Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Wordcraft -- YA or not? What age is your audience?

Want to know what publishing genres are hotter than a platter of fajitas at a Tex-Mex restaurant? Thanks to the likes of the Harry Potter and Twilight series -- it’s YA and MG. That’s young adult and middle grade readers, for those of us who grew up when the only distinctions were children’s reading matter and books for adults. YA readers are basically teens, and MG are younger independent readers. Not sure which is which, or where your writing falls? And whether one group will read works aimed at another? Agent Kathleen Ortiz of Nancy Coffey Literary and authors Shana Burg (author of “A Thousand Never Evers”) and Jennifer Ziegler (author of “How NOT to be Popular”), joined forces with moderator Bethany Hegedus (editor of “Hunger Mountain,” The Vermont College Journal of Arts & Letters) at the recent Writers League of Texas Conference in Austin to discuss the subject.

Bethany: Can you comment on themes with crossover potential?

Shana: I was shocked at the cult of adults who read kids’ books. It’s the adults who are interested (in crossover). The kids just want a good story.

Jennifer: I’m a huge Jane Austin fan. My favorite is “Sense and Sensibility,” because of the sister aspect. I just take the themes that appeal to me.

Bethany: A buoyant quality, like a Bridget Jones effect. This is part of what can lure adult readers.

Kathleen: I have a project that has YA and adult crossover because of the snarky humor that adults can relate to. But never tell an agent your work has crossover potential. It tells us you haven’t researched your audience. We want you to focus on one audience. When you say it’s for all children aged two to twenty, that’s a turnoff. But for foreign markets, it’s all about crossover.

So what, the audience wondered, makes a book MG versus YA versus adult?

Shana: It’s not just the age of the protagonist. You want to look at the level of fiction in the text. You don’t want to see any adult POV (point of view) at all.

Kathleen (wryly): If you remember that adults are the enemy, you’re on track for YA.

Jennifer: You want to be in a child’s head as they learn. It’s not them as adults looking back. In YA, the processing is the story.

Does that mean no flashbacks?

Shana: Flashing back is generally not done in MG.

Jennifer: You want to be in a child’s head as they learn. It’s not them looking back. In YA, the processing is the story. That’s not to say simplistic. You’re really going to be focusing on the child’s heart.

Can’t an MG or YA book be narrated by the child as a grownup? What about “To Kill a Mockingbird?”

Jennifer: The layering and complexity -- and the bookending (in which the beginning foretold the end) -- keep this from being YA.

Bethany: Opposite of that is “Catcher in the Rye,” because of the moment by moment telling.

Kathleen: “The Golden Compass” originated as MG but now is in the adult section because of the length and depth, although the main character is eleven.

And as Bethany noted: It was Phillip Pullman. With an established author, you can break more rules.

(For more on Jennifer and Shana’s writing, see their websites -- and )

(Next Wednesday: What an agent or an audience looks for in a MG or YA manuscript)


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