What’s a YA(author) to do?

Sam (I Am), the Intern

I was inside Random House (insert huge gasp here)… for an hour at least.  I attended a YPG (Young to Publishing Group) brown bag lunch lecture about trends in YA (Young Adult); held in the second floor café auditorium of Random House (double gasp).  The building is everything a book lover could ask for (unless you’re an e-book lover); the entrance was a massive, open space; with rows upon rows of books lining the walls, enclosed in glass cases, with the most perfect recess lighting.  All that was missing was a rolling, wooden ladder; and I would’ve been in Heaven.  *Sigh* Anywho… I used to teach 9th, 10th, and 12th grade English, so I was interested to see the other side of YA literature; and how publishers’ and authors’ experiences varied from my experiences.  Oftentimes I found myself struggling to keep my students’ interests in the canonical literature, and I wanted to know how these publishers managed to succeed with the trade books.

There were four panelists with various experience in publishing including authors, librarians, agents, editors etc.; and hybrids of these. Barbara Genco kicked off the lecture with her observations of an ever-evolving genre, with a brief history of past YA novels, including one of my favs, The Catcher in the Rye (although the meaning of the last line still eludes me to this day).  Genco stated there are dominant themes in YA literature: 1)Self-realization vs. Self-actualization, 2)Gaining Independence, 3)Developing an Identity, and 4)Building & Transitioning in social and spatial relationships.  These are the exact themes I remember my students relating to in stories such as To Kill A Mockingbird, Romeo & Juliet, and Things Fall Apart, so a piece of me felt reassured that I did my students justice.

I was most interested in the conversation led by David Levithan and Jennifer Klonsky.  They discussed the success (and failures) of YA authors.  I’ve always been interested in the process of thought to book to store, but with millennial teens’ lives as saturated as they are, I wanted to know how publishers and editors decided which titles were worthy.  Levithan and Klonsky discussed how pertinent social media is in relation to a YA author’s success… or any author’s success for that matter.  Levithan explained, “Teens expect to have contact with their favorite authors,” and things like Facebook are a great way to make connections.  Although there isn’t a formula for success, this lecture led me to believe that with a novel idea (no pun intended), the proper backing, and an author willing to connect with his/her audience, the chances for success are high.

A great series for YA lovers!

With the popularity of series now, Klonsky touched on the difficulties in asking a series audience to invest in that author’s new, separate works.  Yet, there is a market for these “one and done” books, as YA (more and more) want a complete package in one book.  In closing, when asked whether an author should think of/like the audience when writing, Sara Shandler said, “No, because then you tend to get it wrong (and use words like ‘yo’); although, you have to also entertain the editors reviewing the manuscript.”  Interestingly enough, I never thought about this strange dichotomy of audiences; you have to appeal to the YA audience, but don’t forget about the editors’ entertainment… they are the ones who say “yay” or “nay.”

~Samantha Hazell, Intern

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3 Responses to What’s a YA(author) to do?

  1. Thanks for taking me with you in this interesting workshop.

    In my experience, to be a YA author is harder than it sounds.

    • The Intern Experience says:

      Hi Carmen! I’m glad I can pass on information from this lecture. YA authors have a lot of to consider when writing a novel, and it was fascinating the complexities involved.

  2. Great post. It’s interesting to note that when discussing YA as a genre, it’s the greatest works in literature that are mentioned…including Shakespeare Romeo and Juliet!

    Actually, that makes sense. I’m convinced that young adults are a very demanding audience and still fresh and non cynical about the greatest existential questions facing all of us: who are we, where are going and why? As adults, taken into the vortex of our daily lives (and adult family responsibilities), we tend to forget the acute anxiety that such questions produce. But they are fundamental! And to put them at the center of a novel is tantamount to great literature!

    In short, YA novelists have in front of them a humongous task!

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