When writing for teens, write for teens and not trends.
You know, when I started writing POLTERGEEKS a couple of years ago, I really did try to create some authenticity. A challenge of course, given that I was 42 at the time and my experience of teen life was about 30 years past its best before date. I did have help though, a lot of help, actually. I wanted to make the story relevant in some way and of course, it was important to make all my teen characters sound like they were teens of today. A lot has changed since my days as a long-haired youth- from values to technology to fashion and music. Still, I think teens are teens and it basically sucks to be a teenager regardless of whether it’s 1982 or 2012.
I didn’t set out to become a YA author, by the way. I just sort of write what’s in my head and I don’t consider myself to be a YA author. I just write books. (I’m writing a middle grade book right now – finishing it up, at any rate.) Again, I write what comes to me and I don’t once consider whether adults will be reading my YA stuff – but I know they are – at least on Goodreads and among most bloggers.
This would be consistent with the study from Bowker released earlier this year that said 55% of YA readers are over 18. A quandary, no? If one is writing for young adults and the majority of the readers are adults then is it in fact, young adult? Goodreads has a really cool thread about explaining what YA is – I recommend that anyone contemplating writing for teens should give it a quick scan. Are the majority of my readers teens? Grown ups? Octogenarians?
I really don’t know. And … I don’t really care. I’m just glad someone is reading my stuff.
But it’s still a sticky subject because there’s the matter of reviews – the bulk of which I suspect might well come from that 55%. Many authors say they don’t read reviews for their books. Hmmmm … maybe. I doubt it because I see links to them being posted all over Twitter and Facebook by authors who are promoting their work. Also, don’t forget that 2012 was the year of the Goodreads author meltdown. Here’s my post about the 12 Stages of Goodreads Author Meltdown. Look at the pretty pictures!
See, I think the majority of reviews are coming from outside the demographic that an author is writing for. Gasp! Are the good (or terrible) reviews going to have an impact on a book’s sales? That’s a darned good question, isn’t it? Sadly, I have no idea whether they do or don’t – maybe online sales. Perhaps. Possibly… anyone got a study on whether Goodreads reviews or book blogger reviews drive sales and please, don’t point to 50 Shades of Grey because that doesn’t count. The lack of sales information leads me to be a bit skeptical and here’s why:
I have a hunch that most people who read books aren’t on Goodreads.
I also have a hunch that most people who read books don’t read book blogs.
Which brings me to the point of this posting. If you’re an author who is tinkering away on a YA project, do try to write for the demographic and not the trends. Write what comes into your head and not what’s at the top of the charts on Amazon or Goodreads. Write because you have an interesting teen story to tell and don’t worry about that 55% of adults who are reading your stuff. Why? Because teens are also reading books where the characters aren’t teenagers. Go figure. I know this because I predate YA and I was reading adult horror and true crime as a teenager. Also because I see teens aplenty at my local brick and mortar shop buying Stephen King and George RR Martin. I saw a teen with a thick book about Churchill written by Martin Gilbert.
What are teens reading? Talk to a librarian and they’ll tell you. I have a librarian friend of mine and I posed the question to her. She answered with once simple word: EVERYTHING. (I didn’t ask if teens were reading 50 Shades of Grey but I suspect a lot are. Why? Because it’s a book. Because it’s top of mind. Because teens are curious, etc. Hell, I would have read it had such a thing existed in 1982).
In other words – it’s the story that matters. Not the genre or sub-genre. Not what USA Today or the NY Times Bestseller list says is selling because bestseller lists only offer a glimpse at the top of the charts and not what’s in the middle or at the bottom. Reading is subjective, as mentioned, and I’ve read a ton of books that were never bestsellers. Why? Because the story grabbed me. Because the cover art made me pick it up off the bookshelf. Because the back cover blurb sounded interesting. So if you are wanting to write a great YA novel, then write a great YA novel and focus on the mechanics of your book and not what everyone on Goodreads or on book blogs are saying the next big thing might be.
The market is and ever will be a fickle beast. Nobody will ever figure it out. Ever. Trends will come and go as they always do. Right now the latest “next big thing” I’m hearing about is so-called “new adult”. I’m reading Tweets from writers all over the place about getting that “new adult” project done before the market peaks. Who knows, maybe “new adult” will be huge … then again, maybe it won’t. But whether it is or it isn’t, just like with YA, just like with horror, romance, or even literary fiction … the story matters. It’s about the story and not the market. So write your story and forget about the market. Write your YA novel because it’s something you love and believe in. And guess what? Some readers will go nuts over your book and tell the world. Some readers will think it’s absolute crap and will post snarky, mean-spirited reviews.
Who cares if they do? Just write your book and try to get it published. If it’s brilliant and enough people love it, maybe you’ll have a bestseller. Or maybe you’ll just earn out your advance.
Just write. Okay? Forget about trends and Goodreads or social media drama. Write what you love for the love of what you write.
Now go have a fabulous 2013, won’t you? Finish that book!!!