I’m Y.A., and I’m O.K.

Interesting article in the New York Times about authors whose “adult novels” books get picked up by YA imprints. The author, Margo Rabb, speaks from experience:

When my agent called to tell me that my novel, “Cures for Heartbreak,” had sold to a publisher, she said, “I have good news and bad news.” The good news: an editor at Random House had read it overnight and made an offer at 7:30 a.m. The bad news: the editor worked at Random House Children’s Books.

My agent recounted the story of my novel’s sale, its rejections and close calls, and its particularly close call with editors at two Random House adult imprints. Both had wanted to buy it until the editor in chief decided the novel would be “better served” by the young adult division.

My literary novel about death and grief, which I’d worked on for eight years, was a young adult book?

The article doesn’t shed much light on why this seems to be happening. My guess is that if something doesn’t fit clearly into a genre or mindset and includes younger characters it gets labeled YA. The good news is that this brings with it a lot freedom; YA books are some the most creative and interesting. But it also means you have to deal with the stereotypes and condescension:

For me, the thrill of my book’s having been sold outlasted my confusion over its classification. Then, as the publication date approached, I received a fellowship to the MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire. One morning in the dining room, another writer asked who was publishing my book; I told her that it was Random House, and that it was being published as young adult.

“Oh, God,” she said. “That’s such a shame.”

I couldn’t get her words out of my head. I spent a lot of time worrying about whether my book would be taken seriously. I noticed the averted gazes and unabashed disinterest of literary acquaintances whenever I mentioned my novel was young adult.

The article also seems to indicate that I am not your typical adult reader:

“Young people will find an adult book, but it doesn’t work the other way,” said A. M. Homes, whose first novel, “Jack,” was originally published as Y.A. (It was later released in paperback for adults.)

I read YA books but I am by no means an expert. I read mostly in what fantasy or speculative fiction and avoid teenage romance and other aspects of the genre.

Looks like retailers might be finding ways to market and sell books that can appeal to a wide audience:

Meg Rosoff, an American-born author who lives in London, said, “There isn’t an adult who’s going to trot into the children’s section to look for adult literature.” All three of Rosoff’s novels have been published in both adult and Y.A. editions, and her first novel, “How I Live Now,” was nominated for prizes in both categories. In Britain, she says, where dual Y.A. and adult editions are more common, there’s less of a stigma against young adult literature.

“They’re smarter over there — in this country we tend to pigeonhole things,” said James Patterson, whose Y.A. series “Maximum Ride” was originally shelved only in the Y.A. section of Barnes & Noble. After sales fell short of Patterson’s adult titles, the fourth book in the series was released in hardcover for adults, and the chain began selling the series only in the adult section. Sales have since increased, a company representative said.

Cart, of Booklist, proposes that stores create an “All Ages” section for crossover titles, which might also help attract older teenagers. Megan Tingley, the senior vice president and publisher of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, thinks this is a great idea. “We need to rethink how we’re merchandising books for teenagers,” she said.

I think this is a good idea. Why not promote books that can be read by younger readers and their parents? Seems like a win-win.

Meanwhile I guess I will have to keep slumming it in the YA aisles . . .

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).

1 Comment

  1. You and me both; I’m currently working my way through the complete works of Lloyd Alexander, and the project is turning out to be the most pleasant fiction-reading experience I’ve had in years.

    If I were a novelist, I’d be more eager for the YA designation (and the enthusiastic readers it would bring) than for the far more limiting distinction of being dubbed a writer of literary fiction. I’m not sure why, but YA writers often seem more free to admit that they enjoy being novelists.

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