The Many Ways YA Books & The Community Isolates Teens

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!

Money Problems

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 . . .

Character Problems

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 BlueThe 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.

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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.

much love, vicky

Let me know your thoughts on this! & what ways do you think we can support teen voices in the community?

EDIT 20 February 2019: I’ve closed comments on this post mainly because I have 3.1k spam comments from bots on this specific post. Thank you for understanding!

174 thoughts on “The Many Ways YA Books & The Community Isolates Teens

  1. As a YA author and high school librarian, this is really helpful to read. One small suggestion I have is that you can read and rate aspiring YA books for free on Swoon Reads and help them get published. That gives you a voice in what might get published AND it doesn’t cost anything, plus you can make suggestions to the authors about what you’d like to see done differently in terms of characters and plot in a story that you otherwise like. And the publisher (which is an imprint of Macmillan, a very big house) gets to hear from you about what you do and don’t like in YA. It’s a win for everyone!

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  2. This is such a deeply relatable subject. As a teen (I say that like I’m still not technically one) I didn’t get a proper parttime job until I turned eighteen, and even then, that money had to be saved up. And before that, the only times I got new books was at book sales or at Christmas. It’s tough wanting to shower your favorite authors with love when all you feel like all you can do is tweet them and write reviews after reading library books. Not that there’s anything wrong with that but in an online world filled with book bloggers reviewing ARCs, special additions, or brand spanking new copies, it feels like you’re cheap.

    The money aspect aside, the most prominent YA book I can think of representing lower YA well is the Young Wizards series by Diane Duane with the two MCs being twelve and thirteen at the beginning. But even that series is sometimes marketed as MG. I recall thirteen to fifteen year old me being frustrated with not being able to relate to many of the characters in other YA books. Not that I didn’t enjoy the other books or that they were badly written, but the characters simply weren’t relatable.

    Anywho, I digress. This is a great post, and you have a new subscriber.

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  3. This is an important post, and you expressed your views brilliantly. I’m an adult who writes YA, and while I do enjoy a lot of “YA” reads myself, I never forget that these *are* supposed to be for actual teens first. I have a 15-year-old son, and when I write my own series, I try to keep in mind what would or wouldn’t appeal to his peers. While plenty of adults like my work as well (and I find that a great compliment), I also have a bunch of younger (20s) and adolescent fans, and one of the biggest praises I get is that my teen characters do have to face issues like homework, curfew, and risking breaking their parents’ rules. As a parent, I really wouldn’t want to write characters that inspired behavior I don’t want my own kids emulating, nor the kids of other parents I know. Too many adults (even parents) forget all of this, and all of what you spoke of. This was a great post. Well done. Good on you for sharing.

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  4. Hi Vicky,

    Thank you so much for your post, you totally nailed the problem. I hope authors will listen and take your insight to heart.

    I hope you don’t mind me asking, but I’ve written an upper MG/lower YA novel and I’d love to hear your thoughts on it. If you have time to read/review it, that would mean a lot to me. It’s on Amazon, but I can send you a pdf copy if you like.

    Thank you so much!

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  5. Thank you so much for writing this. I’ve had an unessy feeling about this for a while now–including YA community conversations. But you have laid it out so insightfully. I really appreciate it.

    I will try to take your advice both in my writing AND in my buying.

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  6. As a person of a certain age (so far into adulting I’m starting to go backwards) who reads many YA books, my biggest complaint stated when reviewing these books: “these characters are not teens; they are adults in teen bodies.” And it frustrates me. I can’t imagine how frustrating it must be as a teen to read these books.

    My daughter teaches high school English. I’ve spent time at her school, talking with the kids and teaching them how to conduct themselves during job interviews. We practice interviewing and I give them feedback. I ask them about their goals and interests. We’re talking sophomores and juniors. I try to assure them it’s okay to be unsure of some goals at this stage of their lives, and that goals and interests can change, and that’s okay too. Then I pick up a YA book, read it, and think, No no no no you got it all wrong! You’ve written teen adults. And it makes me angry.

    But I seldom read other reviews that voice the same complaint, and especially no reviews from teens saying, Hey! I’m a teen and these characters do not reflect us. Now from your post, I know why. But a little part of me had begun to wonder if maybe I was the one who had it wrong.

    Thank you for so beautifully stating what I’ve thought all along. As an author of adult novels, maybe I can go back to that high school and do some interviews of my own, then change some goals and spread my wings into YA.

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  7. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! My favorite YA stories have always been the ones that explored the character’s inner turmoil and personal development. (I love writing them as well!) I, too, have seen way too many books with “teenagers” that acted like adults, so it pretty much felt like an adult story with characters that happened to be teens. Turns me off. As an author, I’m surrounded by conventional advice that older YA sells more. All the how-to articles for writers hoping to break into the business say so. Agents say so. It’s actually kind of difficult for authors to be successful at younger YA, because the publishers dictate the terms. And they follow the money. So unfortunate.

    I’m glad you mentioned the library requests. I’m a big library user as well! *scurries back to writing her books*

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  8. This is why we need to give our kids their own book money! As an adult, I enjoy reading YA, but I prefer teen characters to behave like teens. I’m not a fan of books (generally) with preteen or teen characters who act like adults.

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  9. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Vicky! I’m a librarian and your post fits with what I hear from middle schoolers. They often ask if we have a booklist just for them.

    I’ve been pleased to see that some of the libraries near me have started “Young Teen” collections for grades 5-8. Though it doesn’t change what’s published, hopefully collections like these can help with the transition from middle grade. Here’s a link to a search if anyone’s interested in what’s in one of those collections:

    http://catalog.wccls.org/polaris/search/searchresults.aspx?ctx=1.1033.0.0.6&type=Boolean&term=COL%20=%20YTEEN&by=KW&sort=PD&limit=&query=&page=0&searchid=1

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  10. Do you have specific examples, from Six of Crows or elsewhere, of teen characters not behaving like teens? (This could maybe be a sequel post.)

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  11. This was a GREAT read. I think you so much for putting yourself out that and telling the world how you feel. I’ve been a youth librarian for 6 years and you’re right! Teens will come to me looking for something to read but they’re not ready for All the Bright Places. I make the promise to you (even though you didn’t ask for you) to work harder to find YA for younger readers. I haven’t scoped out your blog yet, but I wonder if you’ve considered putting together a list that librarians and other book buyers can reference to make sure we’re addressing the needs of this slightly forgotten population. That being said, it’s not your job to do the work it’s mine. So I’m off. I look forwarding to hearing what else you have to say. P.S. If your local library has a teen advisory board, you should take a look at it. It’s (well it should be) a space that give teens a voice and tells the library what they would like for their teen department. I wish you luck!

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  12. I love everything about this post! I’m a YA writer, and I try to keep these things in mind. I’m so glad you wrote this. Out of curiosity… do you know of any books that you think are a good example of teens acting like teens?

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  13. I realize i might sound like i’m 100 years old… i promise, i’m not 😀
    When i was a young adult (or teenager, whatever you want to call it), there weren’t YA books around. There were the books for 10-12 year olds, and then there were adult books. So I basically spent my teen years reading about adults adulting in books, so i can totally relate.

    Sometimes i don’t know if YA authors are trying to impress actual adults, or they just forgot how a teenager actually acts/ thinks and that’s why they write how they write. Mind you, i haven’t read all that many YA. But i had the same feeling back in “my days” with tv series aimed at teenagers. I was supposed to watch and enjoy these series about teenagers, in a mostly high school setting, but they were so obviously adults and behaved so much like adults… made me feel off all the time.

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  14. Wow that was super interesting! As a writer and a parent of a 15 and 16 year old, I’ve written a lower-teen book but can’t get it anywhere because the feedback I get is that my main character is too passive, he’s not driving the action until he gets a big kick up the backside (metaphorically) and that’s a big NO in YA fiction. Main characters are supposed to be in charge from the start. I look at my son aged 15/16 and think ‘when did he have the foresight, power or money to be able to drive any action? He’s still a kid. He’s got no power to be self determining except within very narrow boundaries; everyone around him is still telling him what to do. How is he supposed to suddenly save the world; he can’t even hang his own laundry out properly? The book is about someone like him growing up and learning how to have more agency in the world (through stuff happening to him obviously). I want to write a teen based on the ones I have at home and I’m not allowed to. I’m told to turn him into some sort of super-kid who can make the sort of judgements people only make when they have years of life experience behind them. It’s very frustrating from this (writer’s) side too.

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  15. Preach, Vicky! ❤ I relate to this post so much. As a teen reader and blogger too, I find it so frustrating how the publishing industry has been leaning away from teen voices. Although these books can be enjoyed by people of all ages, it's important for publishers to realize that the target audience is teens (13-18 years old). Six of Crows is one of my favorite books ever, but I don't feel as though the characters act like teenagers in the slightest. Is it labeled as YA simply because some of the characters are in their teen years, and there isn't enough smut to categorize as NA?

    I also love what you said regarding how teenagers are dependents so it's difficult for us to obtain books. The vast majority of books I read are e-books because they're significantly cheaper! Not to mention, OverDrive and library loans are incredibly convenient and free. The challenges we face sharing our love for books through monetary means is such a prevalent issue, and I'm so grateful you brought it up!

    More MG/YA transition books is another fantastic point! I didn't read for a few years when I was middle school/early high school too, because I was at that awkward phase where I wasn't sure what I liked to read. Even now, I try recommending books to my 12-14 year old cousins, but find myself perplexed by what's appropriate or not, and whether or not they'd like it at their current age.

    WONDERFUL discussion, beautiful! ❤

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  16. This was an excellent read with LOTS to think about! As a certified Old Person who loves reading YA, I totally agree with you that lots of so-called YA books are actually adult novels in disguise. Six of Crows is an EXCELLENT example of this. I loved SOC but often wondered why they bothered making the characters teens at all. I often wonder if it’s a decision on the part of the publishers who think that books like SOC wouldn’t appeal to traditional adult fantasy fans so they market them as YA even though they’re clearly not.

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  17. Well said, Vicky. Thank you for pondering and posting this. Though I am one of those adults, as a teacher of teenagers, I devour YA lit in hopes of being able to share it with my kiddos. I have often had the same feelings you share here: that these books aren’t really for teens. Seventh grade is a strange age – too old for lots of MG stuff, but too young for most of the YA stuff. Love your suggestion of a hybrid that combines YA and MG. (Also, I was equally surprised when I read Ayesha at Last!) Thanks again! Keep it up!

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  18. Hello Vicky, I am a British writer of YA fantasy (among other things) and found this article really interesting. It’s extremely frustrating that young people do not have a voice to discuss what they want from the books supposedly aimed at them. I think editors should ask young adults to read books for editing purposes before a book comes out. This would work to publicise the books as teens would talk about them pre-publication and also make sure the books suited their target market. For some strange reason, it’s very easy to forget what it was like to be a teenager, and to assume that everyone in any given situation would react exactly as we would. I shall remember this in my writing and do my best to make sure I’m representing my teen characters as accurately as I can. Thank you for writing this!
    Becci

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  19. Such a fascinating discussion. Thank you Vicky! As someone who was a teenager in the 1970s!) now writing for teens/YA in the UK, it’s hugely helpful to read a post like this and all the comments.

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  20. This is a really great post. I write YA and for the most part I *think* I’m writing for teens—generally I’m writing what I would have wanted to read as a teen—I’m sure there are instances where adult perspectives and thoughts creep in. I’ve written 1 upper YA book with the character 18 years old, taking place between end of high school and beginning of college, which I’m pretty sure would be NA if it were smuttier or NA still actually existed, but there you go. My other manuscript has a 15-year-old protagonist though and some of the feedback I’ve gotten on is she’s too immature! I’m reconsidering that feedback now… I’d love to hear some examples of books you *do* think are doing a good job catering to actual teens right now, if you have any!

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  21. Hi Vicky, I am a YA author, and I loved your article. You are exactly right, kids can’t afford to buy books they would relate to, but must depend on an adult to buy them. There are a lot of YA authors (including myself) who make their books cheap or free. I have 4 books in a series on Amazon, and if you’d like me to send you free copies in ebook format of the complete series, (YA epic fantasy) please let me know. I would be glad to do so. My characters are teens, and while not modern teens, they are not shorter adults. Hope you continue to share your thoughts because what teens think is very important to me.

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  22. Wonderful writing in this post. Also a very interesting take on the YA genre I haven’t heard before, but have felt for a long time. Nice work!

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  23. Oh, THANK YOU! It often feels like my books wind up in No-Man’s-Land because I strive to write books that serve as a bridge b/w MG and the Now YA–books like The Running Dream and Wild Bird and Confessions of a Serial Kisser–that all have high-school protagonists, deal with realistic and relevant issues, but don’t cross into adult language or sexual content. But it’s a battle! And a struggle. They are “younger” than the YA norm, and also “older” than MG. So where do they get shelved? Just this week my editor and I were discussing my “bridge book” philosophy and how important…and seemingly disregarded…the need for such books is, and that the marketplace isn’t open for yet another category. We wound down the conversation by my restating (as I have for so many years) that I’m just going to keep being a bridge and hope that readers will find a path to me. And now I read your post and it makes my eyes sting with gratitude. THANK YOU for the beautiful articulation of your point.

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  24. This is a really interesting post, thank you! I know in the UK authors get money back from libraries so borrowing books over here does help authors.

    Re: the Amazon reviews, could you leave reviews on Goodreads instead? It’s free to join but still helps authors, and is actually owned by Amazon so the reviews are linked.

    There is definitely a lot to think about here though. Thanks! 🙂

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  25. Wow oh wow. Thank you for this! I’ve learned a lot from it. I write for the Rapid Lines with Orca Books, and now for the YA Soundings line. Must admit I’d never thought about the money angle, and how that limits the way we can hear from wonderful readers like you. I found out my Goddaughter books (which were really adult) were being read by teens when two male teachers came up to me at a signing and said, “did you know your books are popular in high schools? Why aren’t you writing YA?” And that’s when I pitched a YA crime book to my publisher, with a 16 year old protagonist. If the teachers hadn’t mentioned this to me, I would never have known I had a teen audience building. You can quote me on that, by the way. If you would ever like to try my books, let me know. I’ll put one in the mail for you. http://www.melodiecampbell.com

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  26. i’m glad i found this post! you bring up so many great points and i’m so glad to see them being discussed in the community. i have a couple of thoughts, if you’ll indulge me:

    regarding your money discussion, i think A LOT of this is due to the fact that YA publishing (much like a lot of other industries) has knowingly or unknowingly operated on the assumption that young people were the ones who had the greatest amount of expendable income. that is to say, because – for the “average” young person – they didn’t have “adult” bills (rent, food, medical etc.), they should have the expendable income to buy things like books. if they didn’t have that income, then they would *certainly* have parents that could afford to buy them books at will. (i suspect this also contributed to the flood of homogenous stories based around primarily white middle or upper-class kids, which remained the standard until just a couple years ago.)

    obviously this is an outdated notion and shows that the system itself is predicated on a classism which fails to take into account the diversity of situations and responsibilities that young people actually face. i’m not sure what the answer is here (lol i guess no one does or else it would have been solved already!) but it seems to be a difficult question similar to what all genres deal with regarding diversity and own voices. we still need those big blockbuster series that appeal to all ages (that are labeled as YA but aren’t necessarily an accurate portrayal of teen life) in order to fund the less popular niche books that take those important “risks.” i guess the question is, as you suggested, how do you make the field a little bit wider to make more room for those books?

    perhaps the publishers thought marketing YA to adults (catalyzed and compounded by the rise of booktube) would help them create that space. maybe they didn’t think through it at all and just saw the dollar signs. i don’t know! but that is why i think it’s so great for you to bring this up, and for all of us to take a stand and question publishers seriously so that we can perhaps allow for more equitable storytelling.

    oddly enough, i also think harry potter could be a great antidote here (in concept, not content). i was about 11 when harry first came on the scene so i was lucky enough to actually grow both as a reader and as a person right alongside him; i think more quality series like HP would help bridge that transition gap you mentioned, as those books advance both in content and style adequately for a young person (at least they seemed to at that time). for me, and for millions of kids of my generation, we never had to deal with that intimidation factor because we literally looked forward to a new HP book every year of our adolescence. i don’t read much fantasy so maybe there are a ton more series like this, but if not, perhaps we could make a point to create more!

    i’ve really said too much so the only other thing i’ll mention is just how vehemently i agree with your point about non-teen voices in YA. that’s not to say that i want or need actual teens writing all the books, but the number one thing that drives me bonkers in YA is when you get these super developed characters that speak with a professor-like eloquence (there’s a couple very popular YA writers who are the biggest offenders that shall remain nameless). i think it’s unnecessary and also a little bit insulting, you know? as an adult who’s worked with actual teens for a few years, and also as just a regular old human, it seems a little nuts to me that you’d have to create these super niche, super nerdy, anomalies of characters in order to make them interesting or complex, you know? like you don’t have to use 10-dollar words every page to have these characters be interesting or relatable.

    OKAY actually my last thought is that this intimidation feeling you mention, i think, also extends into adult genres and is part of the problem there as well: i think a lot of adults feel so incredibly intimidated by literary fiction because it’s often super dense, so they cling to YA because it’s more ~comfortable~ to read and ~easier~ to enjoy. that’s all to say that maybe this all starts at the “top.” if we were to make adult genres less dichotomized (because you have like intense literary fiction and then like romance/”chick lit” basically, that’s it!) then perhaps there’d be more room in YA to cater to actual teens, as was was originally intentioned to do.

    i don’t know. i have no answers but i do want to say thank you for bringing this to my attention and for getting me thinking about it! also thank you for reading this if you actually made it this far! I’m currently endeavoring to write a book of my own so i’ll certainly keep all of these things in mind as i continue on in that journey!! keep speaking your mind dude, you’re doing great!!

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  27. This is interesting to me, because I’m someone who writes YA, none of which has been published yet because I’m not that good yet, but that’s the goal. I constantly get criticisms that my teen characters act YOUNGER than their age??? But then again I get those criticisms from adults who read mostly upper YA, so maybe as far as actual teens go, I might be on the right track? The problem is I try to go for upper YA themes, with a lot of romance, and fantasy settings where characters get married at young ages. For instance, my current FMC is married and pregnant by the time she is 18. Yet I’ve had adults tell me that based on her voice in my writing, she sounds like she’s 12? So like… what?!
    I feel like I need teen beta readers… but where does one find teen beta readers?

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  28. Even though I am an adult YA writer, who has probably committed some of the sins you mentioned above, I think this is a fantastic article. In future, I will try to have teen-exclusive giveaways at least. Thank you.

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  29. Really important points, Vicky. YA library promotions should be a given; it’s win for the readers, win for the beleaguered libraries. Authors get salty about book piracy (fair enough) but at the same time fail to recognise the financial position many teens are in. Parents tend to buy books up to a certain age and then stop, perhaps feeling that teens will choose their own reading material. But with whose money? Publishers need to recognise what a turning point this is, and market accordingly. As a devoted library user, I will push harder for library promotions for my YA books. Thank you for the prompt.

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  30. Hi Vicky, I really enjoyed your post. I’ve actually been thinking a lot about the way YA books feature a lot of older characters or difficult to relate to situations. 🙂

    I’m 25 now but I haven’t read a book yet that framed the teenage experience in the right way. The ‘teenage experience’ is constantly changing from generation to generation and by the time most authors write books aimed at teens, they’ve probably long grown out of their old habits and lifestyles.

    I actually write books aimed at teens but having considered points such as the ones you’ve written about, I figured out that my books are more NA than YA. However, if you do ever want to talk my ear off, I’d love to work with you on learning about what teens want from fiction today.

    I hope you have a good weekend, Dax. 🙂

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  31. Wow! I arrived here because Maggie Stiefvater pointed towards your post and I stayed because this is seriously good reading! I’ve been reviewing YA for years, and I struggle with how confronting some of the content can be — I think, “Would I encourage the young adults in my life to read this?” There’s a place for those stories too, but I’m surprised by how little of what I’ve read “for young adults” feels right for a young teen. I’m working on a new manuscript with a publisher right now for the YA market, and I’m glad I’ve read your thoughts because they’re helping educate me in how to do and be better.

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  32. So many great points! I do enjoy Janette Rallison because she has a great teen voice, but I agree I would like more fantasies in this genre.

    As a writer of YA fantasy, I wonder what issues teens feel are not addressed enough in the books supposedly marketed to them? Any tips on how to better reach that market? One problem we authors often run into is not a lot of teens, especially younger teens, are active on the social media platforms that are frequently used for marketing. For those that are, how can we make our posts more relevant to your lives? Same with sending out arcs. It is tricky to ask a teen for their personal information, like a mailing address.

    The financial struggle is a real thing, even for adults. The mainstream authors’ books are often priced way too high for most people to purchase, but the indie market, while more affordable, is over-saturated and people don’t trust it as much. Library recommendations are super great, but, unfortunately, don’t help feed a hungry author or help her afford the resources needed to keep writing. Asking your parents for books and word of mouth is amazing!

    Thanks for an amazing, and thought-provoking, post!

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  33. Yes. I’m a high school librarian in a conservative area and I struggle to find appropriate reads for my students. I find myself saying, “There is a lot of sexual content in this one” multiple times a day. Or, “the movie for this took out all the F words to get a PG-13 rating.”
    I have turned in part to more middle grade fiction and fiction from religious publishers. Not a perfect solution, however.

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  34. This is a great post! I’m really glad someone in a FB group I’m in shared a link to it. I’m coming at it as a YA author and I know from experience how hard it is to get publishers interested in younger YA books (which is what I write). Even though I’d been traditionally published in (adult) historical romance for years and year, NO ONE wanted to take a chance on a book with a 15 year old heroine in 10th grade. “Age her up and we can take another look” I heard more than once. Which I did NOT want to do, because that would be a different story. Plus, I’d also noticed how few YA books were out there aimed at younger teens–books I enjoy as a reader, too! (Never been a huge fan of books with lots of sex and violence, even though I know they’re “what sells.”)

    I finally ended up independently publishing my YA books and haven’t regretted it. But it IS hard for indie publishers to find their teen readers, because schools and libraries don’t automatically carry our books. I LOVE the suggestion of adding something to my website, author’s note, etc. suggesting that teens request my books from their libraries as a way to show support! I’ll definitely do that. It also hadn’t occurred to me how hard it must be for teens to leave Amazon reviews. (Goodreads reviews are always appreciated too! And you don’t have to buy anything to leave those.)

    I would suggest that those of you looking for younger YA at least consider indie-pubbed books, since I know I’m not the only one writing to fill that gap (and being spurned by the big publishers because of it).

    Thank you, Vicky, for this thoughtful and thought-provoking post. I’ll definitely be popping back to check your blog in the future, now that I know about it!

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  35. So many good points. I’m in my 20’s, but when I was a teen besides Harry Potter I didn’t read many YA books at all. I was/am a history buff so I stuck to European history books. I am working on a YA Fantasy Time Travel type book and have read soooooooo many “YA” labeled books over the year and most of them the “teens” in those books act wise beyond their years. They don’t act like teens. The book I am working on is SUPER SUPER PG compared to many YA books on the market I have read, and part of me is afraid its not spicy enough hahaha. But you know what ,I feel like when your a teen not everything has to be about sex! As a teen, I still felt younger than I was. Just because a person is 24 doesnt men they necessarily feel like a full-fledged adult. they could still have insecurities they had when they were 16/17 you know.

    What is funny is the reverse harem genre is super popular now, and many are labeled as YA books!!!! Like if I was 16 I don’t think i would feel comfortable reading a reverse harem book yet a plethora of these books are aimed towards them. so weird. ( to be fair some RH are pure smut, but other ones are amazing like The Veil Diaries!)

    The money issue is something I would never ever have thought of! But it is something so true of kids all over the country. For me I was fortunate to have been able to buy whatever books I wanted, and I lived in an affluent area so my friends could get whatever they wanted too. But for many kids, the library is their only option. Also with the libraries now adays teens can get free ebooks.

    What I want to know is how the New Adult market got so full of smutty reads? Like I dont get it. If you look in Amazon KU the new adult section is made up of college romance stories/ haters to lovers type stories. And super raunchy titles that just makes you want to roll your eyes.

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  36. Vicky, you’ve opened my eyes a bit wider! A fellow author shared this post with a group of us. You’ve made great points to ponder. When I began writing, it was for that group of readers lost between middle-grade and mature YA fiction. I simply couldn’t find books that I thought were appropriate and still interesting enough for 12 to 14-year-olds. They were either too silly/babyish or contained much more mature content than I believed that age group was looking for. And the money—yes! I keep telling my publisher that teens are not the main buyers of my novels. Parents and grandparents buy for their teens, and college-age to working young women buy them for themselves. I always encourage people (whether they purchase or not) to ask their libraries to order my books for teens who cannot afford to buy them. Best wishes for continued success with your blog!

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  37. Dude. When I was a teen I wanted a book that took me the fuck away from being a teen. I read contemporary fantasy novels. With adult characters. The teen books were dull and uninteresting and talked down to me like I was doltish and slow.

    I don’t know why every fucking thing under the sun has to be represented but I want exciting dynamic characters, not characters that are exactly like me. I read go escape as a teen, I read to escape as an adult.

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  38. Hi Vicky, I agree about how teens aren’t given a voice in the publishing industry and I feel as though it would be SOOO beneficial for at least ONE book publishing company to start, say, a group of free polls on a website, or create their own website where we can create accounts and publish posts on what we want in the bookish community.

    The only thing that I disagree with here is the money aspect. The vast majority of teen readers that I know (myself included) buy books, and if we earn any money, then we spend it on books because that’s what we love above everything else. If you’re younger than 18, then you aren’t in college, and (in Australia at least) you have to be 16 to even start getting your licence, let alone already having a car to drive, so you don’t need to pay for these things.

    So teens do actually own their own books, and in fact, myself and every other one of my bookish friends have:
    1. Bought books for themselves (working or not)
    2. Ordered books online (local bookstores don’t have every book we want, obviously)
    3. Pre-ordered books (if you want a book that’s not out, or have been long-awaiting a sequel or a novel by someone you adore, you’re going to want to pre-order it)

    Even though I don’t fully agree with the ‘dependents’ thing that you were explaining, especially as the majority of people in the teen age-bracket (13-18) can get jobs, I totally agree about how teens aren’t properly represented in the bookish community even though teen fiction basically equates to young adult fiction. I think the reason why that has happened though is because teen readers have wanted to read above their age, and so ‘young adults’ have now become ‘teens’ as well.

    However, your Character Problems section?

    PREACH!
    I have never heard anything more relatable in my entire life. Even as I was reading it, the thoughts I was having were being answered as SOON as I thought them. I love this so much and honestly we need to get this out there, to book publishers and influencers and anybody with any book-related power that could help with this issue.

    I’m so glad I read this, it was an amazing article, thank you so much for writing it.

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    1. Hi Bella! I’m happy that you and your friends have the privilege of having your own spending money and being able to buy books–that’s truly wonderful, and I’m very glad for you.

      But, please don’t assume that “teens do actually own their own books” when I can straight up tell you that not all of us do. Please don’t assume that your privilege extends to all the teens out there. I know that some teens out that have the money to purchase books exist (hence, why I say “almost” in this post), but for the hundreds of you out there, there are hundreds more like me and all the book lovers I know who are rarely able to afford them–especially at full price.

      Also, please don’t assume that just because we legally can get jobs at 14, doesn’t mean we’re allowed to or able to. Especially when we can’t drive ourselves. Not everyone is privileged enough to be able to buy books and preorders, and we have to try and support our favorite authors in other ways.

      Legally in the United States almost anyone who is a minor is considered a dependent. In most cases, you become legally “independent” when you’re 22, unless you can provide proof of estrangement etc. It’s part of what I filled out on my college apps–that yes, I am legally considered a dependent.

      I really do hope publishers listen, and that someone puts together a teen focus group or something, because that’s valuable insight. Thanks for taking the time to read!

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  39. This is spot on! Thank you for saying all of this. I write for teens and I have teen kids and I once was a teen. But I’m never sure that I’m getting it right. I really appreciate this read!

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  40. Thanks for this brave and thoughtful post, Vicky! You’ve helped me update my perspective as an author. One reason I chose to write YA is because I remember well my own teen frustration at trying to find the “representative” sorts of books you describe (especially ones with worthy heroines). The explosion of YA offerings over the past few years made for a crowded field, and after my first two titles struggled for attention, I’m now trying my hand at an adult novel. But you make a strong case that many books marketed as “YA” are really just a specific kind of adult fantasy. Romance, power, and intrigue certainly weren’t part of my adolescent experience! Perhaps I’ll embrace that middle-grade adventure story I’ve been neglecting for years on the assumption that no one would read a book about a misfit twelve-year-old battling folkloric monsters.

    As far as teens’ ability to support authors, you have more power than you think. Recommending the book on Goodreads, social media, or to friends in person can boost us as much as an Amazon review. You can also ask libraries to stock a title. A simple note to your favorite author on their website, sharing your thoughts on their book, can mean more to them than a stack of purchases. Indie authors like me especially treasure these connections with readers. Publishers may not give credence to teen voices, but authors do!

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  41. This is so timely for me as a newbie to the YA world. I’ve been writing picture books. So my question is, Do you have a list of books you think represent the teen voice well? The teens in my life are a bit sheltered so it’s hard for me to get a feel for the mainstream. I’ll check out your blog but I’d love a couple of suggestions. Joyfully! -Joleen

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  42. I’m 22 now but when I was younger I found so many YA “teenage” characters actually seemed much older and more mature than they should be for their age, or were wrote by someone trying to be down-with-the-kids and too cringe-y to finish. I don’t know why authors can’t just let an actual teenager read the draft and suggest changes (also like how when writing a character of a nationality that’s not yours – please please please have someone from there proof read it, for me nothing is more frustrating like seeing others writing horribly inaccurate Irish characters)

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  43. This is such an important post. Thank you for your thoughts. I’m super old by comparison to you (37), but I’m writing a lower-YA novel, and I keep getting told that a 13 or 14 year old protagonist is “no man’s land.” The suggestion is always to age it down to MG or age the protagonist up to 16 or 17. Basically, people think that no one wants to read about 14-year-olds and their problems — but I disagree! 🙂

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  44. Very well written. I especially liked your point that “You might think a trope is overdone, but it could be new and fresh and amazing for them, so don’t forget that.” I am a high school teacher, and a few years ago I realized things that seem cliché to me are tropes my nieces and students are seeing for the first time (so I just keep those opinions to myself, now.)

    Your point about money and the power that comes with it also resonated with me. A couple of years ago my student and I were geeking out over The Raven Boys together, and I offered to let her borrow my copy of The Raven King when I finished. It had just come out, and I realized I didn’t want to lend out my signed hardcover copy but of course it wasn’t available in paperback yet. So I just wound up buying her a hardcover copy of her own. It really reminded me about how extremely limited funds can be when one is a teen, and that long wait for a book to come out in paperback or become available at the library.

    The lack of middle-grade and lower YA was something that frustrated me as a teenager as well. This was before YA exploded as a genre and got a name and a section. It went from adventurous, idealistic Animorphs straight to over-sexed R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike.

    What do you think non-author adults can do to empower teenagers to influence YA as a genre?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, teens are definitely stressed for money, a lot of us with college looming in the future and the need to pay for that. Waiting for the library is SOO long, but it’s worth it once I was able to read.

      Honestly, I would say listen to the teens in your life about what THEY find interesting, and also try to support books they’d want to read, not just what you want to read! Also, let them have the freedom to learn what they like! (& online, boost teen voices & make sure to ask online teens what they think too)

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  45. Have you read Alice Oseman’s books? She’s a young author and her books are always so good and so relatable and accurate to the Teen Experience(tm) bc she just lived it and in general I love her

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve read her webcomic Heartstopper, but haven’t had a chance to pick up her other books (though I very much want to!) I’ve heard so many great things about her work, she’s definitely one I’d recommend too!

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  46. Wow! This is so enlightening, mainly because I consider myself a YA author, but after reading your post, I don’t believe I write true YA. New Adult yes, but I assume teens are older in their thinking in this day in age, and want an edgier read. It’s also sadly, like you pointed out, what the “market” dictates, but according to you, not what a lot of teens want. Sex is supposed to sell everything from hamburgers to teen romance books. The problem YA authors face is our publishing gods, aka Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and iBooks, don’t give us a lot of options for categories to place our books where they will get exposure to readers like you. And publishing houses fix the sale price to cover all their costs. I’m shocked when I see digital books for teens priced at $15.00. Even self-published authors like myself, are forced to price our books competitively so we can be seen in the marketplace with other best-selling authors. To be honest, I don’t make money selling YA, but I love writing YA/NA and reading the same, so I stay in the genre. I try to keep my books in Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited where you can read all you want for a subscription fee, but you’re right, the majority of teens can’t afford KU subscriptions. Unfortunately, creating a paperback book is expensive and the minimum price is preset by whatever publishing platform prints our book. I try to donate my books to libraries, and have the option on my print books for libraries to purchase them for a reduced price. Always request a book, if you don’t see them on the shelf. So my question to you is, where do you and your friends look to find out what books are available? What social media sites? And I know that sounds like I’m fishing for promo ops, but I’m not. After reading your post, I’d love to be able to offer teens chances to get my books, and my other author friends’ who write lower YA/MG, for free. I think reading is essential for teens so anything I can do, or alert my colleagues to do to help make it easier, I want to try. I also need to take your suggestions on how to write teens characters to heart and change a few things in the books I’m currently drafting. Again, thank you for this post! And never be afraid to voice your opinion. You go girl! Again, thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Honestly? Not a lot of my reading friends are involved in book social media, so that’s a good way to reach book bloggers, but not regular run of the mill teen readers. I would suggest definitely word of mouth, if you’re able, and also places like libraries! Before I was online, I would get all my book recs from libraries.

      Okay, small amendment. I checked Goodreads for books similar to ones I liked, but I didn’t read reviews very often–just checked lists and “Similar Books You May Like”

      Hope this helped!

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