Monday, October 8, 2012

Young Adult label

With a little trepidation over continuing a fruitless debate, and fear of accidentally marketing a book I know nothing about, I'm going to weigh in on a little debate on the intersphere: Is having your book labeled YA a bad thing?

To sum up the debate, an author of a popular zombie book complained that his novel was getting labeled as YA. Some YA authors and readers took offense at that. The whole thing gets deeper and twisted, because that's what happens when you debate things on the internet. I'm going to try to keep things relatively simple myself and shift the focus a bit. (for the inciting incident, check out this well written blog post at Read Now Sleep Later)

So, is it a problem if your book gets called YA? Let's define problem as something that prevents you from reaching your goal. So what's the goal for writing a book? If your goal is to write a literary masterpiece that raises the art form to a higher level - well, what do labels matter in that case? Writing a book is writing a book, whatever it's named or classified as is irrelevant. Every book stands on its own two feet (or hundred thousand words). So a YA tag doesn't affect the writing of the book whatsoever.

But if your goal is to sell books, what then? I can see how any book might have diminished sales if it's mistakenly shelved in the wrong section. Readers who like that type of book might have a harder time finding it, and those that find it may be disappointed that it doesn't fit into genre norms. That could hurt its acceptance and its sales. But truthfully, YA isn't a genre. It's a marketing category. And since over half of YA books are sold to adults, that categorization clearly doesn't limit the age range of potential buyers. Not to mention that YA is hot right now and on many levels out-selling adult-genre books. So if you want to sell books, it seems like you'd appreciate the YA tag.

To add to this point, it's important to note that the particular book in question was not getting sold as just YA - as happens with a number of books it was distributed as an adult novel and getting cross-listed as YA. Bonus: two categories. If you want to sell books, how can you complain about getting listed in more categories. I'm kinda hoping my book ends up getting labeled a YA, fantasy, sci-fi, romance, thriller mystery. That'd be sweet!

So if it doesn't affect your writing, and it will likely help your sales, why complain? Because some people think that YA is inferior. That it's been dumbed-down for teenagers and immediately suggests that the book isn't serious or well written. But who thinks this? Anyone that really matters? Some of the greatest classics of literature can be fairly labeled YA: Huck Finn, Catcher in the Rye. Anyone that reads or just pays attention to the YA marketplace today (and apparently that's a lot of people - see above) knows that it tackles serious subjects and can do it in an incredibly thoughtful way. Whereas how deep and meaningful is an 'adult' novel like any of the Alex Cross books? (not knocking them - I've read and enjoyed several on long distance flights).

But there are people out there who have a prejudiced view of YA. So is it okay for an author to acknowledge that prejudice and try to avoid the association? Not because they're prejudiced, but they have to accept the nature of society. They can't fight it. They don't want to get dragged down with it. It's just being practical.

That argument has been used throughout history by everyone who has stood by and done nothing about discrimination. Now, I'm NOT saying that the YA stigma is anywhere near the importance of the other existing prejudices in our society, be it race, gender or whatever minority status. But the argument is the same and the argument is just as wrong for YA as it is for anything else. If some people are wrong for shunning something/someone of perceived lesser value, you are wrong for going along with it. I'm not going to condemn anyone to hell for dissing YA, but they will lose my respect.

I'm a writer. I write adult books. I write YA books. I write really bad poetry. I would love to write a literary masterpiece that makes the world weep with gratitude long after my time on this world has ended. But really, you can call my stuff whatever you like as long you read it. I won't take offense. Promise.

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