Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Are We Marginalizing Teenagers?

Hannah Moskowitz, author of BREAK (2009), recently posted about the effects of the YA Internet universe on the actual writing of YA. In this blog post, she asks, “Has the internet community changed YA?” and goes on to raise some really good questions about who we, as authors of YA, are writing for. Please take a moment to read her blog post titled, “What Are We Doing to YA?” It’s gutsy and majorly intriguing—and definitely something I’ve been thinking about.

To summarize, Hannah asks if we writers of YA are not really writing for teenagers, but rather writing for the Internet community. In other words, are we writing what real life teen readers (not blogging teens) actually want to read? Or are we writing to the tastes and tunes of our fellow writers, bloggers and librarians?
 
To take this thought a step further, are we marginalizing the teens we’re actually supposed to be writing for by not giving them what they want, regardless of what we want and what we believe to be trends (and promote as trends by collectively promoting the same type of books, themes, and even the type of guys that we find  attractive).
 
Valid questions, no? But it also makes me wonder…can we even call ourselves YA authors if we’re writing for adults who read YA? Indeed, are we trying to write crossovers by actually writing books for adults that might be enjoyable by teens, rather than writing for teens, hoping adults might like it as well?

The thing is, the Internet community is often an important consideration in the promotion of books (especially with YA). So, surely, we should keep the Internet community in mind when writing our books, right?

Alright, maybe it’s a moot point; it’s quite possible that the tastes of the Internet community—our own tastes—could actually be the same as the teenagers we write for. But what are the odds?  Hannah said it best: “Are the boys we swoon over the ones THEY find hot?”

I know I’ve definitely wondered about this issue myself. But it was particularly interesting to me that Hannah was the one that posed these questions, especially considering that she is a teenager herself—albeit a gifted, well respected author (and an amazing writer), so hardly an average teenager. But if she (being perhaps closer to the target audience than a good many of us) is not always sure of what teenagers want, how could those of us long since removed from adolescence possibly know? And is this why we might delude ourselves into thinking that what we want is what they want?

Perhaps all we can really do is give it our best shot, like really dig deep and listen to that seventeen year old voice inside our heads—and hope our future sales will show us we were on the right track.

Then again, does it matter? If you can sell “YA” books and be successful no matter who you’re targeting as the main audience, does it make a difference who you are writing for?

Actually, that thought kind of scares me. But what do you think?

35 comments:

  1. Wow--amazing post Carol! It is such a fine line I think...

    For me, I go back a couple years to when I was working in a high school. I had very good relationships with many of the students, and I learned two very important things about what it's like to be a teen in high school:

    1) high school has changed a LOT since I was there
    2) high school has NOT changed since I was there

    Make any sense? Maybe not, but I promise it's true :)

    As for who I write for... I really just write the story that comes to me. It's during revision that I start to consider audience.

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  2. To ask what teens really want is to suppose that teenagers are some kind of homogenized group, which they're not.

    I think our best chance to write something good and authentic is to write what WE'D want to read. If you can figure out what your sixteen-year-old self would have wanted, all the better. But trying to write for some faceless, average "teen" is just like trying to write for the market; in the end it's probably going to result in a watered-down, empty kind of writing because it doesn't really come from a place of passion and truth inside of you.

    I do find a lot to agree with when she talks about the YA blogosphere feeling clubby. I may have a biased view since YA is what I write, but it does seem like there's a LOT more happening on the internet for YA authors and aspiring authors, more websites, more Twitter presence, more general mingling between all the participants. And THAT may be what's more at issue here than individual writers writing or not writing for average teenagers.

    It's an interesting question.

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  3. it's an interesting thought. I'm sure there may be some people who do write for the internet, so to speak, but i think most people, or at least, most writers who are trying to break into the business, are just trying as hard as they can to write the best book possible. The audience can sort itself out

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  5. Sorry, didn't look before posting ;o)

    Great post! I did read Hannah's post the other day (excellent BTW) and I came up with the same questions.

    My take? Feelings are universal, we could explain what our guys look like, talk like, act like, etc, but in the end it's all about how it makes the reader feel. At least for me it is.

    I think if the MC finds the boy hot,desirable, the reader will. You will have to use a voice that is relatable, not stuffy, especially for YA. But then again, maybe some teens like to read about stuffy teens? Who knows? It's so subjective, it would be hard to pinpoint a definitive answer.

    I'm with Sara, I just write the story that comes to me. I love YA, if I love it, hopefully others will too ;o)

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  6. This is an interesting discussion that's been circulating the interwebs. Bottom line (for me) is this: Write what you want. You'll figure the rest out. Write what you want to read. If you like reading YA books (whether written for the internet/blogging world/adult crossovers/trolls) write the YA book you want to read.

    I have two major wips. One is rather high concept (in my opinion)and I was told by my SCBWI workshop critiquer it was "the most entertaining thing [she's] read in a while." Awesome! Right?

    But...I'm almost more in love with my quiet literary thing. Which one do I focus on? I don't know!

    I'm just going to keep working on them. I'm writitng things I would want to read. That's the "luxury" of being an unpublished writer: exploring what you want and write it.

    Everything else will sort itself out. If you start writing for blog communities or friends, you're writing for the wrong reasons.

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  7. These questions scare me too. But I'm thrilled people are asking them. I think that is why we are YA. Or at least I hope that is what YA really stands for. Asking the scariest most world changing questions. I hope those are also the books we are writing.

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  8. So much to think about here - wow. Some great questions. I'm not a YA writer, but I admit I have wondered why so many adults now are reading YA. I'm not saying there's anything bizarre about that but I'm just wondering *why*. All the big books recently seem to have been targeted to teenagers but it's adults who are buying. Interesting trend!

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  9. These questions are ones I grapple with a lot too. I've sometimes wondered the opposite--Does my discomfort with the clubby YA blogosphere make valueless the enthusiastic endorsement of real teens who read and love my work? It worries me. All I really have to give is an authentic emotional experience from my inner teen shaped into something moving because I have enough (adult) distance to be capable of shaping it.

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  10. The seventeen year old voice inside of me, sadly, is MY seventeen year old voice...the one that spoke so many years ago. The other voice in our house, that of our seventeen year old daughter, sings a different tune, and it would be very difficult for me to write in a genre that is relevent to her. I give credit to those who try.

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  11. Very interesting post, Carolina. I'm with Talli Roland above, don't write YA but have wondered why so many adults read it. Perhaps a new genre is emerging??

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  12. Great post Carol. I read Hannah's post and it has definitely raised some questions that I never thought about before. But I guess it all comes down to the fact that we should write the story we want to write. After all, that's the advice I keep seeing from agents and editors.

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  13. I think those big books are big books because adults enjoy them too. Adults buy for teens and for themselves. Heck, I love some early readers because they keep the adult in mind! It's those books that have something for all ages, layered in, that end up doing well. I don't see it as being done on purpose because of the blogosphere.

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  14. Intriguing post, Carol. I think any time we try to write "for" somebody, we're in trouble. There should be, first and foremost, a story we are passionate about and want to tell. It will be in the voice of MC, whoever that is.
    All of us, no matter our current age, have been teens and can dig down into the emotion that was there in that important time of life. That's, I believe, why so many adults like these books. It's a time of discovery and makes for good storytelling.
    Adults have been writing kid stories forever and doing a fine job of it. And years ago, YA didn't even exist. There were kids books and adult books. Teens just jumped into adult as soon as they were ready.
    I don't know if I'm making sense, but I'm trying to say it all comes back the strength of the story.

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  15. I have a problem with the term "today's teens" because it implies that all teens of today are the same--which they are not. Which is why a variety of styles of YA are important, and I would caution against saying one type of YA is THE style that speaks to "today's teens". Make sense?

    We should all write what the story we want to tell and feel confident that there are teens out there who want our type of book.

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  16. Great post! I'm not a YA writer, though my first book definitely crosses over - many teens are in love with it already (unfortunately, I don't know how much they'll like the rest of the series). Books like The Hunger Games and The Lovely Bones - both with teen-aged protags, both dark, but only 1 considered YA - make me wonder what the criteria is for YA, anyway. Language? Doubt it, looking at a lot of YA books full of the f-bomb. Violence? Um...Mockingjay. Sex? Again, tons of YA books with sexual content, some of it disturbing. So I don't really get it.

    I don't write YA because I just don't think I can hit today's teens right - and I even have three of my own. High school is so different now. I watch my kids and their friends and the rest of the student body at football games and activities and even the way they relate to each other is different. High school teachers who write probably have their fingers closest to the YA pulse. I admire writers who can nail it without being immersed in the real teen world.

    It's a conundrum. If you write for yourself, you're really writing for a target audience that is similar to you. Which goes back to "Do you write for YA readers or for adults who like YA books?"

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  17. I highly recommend reading Hannah's original post. Although I didn't comment, because I wasn't sure if I had anything to add to the thought-provoking discussion, I got where she was coming from. It's hard not to measure your success against that of others online, especially when a particular book is getting rave reviews from other bloggers in your circle.

    The post actually made me think very hard about who I am writing for: 16 year old me, not other writers, and heck, not even other teens. I write the stories that I wish had been around when I was a kid, not stories about were-zombies, because they're so hot right now and three other girls from my crit group are writing about were-zombies.

    Basically, I thought Hannah was saying not to measure the success of a book by its reception amongst the author's fellow writers... who may read YA, but who are not the target audience. That what your fellow writers think is funny, or sexy, or fast-paced, may not be to the teens who read the book.

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  18. Personally, I know I couldn't imagine what drives teens now, as I am so far removed from that age group. I think writing for that group must be the ultimate challenge.

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  19. Hmmm, wow. That is an interesting topic of discussion. You (and Hannah) bring up some very interesting points. I agree with you - I think all you can do is your best, and hope it appeals to as many people as possibe. But in the end, you have to be true to your character's voice and story, and see where your book lands.

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  20. I never even thought of this possibility that some YA authors could be writing for the YA reading adults or YA bloggers.... very interesting!
    I would have to think those would be in the minority though....
    Great discussion!

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  21. I'm not a YA writer, I write fiction for adults, but I have a lot of teen readers. One thing I've always believed is that teens are at that stage where they want to be taken seriously. They want to be spoken to like adults and they want to be told the truth about their world.

    I don't know much about the YA fiction world but what I've seen of it hasn't given me much faith that teens are being treated the way they want to (and need to) be treated.

    Jai

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  22. Very interesting topic. For me, I tend to write what I want in a story. And hopefully someone else, teens,adults,aliens, whoever, will want to read it too. I think sometimes we put too much thought into who we are writing for that we loose the story we should be telling and just try to model it into a current trends.

    Thanks for the link, Carol!!

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  23. What a great post!

    First of all, to answer the commenters who are wondering why adults are reading YA...because it's GOOD! OMG, there are so many amazing YA books out there.

    Second, I read Hannah's post and it brings up a lot of good questions! I feel lucky that I do work in a high school and it is pretty much my job to talk to teens about what they are reading. I talk to them daily about what they like and want in books. And the funny thing is...every single one says something different. So even "writing for teens" isn't a clear thing we can accomplish because every teen wants something totally different. The best we can do is just write the story we want to tell, knowing that it will be that thing that some teen out there wants.

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  24. You have a great discussion going on here, Carol! I've been thinking about this quite a bit...The only (blog) readers that are in my target audience is Lenny and S & S (two recent hand models in a post I did on silly bands). I think if you want your work to be appreciated by your target audience you have to test it on that age group...So the question is when do you ask: At the outline stage? or After final revisions, but before querying? I tend to think if you have a story in you, you have to tell it...Then you look for a place to share/sell it. (But I haven't sold a book yet, so what do I know?)

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  25. Great post, Carol. I'm intrigued by that blog you mentioned, and the questions posed here as well. I think we should write what we feel inspired to write. I couldn't produce anything good if I were only doing it for monetary success or a specific audience.

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  26. In response to your last question, I have a counter question; are you writing to make money, or to give teens a good book?
    If the answer is for money and fame, then no, it doesn't matter who your audience is.
    But if you care about the teen reader, then you should not be focusing on the bloggers but on, well, teen readers. I am a teen, and blog about what I, as a teen, enjoy.

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  27. Interesting questions! Ultimately for me, I don't think I need answers. I think I would just be delighted that anything I wrote found an appreciative audience.

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  28. I love this post. I think here are universal truths - emotional truths - about the YA time of a persons life. THAT is what I try to tap into in my writing. Hopefully it speaks to a wide enough audience to get picked up. But regardless, I write for that emotion...everytime.

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  29. Hmm, this is a really thought-provoking question, one that I've never thought of. Admittedly, I don't even write YA so this doesn't really apply to me... but still.

    People say to "write what you know" and especially "what you like." So, I say that even if a young guy a mother with kids would find irresistible is not quite what a lot of teenagers would like, there will still be plenty out there that would LOVE a guy like that. And not every YA writer, even though they may be much older than the target audience, will have the same opinions as to who is hot and who is not.

    All any writer CAN do is deliver the best possible story they can dream up, and hope like hell that it works.

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  30. While the impact of the internet, cell phones and digital cameras has had a great impact on my life - I cannot begin to imagine what is like for a teenager. They will never know how to load 35 mm film into a camera and wait for it to come back from the developer. They will never know the freedom of not having a cell phone in your pocket or listening to any song you want at the touch of a button.

    The life of a teen is one that seems like another world and language to me. It doesn't seem like it was that long ago that I was a teen - amazing what ten years does to you.

    I think that most of the YA books I read are very much directed toward adults. They deal with issues that I never dealt with until I was well into adulthood.

    I feel bad for teenagers - in a way they are being robbed of their childhood.

    This is a great post and is something I have actually been thinking about lately. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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  31. I'm not really into YA or anything but this still touches on somethings that I like to ramble about so here goes:

    I think young people today are a lot more open to being individuals then they were 50 years ago or even when I was a teen. Back in the day if you were a kid you went crazy for say the Beatles, or the Stones. Very different bands but still working in the same genre. Hell even when i was a teen you were either listening to snoop dogg or nirvana and you pretty much had to pick a side.

    Teens are always sort of going to form their own cliques. But I think the number of cliques has exploded. If you ever drive by a high school and take a look at the kids (but dont stare you'll get arrested) they're all dressed different. That's a lot of different markets to appeal to and you need to decide if you want to reach out to a certain teen clique or if you're really good write something that has universal appeal because the characters all are a little bit of each of us. I don't think it's really much different than the decisions you have to make for any sort of writing. Anyhow, there's my late night ramble.

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  32. Really intriguing conversation. I have wondered about it myself - I work in an elementary school and I often find that people say MG kids want certain things, but it doesn't match the reality, so the same might be true to YA as well. I'm going to have to think on this a bit more. :)

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  33. Hey Carolina - I left something for you in my blog...http://christinefonseca.wordpress.com/

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  34. Hey Carol,

    Thanks for your comment on my blog :)

    This is a great post. I'd never actually thought about how much of the YA market is made up of adults who love to read YA fiction but i bet it's a sizeable chunk!

    Enjoying following here and thanks again

    Rick

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  35. I had this post open all day yesterday and never got a chance to comment because I was too busy letting the post BLOW my mind.

    I think you said it best when you said that all we can do is give it our best shot. We can talk to the teens in our lives, get to know them, learn how they really talk and what they really feel. Then we can let our writing reflect that. We can be happy that there are teens who write for teens, but I don't think it's impossible for adults to write for teens, either. I just think they need to do it well, and keep in mind that the book needs to be written for teens first and foremost, and any adult cross-over is just extra - pleasant extra, but not really the goal.

    If you want to write cross-over books for adults, then write adult fiction. But if you're going to write YA, then you need to write for teens.

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