Monday, March 27, 2006

YA-YA Sisterhood

Some of you may be curious about making the jump from adult to YA romance (YA = young adult = teen). I have been writing both for quite a few years. I was writing YA when YA wasn’t cool, when the market was severely depressed. But to say it has picked up in the past few years would be an understatement. So, even though my agent signed me on the basis of an adult romantic comedy, it didn’t really surprise me that my YA romantic comedy sold first. My friend Marley Gibson, a native of Troy, AL, also has been writing adult and YA, and her first sale 10 days ago was a series of four YA novels. Even some who have already made it in the adult genre are giving YA a spin.

So you think YA might be your ticket into publication too? Here are some things you need and don’t need, imho, to make it as a YA author.

You need to like YA books. If you haven’t read YA ever, or since you were 15, give it a try. You might start with an author who also writes adult books you enjoy, like Alesia Holliday/Jax Abbott or Nicole/Niki Burnham. Or you might try the YA version of the adult genre you like best, like romantic comedy, chick lit, or paranormal.

You need to like teenagers. You don’t necessarily need a close relationship with a teenager currently. They think you are old and weird, and unless you can withhold their allowance, they probably are not going to tell you what you want to know anyway. But you need to *wish* they would tell you about their lives, because you think they are so cool. You should find their relationships interesting, their contributions valuable, and their problems heartbreaking, even though you think you could solve their problems in a second if they would only listen to you, which they won’t, because they are teenagers, and you are old and weird. In short, you should be able to empathize with them.

You need to remember being a teenager. Strangely, the people who tell me they don’t remember this part of their lives are all twenty-six. I am not twenty-six, but I remember in excruciating detail how I felt sitting next to Jeremy Ledbetter† in band in the oboe section (all two of us). Me, a little ninth grader, pining away the entire year for this super-cool, cute, smart guy who played Satan in the senior play. Every day Holly Pemberton, the last-chair flute who sat next to us, hid a new Harlequin romance behind her music stand. Every day, Jeremy stole it and read me the sex scene. *fans self* I probably will never write a YA novel about an oboe player, because I would put myself and everyone else to sleep. But I have already written a YA novel about having a crush, and believe me, I drew from experience.

You do not need an up-to-the-minute understanding of teen culture. Yes, it would help if you turned on MTV once in a while, but I have found that fashion and slang are largely regional. Besides, your up-to-the-minute understanding is going to be old news by the time your book gets published.

Most of all, you need a great story, well-told. My YA novels run about 55,000 words, and my adult novels are about 100,000. The YA hero and heroine obviously are younger, and I trade in sex scenes for make-out scenes. Other than these differences, I treat my YA and adult novels exactly the same. I plot them using the same methods (1. write; 2. freak out; 3. whine to critique partner; 4. write), and I craft them with the same care. YA novels may be a good bet for publication nowadays, but they are not a shortcut.

†Names have been changed to protect the guilty.


Carla Swafford said...

So funny and so true. Though I don’t write YA, I agree with you totally. I’m WAAAY older than twenty-six, but I remember much of my teenage years and it helps me big time with my teenagers (though one is now a twenty-something -- see, I told you I was WAAAY older). It helps me in keeping my heroines young, too. Unless I want to write for NEXT -- which I wouldn’t turn down at all -- I have to keep my characters in their twenties or thirties.

I’m always surprised when people forget how it was to be young. Don’t your remember how exciting it was to turn twenty-one -- yeah! I can drink legally! Though when I turned that age, I was legal for two years - they had lowered the age to eighteen for a short time. Then I looked forward to thirty -- yeah! Everyone will start treating me like an adult. At that time, I had one child and another would be born a year later. Funny! Then I looked forward to forty. My mom always said her forties were the best of her life. Well, Mom, I’m still waiting. I have only a few months left of that “best” decade. Only if I get THE CALL will I consider my forties the best. LOL!

Goodness, maybe I’m a late bloomer and my fifties will be the best. But I do plan to stay young. I watch all the “teen” movies -- love them! -- and listen to the current Rock Alternative songs. My teenager tells me that most of the time I’m pretty cool, especially when her friends ask her, “Where did you get that great song?” and she tells them, “It’s my mom’s.” Now that’s cool.

jennifer echols said...

You're FORTY-NINE????????????

I really don't believe it. But even as I write this, I think I sound like the owner of the convenience store on the corner, who insists on carding me. Then he looks at my license, looks at me, and says, "You? Were born in NINETEEN SIXTY-NINE?????" I think this must be good for business.

Carla Swafford said...

Actually, that's the same thing I say to myself. Not the 1969 thing, but the other. I rarely believe it, too. Except when I walk by a mirror at 5:30 in the morning. I keep wondering who that old woman is that lives on the other side of the mirror. At least now you understand why I write paranormal.

Little Willow said...

I like the 4-step method - that's funny!