YA or not to YA

Jo Zebedee

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#1
Interesting article here from the Guardian. I have had this happen to me (including here) where I’ve been advised to remarket as a YA writer (even though I’m mostly not one) to gain higher profile.

Has YA gone too far in its marketing? And is there a skew. This is especially relevant to sf and it’s potential YA male readership and if we’re hitting what the genre needs :)

Women write fantasy for grown-ups, too
 

Teresa Edgerton

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#2
I imagine in most cases the decision is based on how to sell the most copies of the book. I think your books would have a strong appeal for male readers, Jo, but they have to buy them and read them in order to find that out. And that comes down to the readers' prejudices. It's not really the publisher's business to tell readers what they ought to want, but to try and convince them of what they will want. If a publisher thinks they can get more sales right out of the gate by selling a book as YA, then that is what they will do.

I don't know how to convince men who say they don't like books by women authors to read more of them. They seem pretty set in their ways to me. The ones who don't care if the author is a man or a woman are often, I suspect, equally indifferent to whether the book is marketed as YA or adult. (Also keep in mind that over all women buy many more books than men do. So if women are drawn to certain categories more than others, slotting a book into that category could possibly result in many more sales.)

Is it embarrassing and unfair to the authors to be treated as though they are writing children's books when their stories are about serious subjects handled in a mature way? I would think that it is often both. (Though the sales figures and the royalties may be some comfort.) But it's not up to marketing people to change the SFF culture. It's up to the SFF culture itself to do that. Maybe it will take a generational change. If teenage boys are reading books by favorite female authors, will they abandon those authors when they are older, or will they keep buying those author's books? Meanwhile, I suppose that all we can do is have these conversations, and review lots of books we like, and talk about what makes them good, so that more readers of all genders may be intrigued and seek them out.
 

Juliana

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#3
The ones who don't care if the author is a man or a woman are often, I suspect, equally indifferent to whether the book is marketed as YA or adult.
Also keep in mind that over all women buy many more books than men do. So if women are drawn to certain categories more than others, slotting a book into that category could possibly result in many more sales.
Really good points, as is the bit in the article that says books will be shelved where shops think they'll sell best, regardless. I see that in the library where I work; some books, though technically YA, are in the adult section where the library feels they'll get more attention.

Is it embarrassing and unfair to the authors to be treated as though they are writing children's books when their stories are about serious subjects handled in a mature way?
I feel like YA gets a lot of bad press, when it's just like adult SFF: there are good books and bad; there are tropey and predictable things and very very good things out there. Personally, I think one of the key issues with being labelled as YA is that in teen readership there seems to be a very narrow space at the top, with the same authors over and over, and a wide number of often very good books that hit the market and then just disappear. While I feel like in adult, there is more space for loyal readers who find an author they like and stick with them, regardless of if they're one of the ones at the very top or not.
 

Jo Zebedee

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#4
The reason I get grouchy about it is that YA shoehorns me into writing something I don’t solely write (although I am at the mo as it happens). I don’t see male authors being encouraged to become YA authors - unless they clearly already are one. So - why should a woman be?

I take Teresa’s points that this is a market driven thing so, as ever, shall raise the shield and sword and go forth determinedly to fight against the flood :D because markets only change when we challenge them.
 

Stephen Palmer

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#5
It's blatant chauvinism, trying to put women authors into a box for the convenience of men.
Call it out wherever it's seen. I'll help. :/
Men who say they don't like books by women authors are idiots who shouldn't be spoken with. It's no more sensible than saying, 'I don't like authors by writers under 5'6".
 
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#8
As I've made clear, I'm neither accomplished or published so my opinion carries no weight. Nevertheless...

I'm not so sure that the issue of YA is as much at issue as the push to advertise the writer's gender and capitalize on that aspect. Young men (initially, until they are exposed to a writer) will tend to assume that only males can relate to 'their' interests and issues, and convey that in a 'masculine' manner. Young women in contrast, are well aware that most men have little understanding of their trials and difficulties during their formative years.

As to the 'why,' incorrectly, and this will intentionally read as cliché... I feel there is an outdated underlying subconscious opinion that a woman's take on a subject will be gentler, more emotional, is inherently immature so more in tune with youthful mindsets, nurturing, etc.. Bluntly, that's wrong and outdated. As 21st century adults we recognize that. Yet again, the push is to advertise to young women is the motivation behind that (who I 'assume' traditionally (also outdated) tend to read more than young males).

So, right or wrong, I would 'assume' that right out of the gate, the effort to promote gender equality and accomplishment, when 'marketed,' trips up the very intent. It's all good and fine, right, fair, just, whatever... to state that the gender of the writer makes no difference... yet when that is capitalized upon to the exact opposite intent, most often catering to the mindset of "this writer, being female, will write in a way that connects with young women... so gals, consider reading this SFF story," it shoves you right back in that box. More so, some young men will inherently be put off by that (as wrong as that is).

Just a guess, yet this is still a time of transition in this world. People will struggle to correct the flawed opinions of old, by overcompensating today, often tripping up the whole intent, to retain the profits of old while capturing the new.


Simply an uneducated and inexperienced literary/publishing opinion.

K2
 

Teresa Edgerton

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#9
Personally, I think one of the key issues with being labelled as YA is that in teen readership there seems to be a very narrow space at the top, with the same authors over and over, and a wide number of often very good books that hit the market and then just disappear. While I feel like in adult, there is more space for loyal readers who find an author they like and stick with them, regardless of if they're one of the ones at the very top or not.
I don't quite agree with you there, but perhaps its a matter of what is available to us at our local libraries and bookstores. For instance, the libraries near where I live have very good YA sections (and by that I mean they have a lot of books and a lot of different authors and keep adding to their collections at a steady rate). And I see so many, many authors who have so many books out. Their publishers wouldn't keep buying their books if there were not so many loyal readers. And this is just what I see on the shelves when I go in. Having worked in a library a long time ago, I know that what one sees on the shelves can be a fraction of what is in circulation at any one time.

I also noticed several years ago—and for quite some time after—that the variety of sub-genres was very much greater in YA than in adult SFF. The publishers seemed much more willing to try new things, maybe because young readers tend not to be so set in their ways. But now I see many of those sub-genres are steadily growing in popularity among adult readers. But of course the YA readers of several years ago are now adults. So maybe the generational change I spoke of is already beginning to happen.

_____

Another thing I think is that the attitude of male readers of my generation (in the US anyway) toward female writers was formed and strengthened by what they were taught in school. I don't mean explicitly taught, but by inference. In all my years of school, the only book by a female author that was required reading was To Kill A Mockingbird. There were books by women that were on recommended reading lists, books suggested for book reports or summer reading, but except for TKAM we studied no books by women—and if that didn't give most of the boys I knew the impression that books by women were, by and large, not worth studying or even reading, I would be very much surprised.

Those guys* are mostly still around to skew the sales figures in certain genres—and SFF is obviously one of them—but they're getting pretty old. In another five or ten years it could be a very different picture for women writers, just by natural attrition among those (and that could include women as well as men) who still think what they were taught in school: that the things men write about are more important, more worthy to read about.

Of course we shouldn't just wait around for nature to take its course. We can still spread the word when we find a great new author. And we can have discussions that may cause some people to think again (although going by what I've seen of how people react to such discussions, I'm not holding my breath) and do all the things that we think may make a difference. It probably won't change much until society as a whole changes around us. It would be wonderful if SFF could help to lead the way, but since SFF itself doesn't get much respect, I'm not sure how much we can really do. Except ... it's always good to clean up one's own house (in this case our own house) before telling other people what to do about theirs. For one thing, we have a better chance to make changes where we are working from the inside.

_____
*I realize that some of them did widen their horizons as they grew older, but I'm talking about the ones who didn't.
 

The Big Peat

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#10
I visited the YA shelves of my library for the first time in forever the other day and I do have to say that I thought the choice was probably about as broad as in the adult section in terms of different authors.


In any case - listing female authors as YA even when it makes no sense is a thing, and it is a disgrace, and I don't really have an answer here.

I do kinda have to note that virtually of the people I know who read YA as adults though are women. It makes sense, but it does make it harder to change things.
 

Brian G Turner

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#11
Warning! Potentially offensive content!

I have to apologise in advance, because I'm in danger of offending quite a few people with this post!

My observation - as a prolific reader - is that when it comes to science fiction and fantasy, there is a spectrum with two clear but opposite points of focus:

Emotional Engagement < - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - > Abstract Engagement

By Emotional Engagement I mean that the character's emotional development and conflicts are the primary focus of the story. There may be strong abstract elements as well, but it's the emotional aspect that remains unquestionably the author's primary focus.

By Abstract Engagement I mean that the world-building details in which the story takes are the primary focus of the story. There may be strong emotional development and conflict elements as well, but it's the abstract aspects that remain unquestionably the author's primary focus.

There are many books inbetween - as I said, this is a spectrum - but for examples of the extremes:

Emotional Engagement >The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Sure, there's a degree of world-building in play, but it's not the focus of the story - that remains very much centered on Katniss and her internal emotional conflicts.

Other books I could easily list here for the same reason:

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
Red Rising by Pierce Brown

As above, both have uniquely-imagined worlds, but they are the setting and remain superficial to the focus of the story, which is character conflict.


Abstract Engagement > 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C Clarke

Sure, there are characters, but they are not the focus of the story - that remains very much centered on imagining a future where humanity has entered space.

Other books I could easily list here for the same reason:

Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien
Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein

Again, both have characters with emotional development, but the setting remains the focus of the story in both.


And here's the second part of my observation about SFF:

- YA Fiction authors make Emotional Engagement the focus of its story,
- adult fiction authors make Abstract Engagement the focus of the story:

Emotional Engagement < - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - > Abstract Engagement
(Young Adult SFF Fiction) < - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - > (Adult SFF Fiction)


First things first:

- YA is not an inferior genre to adult fiction in SFF. It is not about writing for children.
- adult fiction isn't necessarily more real, or more intelligent than YA fiction.

That means if a writer is writing SFF and their main dilemma is:

- how to make a young lead character's experience more tortured and difficult -> they are probably writing YA fiction
- juggling the masses of world-building facts -> they are probably writing adult fiction.


It's also important to maintain that all SFF is SFF, and that a lot of SFF has routinely involved young character by default - but again, I would suggest it's the story emphasis that is key.

Additionally, the distinction between YA Fiction and adult fiction is simply one of marketing to the right audience.

Although it's great to try and challenge norms - especially in this casually sexist society we live in - we also need to be careful, because where those gender norms also affect reading preferences, challenging them could work against reader expectations and end up as self-defeating for the writer.


(I'm running out of steam so I'll stop here.) :)
 

Jo Zebedee

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#12
I can't agree that all adult fiction authors make abstract engagement their focus. Some do, of course, but the vast majority I read do not. Examples of adult sff series that absolutely have emotional engagement at their heart:

Bujold. I still have to get to her fantasy, but her Vorkosigan books have characters developed well in excess of the world created.
Jodi Taylor. The world is secondary in pretty much every way to the characters. In fact, she freely admits to playing fast and loose with that world and its rules.

For an example of a YA that puts the world first, I'd suggest Patrick Ness's Chaos Walking is a good one.

There are loads more, if I just go off and mine my shelves.

And then you have some authors (and this is where I'd put myself, for instance) who sit in both categories, without changing the focus of their writing. Carlos Ruiz Zafron is always focused on the world before his gorgeous characters, both in his YA and adult work. So, too, Ian McDonald.

I don't have a problem with the concept of a story putting one above the other, or even a gender imbalance in regards to that, but I do find it difficult to agree that one is more, or less, likely in YA which is a big, broad, genre with plenty of room for both.
 

Brian G Turner

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#13
I certainly do define YA Fiction in far broader terms than many do - I would call Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn and Mark Lawrence's Prince of Fools as YA as well for the same reasons stated above, but others wouldn't.

However, with reference to the original Guardian article, maybe it's better to redirect the argument entirely? Maybe the problem isn't one of the type of engagement after all, but of prestige?

Science fiction, after all, has had decades to define itself, whereas YA Fiction is still a relatively recent genre. Perhaps that gives science fiction a particular prestige which makes it particularly attractive as a genre for marketing?

Yet when it comes to the size of modern audiences, YA is HUGE and science fiction is niche.

Perhaps over the next few decades YA will in itself redefine SFF?
 
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The Big Peat

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#14
And then you have some authors (and this is where I'd put myself, for instance) who sit in both categories, without changing the focus of their writing. Carlos Ruiz Zafron is always focused on the world before his gorgeous characters, both in his YA and adult work. So, too, Ian McDonald.
I would argue that all of my favourite authors sit in this category. If an author can't engage me both emotionally and intellectually, they're just not making the cut, because I've got plenty who do.

My particular example would be Sir Terry Pratchett, who did of course write both Adult and YA. In the same world, interweaving characters from both, in the same style.

There's also the point that two people can look at the same thing and see very different things. I know me and Venusian Broon see different things in Harebrain's books; I know that I'm raising an eyebrow at the idea that the characters aren't the focus of Lord of the Rings. Etc.etc.

Honestly, as far as I can tell, the difference between a lot of YA fantasy and a lot of mainstream adult fantasy Coming of Age books is incredibly minimal, and has little to do with focus. The Belgariad is not notably more world orientated than Song of the Lioness; Spellslinger not all that much more character driven than Wheel of Time. And I know that NK Jemisin's work is sometimes put in YA and that's just... yeah.

The main difference between the two is most of the time a woman will find herself in YA and most of the time a man won't.

I certainly do define YA Fiction in far broader terms than many do - I would call Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn and Mark Lawrence's Prince of Fools as YA as well for the same reasons stated above, but others wouldn't.
Only 13 people on GR had Prince of Fools shelved as some type of YA. Adult is one of the top 5 shelves its put on. I think your definitions might be too much broader than the common ones to be accepted as reasonable.


edit: p.s. Mistborn is a more reasonable shout BUT its definitely not marketed or seen that way where I look. Its there in adult. But - why is a book about a young adult that's written in a way that young adults would enjoy put in Adult? Hmm, Brandon doesn't sound all that feminine...

(Well, that and its got a few chapters from the older mentor's PoV, and as Jo will no doubt tell you, if you write a book splitting PoV between the kid and the adult, you don't get to be YA).
 
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Teresa Edgerton

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#15
I'm not sure that YA is a relatively recent category (I won't call it a genre, because it contains many genres, though among genres in YA, SFF appears to be hugely more popular than any other genre I can think of). I stumbled upon a young adult section in a library back in the early 1970s, but that was just the first time and the first place I noticed. And I first became aware not long after that that a lot of authors were being published first in hardcover as YA, to sell the books to libraries, and then as adult SFF in paperback, to sell to the public in bookstores and other outlets. But that was when I was writing my first book and started researching the market so I could decide where to send the manuscript and why. Teachers, librarians (particularly school librarians), andl agents and publishers may have been categorizing books as YA decades before that.

But I would say, with it's hugely growing popularity since around the beginning of this century, the public has become more aware of YA.
 

HareBrain

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#16
The main difference between the two is most of the time a woman will find herself in YA and most of the time a man won't.
I had a quick look in Waterstones yesterday after reading this thread, and I found that there seemed to be far more YA-looking books by male authors on the "adult" SFF shelves than by female ones, which seems to support that idea.

That said, I couldn't find any books by either sex in the YA shelves that looked out of place there. (Then again, if a publisher has decided it is YA, they will make the cover and blurb reflect that.) The original Book Riot article suggested that the book by Sarah J Maas shouldn't be YA because its level of sexual content isn't suitable for a 13-yo. But 13-18 is a huge leap in maturity, and something can still be YA even if not suitable for many under-16s. (I've also read something deliberately aimed at teenagers that blows the article's examples out of the water in that respect.) The Maas book has a teenage MC, and though that doesn't mean it can't be adult, for me, making it adult would have to involve a lot of complexity in the worldbuilding, politics, abstract ideas etc, stuff that an adult would be more likely to have the life-experience/learning to engage with than a teenager. (I don't know, to be fair, if the Maas book has that or not, but that aspect wasn't addressed in the article.)
 

The Big Peat

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#17
This is especially relevant to sf and it’s potential YA male readership and if we’re hitting what the genre needs :)
I want to circle back to this.

SFF is, in general, not a genre that needs to worry about its male readership. But in a generic sense there is a worry about male readers, and particularly young male readers. And in that sense SFF is a good place to look at attracting more. And hey, why not add more readers?

As a teenager I didn't read YA, at least not as would be defined by most libraries and bookshops. And neither did anyone else at the academically selective all boys school I went to (i.e. we were all mildly nerdy). There wasn't any in the school library for one thing. And I don't know how much my anecdotal evidence lines up with everyone's, but the general picture suggests its not uncommon.

Thing is not every kid's going to be happy reading bricks like Wheel of Time or the Belgariad. Offering them quicker reads like Harry Potter makes sense. But if they walk into a section of the library and its all by girls and about girls and slanted towards girls then, given the current social biases we get, that's not going to fly too good.

As you've said - this issue isn't just about the weird and shabby ghettoisation of SFF by women featuring women. Its about YA actually providing the reading experiences YA want and need.

I had a quick look in Waterstones yesterday after reading this thread, and I found that there seemed to be far more YA-looking books by male authors on the "adult" SFF shelves than by female ones, which seems to support that idea.

That said, I couldn't find any books by either sex in the YA shelves that looked out of place there. (Then again, if a publisher has decided it is YA, they will make the cover and blurb reflect that.) The original Book Riot article suggested that the book by Sarah J Maas shouldn't be YA because its level of sexual content isn't suitable for a 13-yo. But 13-18 is a huge leap in maturity, and something can still be YA even if not suitable for many under-16s. (I've also read something deliberately aimed at teenagers that blows the article's examples out of the water in that respect.) The Maas book has a teenage MC, and though that doesn't mean it can't be adult, for me, making it adult would have to involve a lot of complexity in the worldbuilding, politics, abstract ideas etc, stuff that an adult would be more likely to have the life-experience/learning to engage with than a teenager. (I don't know, to be fair, if the Maas book has that or not, but that aspect wasn't addressed in the article.)
I think my there's a lot of fogginess over whether the border lies. As you say - someone's citing levels of sexuality as a reason for something not to be YA when you've seen higher levels in something aimed at YA. I've only just dipped back into YA but the books I've read sit well next to something like Mistborn in terms of general complexity - Brian has a very fair point there. Or City of Brass, which lives in the adult section in my library and is adult according to the author but is more commonly filed under YA on Goodreads.

So yeah, it stands to reason that very few of the books won't feel like YA... but that doesn't mean they couldn't have been put in the Adult section.

And I think the murkiness of the border only adds to the sense of 'wtf' when there's a clear gender disparity in terms of who gets sorted where.

Mind you, this wouldn't be such a problem if YA wasn't seen as second tier. It shouldn't be. If anything, you could argue that creating books that attract the attention of a demographic that hasn't reached full intellectual maturity is actually more of an achievement.
 

HareBrain

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#18
Mind you, this wouldn't be such a problem if YA wasn't seen as second tier.
Agreed. It's like SFF being seen as inferior altogether. I almost deliberately rammed my car into a tree yesterday to end the brain-pain that resulted from someone on Radio 4's A Good Read, talking about a book with aliens and interplanetary travel, saying he didn't think it was science fiction because "I don't read science fiction".

WHAT THE EVEN ...???? <explodes>
 

The Big Peat

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#19
Agreed. It's like SFF being seen as inferior altogether. I almost deliberately rammed my car into a tree yesterday to end the brain-pain that resulted from someone on Radio 4's A Good Read, talking about a book with aliens and interplanetary travel, saying he didn't think it was science fiction because "I don't read science fiction".

WHAT THE EVEN ...???? <explodes>
Ah yes. The JK Rowling Maneuver.

When I come to power as a fell-handed tyrant, those people will be behind only those with bad Tube Etiquette on my list of social undesirables.
 

Brian G Turner

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#20
I think your definitions might be too much broader than the common ones to be accepted as reasonable.
Quite true - Prince of Fools was marketed as adult fantasy, but when I mentioned to Mark Lawrence I thought it was more like YA he got somewhat annoyed. :)

As for labels and markets - one of the advantages of self-publishing is that you can target different market audiences as required. Whereas traditional publishers would have to choose just one genre and stick to it, a self-published writer can market the same book to different readerships accordingly, and see where they find the best audience fit. :)
 
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