Thursday, March 13, 2008


Susan Adrian blogged on this subject a couple of weeks ago, but I thought it could bear repeating here. I've noticed a trend lately, and I'm beginning to find it slightly offensive. Why...why do people think writing Young Adult is easy? Almost as though it doesn't take any "real" skill because teenagers are the intended audience. That knocking out a YA is quick and simple and something you can manage by simply snapping your fingers. VOILA...and a novel will spring fully formed from your forehead. (Gah, I gotta figure out how to do that!)


I have to tell you, YA has a whole set of challenges that are just as complicated as writing an adult novel -- perhaps even more so because you're also limited in word count. Try taking your 120K story and condensing it into the 40-60K norm for YA. Trust me, it ain't easy. (G)

Not only that, but the topics and emotions covered in YA are so much more...raw and immediate. In addition to that, you have to balance the way you choose to tell your story lest you alienate any particular group -- parents, libraries, teens who aren't mature enough to read your work...teens who are too mature.... the list goes on! And don't get me started on KNOWING the market, but more importantly...TEENS.

I don't know a lot of teens. BUT, I do read a TON of YA these days. I watch teenage oriented television programs...I listen, I learn, and I try to apply that knowledge to my books. When I see someone who doesn't even attempt to observe these things before/during the process of writing a YA, I have to shake my head in confusion. That's like trying to write about the Middle Ages without ever reading a history book. Why would you do that? And why would you expect to be successful in conveying the period accurately?

Now, I have to fully admit that I thought writing YA might be easier than writing an adult novel. Boy did I have it wrong--and I VERY quickly realized that--especially when my anticipated 65K book turned into a story that would need at least twice, if not triple that amount of space to tell. (g) Yes, in some ways it's easier, but in others, so much more difficult.

In the same way, I find myself somewhat frustrated with people who refuse to read YA because it just doesn't interest them. NO offense to anyone who's told me this. LOL. It's just that to me it's like saying you're not interested in good stories. Let me tell you -- I've read about 40 books in the last 6 months or so and the YA's are kicking the adult novels' asses. Of the 17 top rated books I have on Facebook, 13-14 are YA's, and I _alternate_ one adult, one YA in my tbr pile (mostly). And of my poorly rated books, not one of 'em is a YA. No, I'm not saying there aren't any bad YA's out there. LOL. But perhaps this says something about where the bar is set if you want to make it in that genre.

Just something to think about. :)

That said, I discovered a new slang word (well, not sure it's all that new) while watching the Gauntlet on MTV. See, I really do watch these shows. Oh, I also heard it used on Making The Band. (VBG)

New word: Salty. Meaning, bitchy or grumpy...sarcastic perhaps. I've made use of it already in BTPM.


I rounded in my seat and flipped him off. “He’s my friend, a$$hole.”

Vince narrowed his dark eyes. “Who you talking to, b&tch?”

“I’m talking to—“

“Hey, don’t get salty, babe.” David draped his arm over my shoulders and turned me back around. “Chill.”


Heh, what a funny word. (g)


Carol A. Spradling said...

Hi Jen,
When someone doesn't know everything involved, it's easy to make an uninformed decision. In a way, it's a compliment to YA writers. You guys are making it 'look' easy. Wait until they get in there. When they see all of the variables that come into play, they will realize what it takes to produce a decent book. While it is frustrating to hear, know that they are very uninformed.

Tara Parker said...

I'm over halfway through with "Looking for Alaska", by John Green, and I have to admit I'm a little confused as to why this would be classified as YA. Except for the protag being a teenager (16), there are more adult themes than not.

It's very interesting, but I'm not sure that the 12-15 age group would be the best target - which is what I always considered YA to be for.

What do you think?

Hélène Boudreau said...


(That's to substitute everything I WANT to say on the subject of wannabe YA authors who DON'T READ YA??? but I shall refrain)

Suffice to say, I agree with everything you've said.

It trickles down to writing for younger audiences too. I write 150 word articles for a kid's science magazine with a 6-9 year old target audience.

Describing the discovery of a new species of Giant Elephant Shrew in the remote rain forests of Tanzania at a grade 2 level? I can easily spend 15 hours on those three paragraphs(!)

I've been working on Lobster Love and Fish Squishes off and on for over two years. It's 1,000 words long.

But again, the final product is "supposed" to look easy. Which I guess is where the misconception comes from.

DA said...

Okay, I have to ask...who are these people? Have the actually written YA? Have they written anything for that matter?

Jen, you can't let uninformed, (arrogant?) people get to you. You know what you do is hard work, and you're the only person whose opinion matters when it comes to your work. The critics can go, well, wherever it is they go to fuel their sour souls.



Jennifer Hendren said...


That's a good way to look at it. (g)


Jennifer Hendren said...


Hmm, I haven't read it so I can't say anything about that particular book. However, I will say that YA's are dealing with very mature themes these days. One of the reasons I, as a *cough* older person (VBG), enjoy them a great deal. And one of the reasons the line between YA and adult is VERY blurred.

I think sometimes it's right there on the line and it all boils down to a marketing call. THE BOOK THIEF being one example -- marketed as adult in Australia (author's home country) and YA here.

I'm putting LOOKING FOR ALASKA on my wishlist. (g)


Jennifer Hendren said...


YES! You bring up an excellent point. It must get even worse the younger the intended audience. I remember when I joined kidcrit I thought to myself that picture books had to be fairly easy (word count being so low and all)...maybe I should give them a shot.

Then I heard about people revising the same 1K or less words for several years...having gone through umpteen million revisions... and well, I thanks. (g) PLUS, I took a step back and realized I hadn't read a single picture book since I was that age!! What authority did I have to even try?? Maybe someday, who knows...but I'd have to read a few hundred of them first. LOL.

And I agree with you and Carol -- perhaps the "look of ease" is the reason people all assume it is. If they only knew. LOL.


Jennifer Hendren said...


Well, I wouldn't want to name names. (VBG) But yeah, I hear "maybe I should give YA a shot since they're so short and easy" from a lot of different corners. Plus with the boom in YA, I think a lot of people are trying to jump on the TWILIGHT train and ride the buzz Meyer's created. (I'm proud to say, I didn't read her until I was over halfway finished with BTPM. :) Not sure why that matters to me, but it does. lol.)

There are a couple of people I know who are writing YA, depending greatly on others to inform them about teens and the market. I don't mean to knock what they're doing because perhaps they'll be very successful in the end. I just don't understand how the idea even struck them to begin with if teenagers aren't a crowd that they feel a natural affinity towards. And yeah, I've heard it admitted that the reason they're trying is the shortness and ease of writing in the genre. Can't get much more specific than that. (G)


Susan Adrian said...

Sing it, sister. :)

Jennifer Hendren said...


I knew you'd appreciate this. (g)


Deniz Bevan said...

Let them try writing an intriguing, coherent, original YA and then we'll talk!

Jennifer Hendren said...


Hear! Hear! (g)


MM said...

Thank you so much for writing this. As a struggling YA writer, I get very frustrated when everyone thinks its easy. When people ask why I write YA I simply say, its what I like to read best. The good YA novels have fully developed characters, plots, and themes in 45,000 words. Its no easy task.

Jenna Riley

Jennifer Hendren said...


You're welcome! Thank you so much for dropping in. Seems I've hit on a definite issue for YA writers today. The word count restraints alone make me want to rip my hair out. (g)

Nice blog, btw! :)


Precie said...

"I just don't understand how the idea even struck them to begin with if teenagers aren't a crowd that they feel a natural affinity towards."

Well, I'll admit I'm more than a little guilty of this...of being interested in writing YA even though I don't feel at all in touch with today's YA culture. I don't think YA fiction is any easier than adult fiction. But I am genuinely interested in writing YA part to draw some kids who don't necessarily feel in touch with today's YA culture themselves.

But easy? Heck, no. For goodness sake, even writing short stories isn't EASY.

Jennifer Hendren said...


What an interesting reason for wanting to write YA. I'll admit, my characters tend to be outlyers when it comes to modern trends and social "norms" -- so I totally understand where you're coming from. Unfortunately, they have friends who dig that more superficial outlook...HEH. Makes me angry most times, listening to kids put each other down, but all part of the game, I guess. (g)


Beth said...

Interesting how words change over time. "Salty" used to mean coarse, earthy, racy. Now it's grumpy. (g)

Jennifer Hendren said...


LOL -- really? I've never heard it used before. Well, I guess I've heard several teenagers and twenty-something's using "salty" for a while. It just took some time for it to sink in. (g)