I think (I know) some people will probably disagree with me on this, but a fundamental assumption made in this post is that first and foremost, YA’s audience are teens ages 13-18.
This isn’t supposed to be a “adults can’t read YA!!!” post, nor is it supposed to argue who YA is for. I’m telling you straight out that I think YA is first & foremost for teens, and if you can’t at least understand (not necessarily agree, but understand) this assumption for the rest of this post, then it’s probably best to stop reading while you’re ahead.
Because I’m not here to talk about who YA is for–I believe it’s for teens. I’m here to talk about how given the fact that it’s for teens, the YA book community can still . . . have a lack of thought towards teenagers.
Honestly, I’ve been nervous to write this whole post, but it’s been stewing in my mind for a long time, so thank you Jen @bookavid for giving me that written-out push to write this (and before I stop being a teen!)
There are a lot of ways I’ve seen teens voices get overlooked, and before we even start, one of the first things I want every teen reading this post is to go nominate your favorite 2018 YA books in the YALSA Public Nomination Form! This is for TEENS ONLY. And you can nominate as many as you want. So go forth, my fellow peers!
Now, for the juicy part & the tea. I’ve basically split this whole post into “Money Problems” and “Character Problems” and although they overlap, they’re separated pretty well.
So without further ado, let’s get into it!
Did you know that teens are dependents?
I know, shocking, right? Most of us don’t have much or any personal money. And what personal money we do have is for gas or for college or for getting by. And of course, money problems are true for anyone who isn’t rich, but it’s especially prevalent because it basically affects almost every teen out there as they don’t have an income that leads to much spending money.
Publishing is a business, obviously. And a lot of it is run by the numbers–what people are buying. And therefore, people who buy books have a voice on what gets published.
And people who don’t buy books, like teens, don’t have as strong of a voice.
Because we’re not buying 4 special editions of a book. We’re checking books out from the library. We’re borrowing from friends. We’re sitting in a bookstore for 3 hours reading something, but very rarely buying.
So, because our lack of lots of funds to buy books and therefore influence the market, stories that might not appeal or relate to teens as much (addressed more in “Character Problems”) are more often published because that’s what sells.
And there’s no obvious solution for this, besides getting publishing to listen to teens (like through the YALSA nominations!).
We can’t preorder to show support for books we think we’ll relate to. (I don’t know a single friend who has preordered a book. I have never preordered one either.)
We can’t leave Amazon reviews. Because not only is there a spending limit, most parents are unwilling to let their teen use their account to post a review, when they could just . . . not post it.
We can’t do some of the biggest actions that go towards supporting a book and showing what we teens are excited for.
Which is also why, authors, you should keep in mind that the audience you wrote a book for–teens–can’t do a lot of the things you ask, even though we really want to support you.
We can’t get you that 50 Amazon reviews, as much as we would love to. We can’t preorder your book, usually. We can’t do this, and sometimes when you ask this repeatedly of us, it makes us feel bad that we’re dependent on others and can’t shower you with love. (So we always appreciate it when you make it known that you don’t expect this of us.)
We can, however, check things out from the library or send a postcard (if we live in the US). Anyone who has included library requests (or postcard sends) in their preorder info is a true queen. I appreciate you.
(EDIT: To clarify for all those that ask, postcard sends are when preorder campaigns, usually run by publishers–Penguin Teen oftentimes, and sometimes Fierce Reads–let you send in a postcard & they’ll send you the preorder swag without you buying the book!)
Understand that the audience of YA novels–teens–are dependents and we can’t do a lot of things. We can’t show our voice through our money, because we don’t really have money. And this is why it’s especially important for everyone–specifically authors and publishers–to listen to teen feedback on what we want to read in a book.
Which brings us to . . .
Adults’ money speaks, and adults oftentimes support YA novels with older characters.
Actually–scratch that. Characters who are in their teen years, but basically act like adults.
I find this is both because adult publishing doesn’t want YA-style stories–character relationships and lots of entertainment value. But adults do want to read these types of books, and they show it by influencing the YA category.
So, we end up with lots of upper YA books featuring young adult characters that are acting older and older, but they’re still the same age.
And this doesn’t mean YA readers can’t enjoy adult characters or adult novels or novels with characters that act like adults. But it does mean that these books are taking up the space of books that should be representing teens and the teenage experiences–not a YA style story representing an adult experience.
I’m prepared to be dragged for this, but Six of Crows. I loved reading Six of Crows because it was interesting and dark and a delicious read. But do I feel like the SoC characters act like teens? HA–no.
Do I think they represent teenage feelings? Not really. The feel like college students or adults, and although it’s cool to read, I don’t feel represented by Six of Crows.
Obviously this is a problem more prevalent in fantasy (as there’s more wiggle room for older characters), but a lot of books are being published where the teens just . . . don’t act like teenagers.
And these books are taking up space–on bestsellers lists, on bookstores shelves, on library shelves–that could be filled with books that better portray the teenage experiences.
This still doesn’t mean these are bad books, it’s just that they’re not really books that represent teens.
We can see how the YA book community still likes to talk about adult books a bunch–Victoria Schwab books or The Queens of Innis Lear or The Poppy War or adult romances. Did you know I thought Red, White, and Royal Blue, The Kiss Quotient, and Ayesha at Last were all YA? But they’re not. They’re all adult. They’ve just been promoted so much in YA spheres that I assumed.
And that’s the thing–teens end up thinking these are teen books, but they’re not. They’re not going to represent us teens as much as they would adults. And although we can enjoy them, they’re still not really our books.
And a good solution would be to bring back New Adult without as much smut! But we all know publishing gave up on that. So back to the drawing board.
(Also, side note, it helps your book if you keep things current! No one uses numbers to text–like “B4 U go can U pick up the grapes? THX LOL” and most college apps are online, now.)
One last repercussion I want to talk about is how the prevalence of “adult YA” is close to eradicating lower YA. I talk about this sometimes, but I struggled a lot with transitioning from middle grade to YA.
I went through 2+ years where I didn’t read anything for pleasure, because I couldn’t find a YA book that appealed to me. I am always overjoyed, even as an older teen, when I find a lower YA book because I know it’s something I would have loved when I was 12-14.
We need lower YA and YA/MG mixes. Because without them, the world is losing so many readers in the span of a few years, just because all the books in the YA category are intimidating and seemingly for adults.
In the end, I don’t have a good solution.
But I do know that we should all boost teen voices–and not just on the internet. Go ask teens in your life what they like to read. Try and support books that teens have said they loved, so they might get more books like it. Buy books that teens want to read for the teens in your life–not books you want to read.
You might think a trope is overdone, but it could be new and fresh and amazing for them, so don’t forget that.
And authors especially, don’t forget to try and include teens when you talk on social media–don’t forget that you’re not just working for your career, there’s also a teen who is going to pick up your book and we don’t want to leave them out.
You can host giveaways exclusively for teens! You can send review copies–to teens! There are so many ways to make sure teen voices–voices who YA is supposed to be for–are heard, so try, for the teens in this community.