliant.

I just think people should write what they want to write. Write the story they want to tell, not what they "think" they should be writing.

I didn't really see the cliques in the YA community until now, lol. It just like high school though, people go to groups that they fit in or are drawn to. Is that a bad thing? I'm not really sure to be honest. I'm just a lone wolf who does whatever the heck I want, lol.

I guess in a way I'm not your typical teenager and you're right in the sense that "we know too much." I'm not published or have an agent and I don't plan to get one any time soon. I really just write for myself right now and my blog is just a medium for me to just be silly and have some sort of an outlet. I just try to be myself and be real and I think my followers are drawn to it. Well, I hope that's the reason, lol!

I think some people have an internet presence because they believe its "expected" of them but I think in the end of the day teenagers will read whatever the heck they want whether its getting amazing reviews on goodreads or not. (None of my friends even know what goodreads is)

Lisa Amowitz said...

What Gae said. I'm even older than you, Gae and I have my own teens and I am STILL fascinated by that time in my life.

As far as I am concerned, communication is never a bad thing, and cliques, as I recall are mean and exclusionary whereas the YA community is inclusive and wonderful!

houndrat said...

I agree with whoever commented that some writers navigate toward writers at similar spots in their careers, which may give a perception of cliquishness. I don't think it's a snobby thing, though. As a mom, I know I gravitate toward other moms with kids the same ages as mine. Not to be exclusive, but because worries and interests change based on which particular stage of development your child is at. It's kind of the same with writing.

I'm not saying that all writers do this, or that there's no value in published authors befriending newbies, not at all. Just that when pubb'd authors do pal around with other pubb'd authors, it makes a lot of sense.

Also, I think social media is a GREAT way to goof around and de-stres, and face it: us writers often need a good de-stressing. #magicgayfish gave me a few laughs, and on some days, a few laughs are freaking invaluable.

So I say, use social media if you like, have fun, but above all, write the book that really, really speaks to YOU.

:)

Liyana said...

You know, I've been thinking about this a long time. As a book blogger, I get to know pretty much firsthand about the new books, new stories and new authors. And I do feel that there are clubs in the whole scene. Is contemporary the new wave? Aliens the new vampires? Look, this author is much more approachable on the net, etc etc. And I feel it's kind of my responsibility or at least check them out, find out what their books are about.

As a teenager and a book buyer, I have to say: I don't care if a certain book is hyped, or if the author blogs or tweets. And honestly, if I wasn't a book blogger, I wouldn't know of most of these books and authors or care that they're out there, unless that topic or genre happens to be something I like.

Life was much easier before I was a book blogger. I saw a book I liked, I picked it up. I didn't feel the obligation to check out books I didn't like.

Gotta admit, sometimes it feels like my reason for blogging about books has changed, and that my audience now is not the same audience I had when I started.

However, on the plus side, the YA blogosphere is a fountain of useful information and support for aspiring authors. I just don't think it has much impact on teens in general.

/endjumbleofwords

Liyana said...

Mmmph, my above comment sounded very ungrateful. I really love the YA blogosphere and the people I've met there. Just meant to say that teens, we're headstrong and we'll buy certain books because we like them, regardless of bad reviews, fake reviews and so on.

Lisa said...

It's funny because I just started blogging and seeing how everyone already knows and loves each other took me right back to high school. I was sure I would never fit in with all the cool authors! Your post at least gives me a little hope that having an awesome blog doesn't necessarily mean you have a great YA book.

Carolina Valdez Miller said...

Some really great questions being asked here. I think we do get a little self-involved sometimes and get wrapped up in the business and promotion of YA--and what it does for us, what WE get out of it--forgetting perhaps that teenagers don't really care about any of it, only the books. My thinking is they like what they like, regardless of what we have to say about it. We may try to influence--and may ultimately have some impact, but I think it's fairly marginal influence when it comes to teenagers. For the most part, I think our little online universe will influence the adult buyers more than the teens, and if the books we like also happen to be the ones most teenagers like, then the authors of those books can consider themselves lucky.

Although, I'm not really sure teenagers care if we're writing for them or for ourselves as long as they can find books they like on the shelves. So, in that sense, we are irrelevant, and what we think doesn't matter. And that's okay, I think. We shouldn't go into it pinning our opinions as the last word (or even the most significant) on YA.

And yet, I don't think there's anything wrong with YA being read by more than just teenagers, and if we can get excited about it, well, that's okay, too. The problem I have is when the support system we've established in our little blogosphere feels less like support for aspiring and debut novelists and even established novelists, and more like an exclusive club. But I'm not sure how to combat that. You tend to support the people you feel most connected to. And ultimately, if I could be so bold, it's an entertainment industry, which is highly competitive. So, what happens in such an industry? I scratch your back, you scratch mine. Unfortunately, the teenagers seem to get lost in the shuffle. But I know the most gratifying experience as a writer of YA has been to receive positive feedback from my teen betas. Surely it's the same for other writers of YA. So why do we keep forgetting about them?

Superb post, Hannah. I've been thinking about this so much that I had to post on the issue myself.

Jennifer Shirk said...

Great post! Thanks for saying exactly what I've been thinking. (Well, not exactly, but pretty close) LOL
I've often wondered who the REAL target audience is for some of those YA books out there.

Shelli (srjohannes) said...

I hear what you are saying. I would say keep in mind that since we are more immersed in the industry - we get the buzz sooner, get ARCs sooner. I think when you see the lines of kids at bookstores for signings - we are obviously touching them. The wave just hits us sooner.

Shannon O'Donnell said...

I hopped over from Valerie @ I Should Be Writing to read your fabulous post! Wow. :-)

Bethany Mattingly said...

I hopped over from Valerie's blog too! I'm just amazed by this post. I actually hadn't thought about this issue before, but now that you've brought it to my attention...I'm really wondering about the issues you've brought up. I just hope that adults can be in the YA genre and teens can still get what they want/need from it as well.

MelissaDavis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Maggie said...

At this point in my writing life, I write for myself. I don't have an audience, and I might never have an audience. But I can't stop writing. And I don't want to start writing.

I want to be published one day, of course, but there's a pretty good chance I never will be, so I can't really say I'm writing for a specific audience at this point. I write YA because I still feel like a YA, and I really just can't imagine writing for adults right now (sorry, adults).

Writing is a major stress reliever for me. I've shared some of it with a few critique partners, but most of it is on my hard drive, seen by my eyes only, and I'm honestly okay with that.

Maggie said...

Oops, I meant "And I don't want to STOP writing."

Laura Pauling said...

Thought provoking post. I try and separate myself from the blogging/twitter world when it comes to writing. Sometimes popularity blogging and on twitter comes from being agented and published. Or because you're a great blogger.

But I think that book popularity is more about the writing. Two separate worlds. Just because b/c a writer is popular with other writers doesn't automatically put her on the best seller list. Writers have to blog b/c they love it not just to sell books. As LiLa pointed out today.

April (BooksandWine) said...

Very fascinating post. I'm an adult reader of YA, although I don't feel very much like an adult, as I am 23 and don't have a mortgage or children. I do remember in high school there were only two author blogs that I looked at -- Sarah Dessen's and Libba Bray's and that was mainly to see when/if they had a new book coming out. When I was a teen, honestly I could care less about the writing process or word count. I could have cared less about online presence of an author. I mean, right now, I read like two author blogs. I'm too busy reading great books to care about where an author is in their writing process. Whatever. Just write the damn book. I really don't think things have changed much from when I was a teenager.

As for author review of books, I don't read them. When I seek out reviews, I want no-holds barred honesty, not a review rife with fear because god forbid you piss someone off. I won't lie, I see that a LOT among my fellow YA bloggers, because this fear of reprisal doesn't just seem to affect authors writing a review. I see people who give every single freaking book a glowing review and I often wonder if we read the same book. Heaven forbid the publishers don't send an ARC because someone reviews something honestly. I often see reviewers who are very, very buddy-buddy with some authors on twitter, which again, when I read the reviewer's post on said author's work, I get a little bit suspicious.

Rock on for this post, and sorry for the slight de-rail on reviewers.

hannah said...

Loved the de-rail, April! So freaking relevant.

GhostFolk.com said...

I love this post. I love this post. I love this post.

Lyvia said...

Wow! I just got linked here from a friend. Who are you people? -I'm so out of the bubble...just a writer about to release a novel that has a 17 year old protagonist. I didn't choose to be called YA writer -it is what category I will be put into. I used to teach teenagers, I love teenagers and I wrote with them in mind-simple, honest. I am still that same teenager inside that I used to be, if you're not I don't know how you plan to reach out.I call it sharing and I hope they like the stories I tell. PS I only got on internet after I finished my book so I'm lost as usual

Jess said...

Wow. Those are some really great insights. (And a lot of comments, so if I'm repeating someone, please forgive me...)

I was at the library the other day and specifically looked for some books written by the authors I have started to associate with online. I also picked out a few by people I've never heard of. When I got home and started reading, I found that I didn't like some of the books by authors I "know", but I LOVE some of the ones written by the authors I don't. Part of me felt guilty for not liking the books everyone else online has been hyping, and I felt that I would never be able to give a completely honest review for fear of hurting someone's feelings.

But after reading your post, I realized some important things:

-Paying so much attention to meeting authors online has caused me to overlook other books that are just as deserving of my attention. I wonder how many talented but "shy" authors we are missing out on by being so caught up in the online buzz trends.
-(like you said) "Hype" doesn't necessarily match "like". Just because the books are being tweeted about by the people who know the author doesn't mean that EVERYONE is going to like them. And that's perfectly okay. If we all liked the same things, life would be really really boring.
-Giving a biased review based on my worries about offending someone doesn't do anyone any good. Constructive criticism in the form of an honest, thoughtful review can help writers everywhere improve the craft.

I don't know if any of that made any sense. Just my thoughts.

Thanks, again, for such a great post!

liakeyes said...

Ahh... (feeling a fresh breeze blowing through my brain). Thanks for raising such worthwhile questions for us all to consider!

hannah said...

Jess--Absolutely BRILLIANT points.

Janiel Miller said...

Very impressed with your thoughts in this post - and not just because you are the same age as my daughter and I could be your mother and holy cow I just freaked myself out. (Don't know how I got this old) I read YA. Used to be a closet YA reader. Now I'm out because everyone I know is out. Most of us read YA because it is simply better than a lot of the mainstream stuff on the shelves. Great characters. Imaginative plots and settings. Wonderful writing. Gets to the point quickly, hits it hard, ends well. Our lives are stressful. YA often relieves it.

I'm in the midst of raising teens and I work with teens a lot. I think it's a good bet that they don't care a bit what goes on between us on the internet. They're teenagers. They're going to do and say and read what they want. Our cliques, or whatever, aren't going to change that. It might be healthier for US if we change that, but as long as we are writing things YA's want to pick up, they are going to be happy.

I have faith that young adult readers will be able to sift through the offerings and find the books that are written for them. And I have faith that the publishing industry still knows how to sell to the people who are buying - regardless of what we bloggers are saying.

Mostly I think we need to take periodic fruit smoothie breaks and hang out by the pool for awhile. This whole world is too stressed out.

And btw, it may be because I'm a newbie and am still working on my first novel, but I haven't seen the cliquishness or snarkiness. Mostly just really helpful, insightful blogs - like this one.

Thanks for making us think.
To answer your question, I write for YA's because I love them. They're clear-eyed, excited, burgeoning, filled with possibilities and imagination, and loaded with power and goodness. It also helps that my inner 16 year-old is still alive and well.

hannah said...

Love your answer, Janiel--thanks so much for your thoughts.

amkuska said...

As a teenager, I read thousands of books and never one of them came from a review. I would either go to the bookstore myself and patiently turn over EVERY single book to look at the back cover, or I would call up a reading friend and find out what she was reading. You'll get more sales from one phone call to a friend in Teen Land then you will from anything from Good Reads.

in which a girl reads said...

Ooh, awesome post Hannah! :)

Speaking as a teen who knows too much, I don't think the online community has much effect on regular teens. Last year, before I started getting into the YA community and before I started up my book blog, even though I was a really avid reader, I never did much online YA-wise other than read the occasional Amazon review or look up release dates for sequels to books I liked. I didn't visit author websites or blogs. I didn't know they existed.

Basically, I just went into the bookstore and picked whatever-the-heck I thought looked interesting. I think almost all teens still do that, perhaps with their friends recs in mind.

I love the YA blogosphere, but I do realize that a lot of the posts are really similar. Personally, I to just post about books I like (and I'll admit I have really particular tastes in books that don't always match up to the average teen.)

I do sometimes have a dilemma when I'm approached for ARCs and blog promotion by publicists and publishers and authors. I end up saying no to about 80% of these emails. I know I should be saying no, because they're asking me to promote books I would never even read or if I did, wouldn't like that much, and I don't think it's honest of me to be promoting these books that I don't even love.

However, it gets hard to say no sometimes. Publishers/publicists send out mass emails to about every blogger out there about posting trailers and teasers and such, which is why you sometimes see 20 posts on the same thing on the same day. Or they send out all their review copies at the same time, and you get a lot of hype for a particular book since that's the book that's getting the most ARCs printed, and all the snazzy online gadgets custom-made for bloggers.

It is something that I'm increasingly having to decide between--post only what I like, or work more with publicists etc and develop a relationship.

I feel that book blogs though, aren't supposed to be indicative of trends. They're supposed to be about what the blogger thinks about they books they're reading, and they books they like reading, because after all, who wants to spend hours per week on a blog about books they don't like?

I think though, it's the community part in the YA blogosphere that's most important. I really doubt the YA blogosphere has that huge of an affect on regular teen writers, though.

But maybe it does on writers.

Christina Auret said...

Regarding your last question: Teenagers probably want what all readers want: A good story. :P What that is is another question entirely.

What I recall from my own teenage reading (years and years and years ago, well about 7 anyway) is this: I would read anything to find an author I liked and then I would read everything by that author that I could get my hands on. I never cared about genre, I chased voice and the ability to tell a good story.

I don't think many teenagers read only YA, I don't think they particularly care if a book is considered YA or not. Most of the people who love your YA books will read your MG book, because they trust you to write something they would consider to be a good story.

I don't think the route you take to writing a good story matters. If you write a good book people will read it. Even if it doesn't contain vampires.

Lora said...

I love this thought-provoking post and all the comments here! I'm just getting into the whole YA community as I'm working on my first YA fantasy novel, so I haven't seen the clubbiness yet. Now that I've read this post, it makes me wonder just how much the blog and website will help me connect with readers one day. But it has been fun to start meeting other writers, seeing what people are working on, what books are being queried, and what's coming out in YA. I love it, and it's all part of making connections in our niche of the writing community. So that in itself is relevant. I do think it's possible to also be relevant for our readers as well, at least the ones who are into keeping up with their favorite authors or discussing their favorite stories online.

I agree with Christina that if the book is good, people will read it. And I also think if the book is really good, people will get online and be part of fan forums, and fanfic, and find all sorts of creative outlets. Or maybe the Harry Potter fandom is a rarity...

Emily said...

If your question is whether or not on-line interaction between YA authors has overwhelmingly impacted what is being written and published for YAs, I think you have it a little bit backwards and it would be helpful if you had a better understanding of the history of the genre.

The YA market has never been LESS driven by librarians and authors. Pre-Harry Potter/Twilight (and yes, there was YA pre-Twilight), YA was primarily aimed at the school and public library market. As those budgets dwindled and "blockbuster" YAs caught on, publishers became aware of teens with their disposable income as their primary target. The YA market is now more reader driven than it has ever been.

And this is directed at many of your commenters here. Learn the history of YA, people. You all act as though the genre only came into existence when you noticed it or when you started writing. That's like saying that green beans didn't exist until the first time you ate some.

YA has existed as a defined genre in bookstores and libraries since the sixties. Do a little research.

hannah said...

Emily, respectful is the name of the game here. You're seriously not catching any flies that way.

phyllis sweetwater said...

Some of us adults really want to relive our teenage lives without the mistakes. A YA provides a viable daydream, while not shirking our adult duties. So you're selling your YA to adults. At least you are still selling it, and to a receptive customer. On the other hand, the introspection and struggle of a teen is personal and intimate. They are battling within themselves and against themselves. No teen I know is going to divulge those feelings to me. Times may change, but the human condition doesn't. So I can only rely on my own memories. Which means I can't rely on yours. That is why I don't twitter with other YA authors. I have to pull it out of myself. Maybe that alone is what will give my character the oppurtunity to be believable.

janni said...

As far as I can tell, the adult SF/fantasy community is online and talking amongst themselves at least as much as the YA community, since at least the late 80s, and at cons before that. So I don't think this is unique to YA.

We give each other biased Goodreads reviews because we don't want to piss anyone off. We tell people we love books we haven't read just because we're friends with the author.

I can honestly say I've never done either of these things. I don't think they're at all universal.

I'm a little dismayed, actually, that there are places where these things are taken for granted.

But the thing is: if things are feeling too insular, I think the answer is to get out and meet new people, and not limit oneself to whatever circles one is most comfortable interacting in. YA intersects adult fantasy and mainstream, as well as middle grade and younger books--and then there are all the non-writing focused communities on the Internet, too (and off the Internet, for that matter).

I think we only live in a bubble if we let ourselves.