Nathan Bransford, Author

Monday, July 16, 2007

Summer Rerun: Dude Looks Like a YA

This week I'm mining the archives while the blog is on hiatus. I'll be back on July 23rd with query stats.

February 6, 2007:

Maybe it's because basketball season is in full swing (and my Sacramento Kings, sadly, are stinking up Arco Arena), but I have been seeing a lot of crossover novels lately. Get it?? Get it?? Crossover? Basketball? (I know, it's my lamest opening ever. Just stick with me here.)

After everyone saw how books like HARRY POTTER and ERAGON sent kids and adults alike scurrying to the bookstores in droves, crossover became the new thing all over again. Everyone has seen how successful books that are enjoyed by both children and adults can be, and the massive sales.. ahem, I mean the thrill of having your work read by as many people as possible means I now get a lot of crossover novels in the query inbox.

But here's the problem with crossover novels: there's no crossover publisher, only children's publishers and adult publishers, and there's no crossover section of the bookstore, only the children's side and the adult side. Sure there are big publishers with both children and adult divisions, but cooperation on a crossover novel would mean taking the elevator down a few floors, and come on, who can be bothered to do that???

So this raises an interesting question for the aspiring crossover novelist -- how can you tell if your novel is a YA (young adult) novel that might appeal to adults or an Adult novel that might appeal to a younger audience?

As an example, let's take two (very good) novels about troubled high schoolers: KL Going's FAT KID RULES THE WORLD, and Michelle Tea's ROSE OF NO MAN'S LAND. FAT KID RULES THE WORLD opens with an overweight teenager contemplating suicide before he befriends a homeless high schooler and joins a band, ROSE OF NO MAN'S LAND is about a troubled teenager who befriends/sort of falls in love with a wild teenager who distracts her from her troubled home life. Somewhat similar themes, right? But FAT KID RULES THE WORLD is a YA novel and ROSE OF NO MAN'S LAND is an Adult novel. What accounts for the split?

To me the separation between YA and Adult is not necessarily thematic, it has more to do with pacing and presentation. When you read a YA novel the pace tends to be quicker, the books tend to be shorter, and things happen in a more straightforward fashion. While of course there is a ton of variation and exceptions, things tend to unfold on the surface to keep a younger reader interested and engaged. In an adult novel, even an adult novel about high schoolers, things unfold more slowly, there tends to be more subtlety and ambiguity. Things happen beneath the surface and they can be more challenging. In other words, I think the YA/Adult split is more about the telling than the characters and the themes.

All of this is a long way to say that I think you need to write and pitch your novel as one or the other, because agents don't usually handle both adult and YA, and it's virtually impossible to pitch a "crossover" book. You also want to really make it one or the other to avoid ending up with a novel that is too adult for children and too juvenile for adults, which happens a lot. Books do indeed cross over, and you can mention that your book has crossover potential, but at least initially I think you have to go one way or another -- hopefully this will serve as a rough guide of which direction you should go.

Just. Like. Basketball.

(Worst metaphor ever.)


Susan Helene Gottfried said...

Yeah, Fat Kid! One of my favorite books of all time!

okay... back to the topic at hand...

Anonymous said...

This is a little off topic, but I was wondering how many people noticed the HP references in the Sci-Fi channel DR-Who episode last Friday (07/13/07)? There was mention of the author and book 7 in the dialog, and the magic word "Expelliamus" was the key for trapping the alien creatures and saving the world. That must be a huge promotional budget to get your book written into the story line of a popular sci-fi show.


Heidi the Hick said...

So does this mean that VOICE is very important in a YA book?

I think teenagers have a very finely tuned Bulls**t Filter. They know if you're faking it.

My peeve is books that are written as though the young readers are stupid. I don't think any reader wants to be insulted intellectually but especially not a young person.

As an adult, I love reading YA that takes me back to those days (just temporarily thankfully) but gives me the details and nuances that keep me thinking and hold my interest and Maybe just maybe catch my emotions!

I never outgrew my emotions.

Maya Reynolds said...

Hi, Nathan: I just got back from RWA National. Just for fun one day I sat in on a YA panel that included an agent and two authors.

The things they stressed about YA novels were VOICE, immediacy, lack of a lot of parental involvement and a very much stepped-up pace.

robotic_lunch said...

First of all, thanks for your blog -- I've found it really helpful, especially the query letter examples.

I've got a question about YA and labels in a query letter: the protagonist of my novel is 16; I consider my novel literary fiction.

I've read a few times that it sounds pretentious to call something literary fiction in a query, but if I just call it a "novel" will agents assume it's YA because of the protagonist's age and toss it out if that's not an area they represent?

(I mention the protagonist's age in the story description part of the query.)

Thanks in advance ... RL

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