Lately I’ve been asked: why the switch to YA?
Which is a great question! While my first published books were in the adult category (my Agency of Burglary & Theft series), my YA debut is coming out in Feb 2018. Truth is, there are many reasons for the switch to YA. I’ll probably talk more about the process of writing YA in future posts but for this post I want to dive into the concept that, for me, reading YA happened well before writing YA ever did.
Even as an adult, I’ve always been a reader of YA fiction (and middle grade, for that matter) so it felt completely natural for me to start writing YA. When I lived in the UK many years ago I read a ton of YA and MG fiction. At the time Harry Potter was at its height—in fact, JK Rowling hadn’t even finished writing the whole series yet—so I was devouring those (along with everyone else). The first writing class I took, also while living in the UK, was in children’s fiction, and when I attended my first writing conference, the Surrey International Writers’ Conference, I made sure to check out all the YA and middle grade workshops. A couple of years later I entered my first writing contest: the Writer’s Digest Annual Writing Competition (along with 17,000 other entrants!). My story about a girl pirate won 2nd prize in the children’s fiction category. BOOYAH! That win was a HUGE boost to my confidence as a writer, and caused me to start taking myself seriously as a writer. (Also? I used the $500 prize money to buy my writing desk—the same one I use now.)
Fast forward several years. Even while writing and publishing my adult books, I found myself gravitating toward YA again. I dabbled with writing YA stories again and short pieces…and then ultimately a book-length work which became GAME OF SECRETS.
I know I’m not alone in my appreciation for YA. It’s no secret that many adults read YA now.
But if you’re one of the uninitiated, if you’ve never read YA, here are a few reasons to give it a try.
1. The Theme of “Firsts”
We’ve all experienced the thrill of doing something for the first time, and YA by its nature is FULL of firsts: first date, first battle, first kiss, first time striking out on your own, first time losing someone important…these are all deeply moving things to read about.
Most great fiction has a strong sense of voice, but this is particularly important in YA. It’s one of the things YA agents and editors often say they are looking for: a compelling, unique voice. (And if you’re interested in learning more about this, here’s my article on finding your writer’s voice). A strong voice pulls you in, hooks into your emotions, forces you to care. It’s one of the things I think is so appealing, addictive, and seductive about YA.
3. Story is King
Sometimes adult fiction can get a little…precious. A little too literary, perhaps, with more emphasis on the writing and less on the story. I mean, if quiet stories are what you love, then enjoy! Some of my favorite books fall into this genre, and sometimes I love to get lost in beautiful prose. But there are other times when I turn to fiction for the pleasure of escapism, to lose myself in the vicarious experience…and YA definitely provides this. There are exceptions of course, but YA novels do tend to be page-turners. They’re often highly readable, compelling stories full of conflict and suspense—the stuff that keeps you up long past your bedtime.
At the same time, YA characters are a fascinating bunch. For one thing, there’s the inherent fact the protagonist is a teen—which means a lot of things are automatically stacked against her. Extra obstacles to overcome. As one of my YA writer friends says: “Dumbledore could have killed Voldemort but it was Harry. Coin could have killed Snow, but it was Katniss. Adults can do hard things. They can be brave and strong. But how much more impressive and meaningful is it when a teen has to step up to evil?” (That friend of mine and agency sister, by the way, is Tricia Levenseller, who just pubbed her YA debut, DAUGHTER OF THE PIRATE KING, and it positively rocks.)
5. Genre Mashups
In adult fiction, genres are separated into distinct sections of the bookstore: romance, mystery, sci-fi, etc. I understand why they do this, but the trouble is it can ghetto-ize certain genres and inhibit readers from reading outside their comfort zone. In contrast, the YA section is all YA, regardless of genre. Sci-fi beside thriller beside contemporary romance. And—even better—the books themselves are often mashups of genres. Like: A GREAT AND TERRIBLE BEAUTY (literary, historical, paranormal). GRAVE MERCY (“medieval historical thriller featuring teenage assassin nuns.”) CINDER (sci-fi, fairytale retelling, romance). A bit of fantasy? Awesome. Humor? Even better. Throw it all in there.
6. Coming of Age
The coming-of-age theme has the power to affect us on a deep level because we were all teens once. YA, by its nature, is all about coming-of-age. Last night we were watching Star Wars…for the hundredth time (the original movie, episode IV) and this time I was struck with how young Luke looked. “He was just a kid!”, I exclaimed to my husband. And then I thought about it for a second and added, “You know, if this story were released today, it would definitely be YA.” Don’t you think? The appeal of the coming-of-age story is timeless, and it’s one reason YA will always have a place in our hearts—and a spot on the bookshelf.
So have I convinced you yet? If yes, let me know in the comments! And if you already read YA, I’d love to hear your recommendations: what are your favorite YA reads?
Psst…are you a writer? I’ve put something together for you!
I rarely talk about this, but I’ve been building a writer’s craft binder for years. It’s like my own personal writing handbook that I fill with resources, tips, and ideas gleaned from all kinds of places: writing books, conferences, podcasts, etc.
That binder also contains a collection of worksheets I’ve created for myself. Given that my most frequently asked questions are about writing process, I’ve decided to start sharing some of those worksheets—starting with a worksheet I developed for that magical phase when I first start thinking of an idea for a new book. It’s where I begin gathering ideas and thoughts on various aspects of a story while it’s first percolating.
Go ahead and click the thumbnail below to download your free copy.
I hope you find it helpful!