So I began writing YA. Because I wanted to find my books in that section someday.
|Me as an actual teenager.|
Perfectly happy not being normal.
|A "normal" teenager.|
(Image from Dawnsolemus at the English Language Wikipedia.)
Now... I feel like if the YA section was a high school, my books would be the bluestocking girls with carefully braided hair, shirts that met their pants, backpacks carefully over both shoulders, and no cell phones. Not to mention no boyfriends. They'd have great grades and their teachers would love them, but their peers would always look at them askance.
This realization has crept up on me. When I looked over the books I'd read in 2014, I noticed only a handful were YA. I read a few contemporary YA novels, which I admired but never felt at home in. I abandoned several YA historicals after 100 pages or so, once I realized, "Wait, these are just contemporary romances in fancy dress." But mostly I decided against the dozens and dozens of YAs I picked up and glanced over on my library's shelf. Because as great as they might be, I am simply not the target reader for books about suicide, drugs, sex, abuse, or addiction. Neither will I enjoy "light" fare about high school crushes, first-sex, or auditioning for the glee club. Tragic death, dystopia....eh, depends. But I know I won't ever write it.
Four years ago when I was querying my YA historical novel set in the middle ages, I was told by agents that they absolutely loved it but could never sell it as a debut YA. They suggested trying the adult market, and pointed out the various reasons they weren't sure teens would be attracted to the story.
I hated this idea. My story was a YA coming-of-age story, exactly what I would have pulled off the shelf when I was 16. Yes, it was literary. But so was everything by Shannon Hale. Yes, it was set in the Middle Ages. But I couldn't see why it was okay for MG books to be set then, while YA could only get away with it if it was fantasy. Yes, it was about a vineyard and winemaking. But how come it was fine for YA novels to be full of beer and booze and underage drinking and adult behavior, yet somehow an ancient art and tradition involving the responsible use of alcohol was seen as taboo?
Since I stopped getting constructive criticism and continued to get "this is gorgeous but will never sell as YA," I shelved the novel...temporarily. Every few months a great YA book would come out that I would hold up to myself as the hope for my own story: The Wicked and the Just! It's set in the Middle Ages! It's literary! It's not even a romance! Between Shades of Gray! It's literary! It's about art! Code Name Verity! It's oblique! It's literary! It's about teenagers with adult responsibility!
And then I would read the reviews of those books: "I'm not sure why this is called YA. I suspect the author was just trying to capitalize on the booming YA market, because really this should be an adult book."
|Another me as a teen:|
Quiet. Literary. Wholesome.
Happier to be intelligent than popular.
(Similar to my stories.)
So here's the short version: I'm wondering if I should pull that old story off the shelf and try to find an agent who can sell it as an adult book. This terrifies me. I don't read a great deal of current adult fiction, so I need to do some reading and research before I jump into the query trenches again. Any recommendations?
And I'm feeling lost as I move forward in writing what I think of as YA. Is there any room in the market for old-fashioned coming-of-age stories anymore? Do teens who like more literary novels just jump right to the adult section? What do you think?
P.S. You can read the very beginning of that Middle Ages Vineyard ms here. Do you think it sounds like adult or YA?