YA Novelists Are In It For The Money

I’m not going to link to where I saw this particular bizarre notion. Mostly because it’s not something that’s found in one place. I’ve come across the same sentiment in various locations offline and on- over the last ten or so years. So it’s kind of irrelevant who said it most recently.

But here’s gist of the argument:

YA writers only do it for the money. They don’t care about the effect their [insert negative adjective] work has on children only about making money.

I’m fascinated that this argument gets made at all ever. I don’t know a single writer who became a writer to make money. Everyone I know is a writer because they can’t not be a writer. It’s a compulsion. A vocation. Something they do whether they’re paid for it or not. This is true across genres.

The idea of becoming a YA writer to make bank? Crazy.

Most of the YA writers I know don’t make enough money from writing books to do it full-time. They have other jobs. Those writers I do know who earn enough to write full-time, like myself, are not exactly rolling in the big bucks. Gina Rinehart would not bend over to pick up what I make in a year. And, frankly, most of us full-time YA writers can’t believe our good fortune. We know way too many brilliant writers who aren’t making enough to do it full-time. We are very aware of how lucky we are.

I know only a handful of writers who are earning what I consider to be big money from writing YA novels. They are the tiny minority. And the odds of them continuing to make that kind of money in a decade’s or twenty year’s time is pretty low. Look at the bestselling books of 10, 15, 20 years ago. Very few of those books are still selling now. Making good money from writing books and continuing to do so for a lifetime? Very rare.

If someone really decided to become a YA novelist solely to make big money then they’re an idiot with incredibly poor research skills. Choosing to write novels—in any genre—as a path to riches is about as smart as buying lottery tickets to achieve the same.

But for the sake of argument, let’s imagine that YA writers are all making vast bucketloads of cash.1 How does making lots of money for writing books automatically mean you will do it contemptously of your audience? Where does that idea come from?

I’m particularly bewildered because the vast majority of people who make this argument are from the USA. Isn’t making loads of money supposed to be a good thing in the USA? Something you should be proud of? Something that qualifies you to run for president?

It swiftly becomes apparent that it’s artists, not just writers, but any kind of artist, who shouldn’t earn money from their work. Apparently money taints art or something. I’ve never quite understood the logic of this argument. Personally, I’ve always thought that starvation puts the biggest crimp on creating art. You know, on account of how it leads to death. It is incredibly hard to create art while dead or while living in poverty. Art’s something that’s much easier to do when survival is not the biggest issue facing you every day.

The fact that there are people out there living in poverty who still manage to create art fills me with awe. People are amazing. But that does not make poverty a necessary condition for the creation of art. It’s a major obstacle that a few people are (rarely) able to overcome.

So, yes, I call bullshit on this particular claim. Only a fool would get into writing YA novels to become rich.

For the record here’s why I write YA: because that’s the publishing category the books I write fit into. I was writing YA before I even knew the genre existed. Making money from writing those novels and perverting the minds of innocent teenagers is just a happy accident.

  1. And maybe when I wake up tomorrow it will be true! Think of all the ball gowns I’ll own. I’ll wear a different one EVERY SINGLE DAY. Um, I mean I will give loads of money to worthy charities and help eradicate malaria and all other eradicable diseases from the planet. WHILE WEARING AN AWESOME BALL GOWN. What? I like pretty frocks, okay? []


  1. Shanella on #

    New Headline: YA Novelists Are In It For the Gowns! =)

  2. scott westerfeld on #

    The other silly assumption of the “in it for the money” argument is that controversial books sell much better than clean books. It is a truth universally held by dim bulbs that “edgy” content exists solely to create publicity, which then guarantees wealth for the artist. It doesn’t seem to occur to them that art is about life, which had all that edgy stuff in it already.

    I get letters with this exact same argument about Uglies, with regard to the fact that Pretties drink champagne and Specials cut themselves, saying, “Oh, you added that just to get rich.” And I’m like, “Really? Who reads my books because of the champagne drinking? And the cutting is in there because it’s the flip side of plastic surgery, and hardly makes anyone LIKE the book more. YOU ARE DUMB.”

  3. Eileen Lower on #

    I am a teenager. Rather than (insert negative adjective)ing the minds of my peers, YA fiction shows us how to or how not to cope with bad situations. It develops our morals and warns us of dangers(like power-lust, lust in general, and demons). Personally, I think this is a good thing. I have never seen anyone do anything negative because of YA fiction. It has, however, strengthened our desire to learn. When vampires come knocking, who knows if that obscure tidbit from science class will save your life? Better play it safe and learn as much as you can, those of us who read YA think. The book haters just slack off and drop out.

  4. Khoela on #

    I used to know a girl who went through a lot of the things that appear in YA novels that people criticize, except, you know, in real life. She had a lot of emotional problems as a result, and while she was recovering, she found that young adult novels that featured girls who went through similar experiences made her feel like she wasn’t alone, and the number of books like that, especially the ones based on the author’s personal experience, made her more comfortable seeking help or talking to other people about what she went through. She’s much better off now, and she can only thank those books that are supposed to be poisoning us. Those things are real, and real people go through them. Knowing that they’re not alone can be the thing that gives them the confidence to speak up for themselves. Personally, I don’t enjoy those sorts of novels that much, as they make me uncomfortable, but I’m glad they exist and I appreciate what they can do for other people and the fact that those authors (especially the ones who write based on their own experiences) have the courage to tell their stories and address something that can make anyone cringe on the inside.

  5. Justine on #

    Shanella: Sadly so many of my YA writing peers do not understand the glory of the ball gown. Sometimes I despair . . .

    Scott: I wish controversial books sold in huge numbers. That would be awesome. Instead every time I write a book that could in any way be seen as “controversial” I’m terrified that no publisher will buy it.

    Eileen Lower: I have never seen anyone do anything negative because of YA fiction. It has, however, strengthened our desire to learn. When vampires come knocking, who knows if that obscure tidbit from science class will save your life?

    So true. I think that’s why I’ve never had a teen complain to me about the dread awful influence of YA books, it’s only ever adults complaining.

    Khoela: Personally, I don’t enjoy those sorts of novels that much, as they make me uncomfortable, but I’m glad they exist and I appreciate what they can do for other people

    I’m with you. I’m not a big fan of problem novels. But I’ve met so many who have found them profoundly helpful for the reasons you state. That makes me extremely happy that they exist and are helping people.

  6. Lili Wilkinson on #

    It’s a bizarre argument no matter which way you come at it. When I wrote a book for A&U’s Girlfriend Fiction series, I got a few raised “you’ve sold out” eyebrows. It remains my highest-selling book, and is sold in seven countries, in four languages. And I love it. I love that it is fun and funny but still has heart and stuff to think about. But I also love that it’s made me some money. Commercial literature (like chicklit or crime) makes more money than capital-L Literature for the sole reason that *more people read it*. And I like it when people read my books. I like it even more when they enjoy them.

    I really don’t get the attitude that an artist who makes money is somehow lesser than one who wastes away in a garret somewhere. Making money is a useful thing to do. Is it our sole motivation? No. If it was, we’d be accountants or lawyers or plumbers. But it’s definitely in the mix. Earning money is what allows us to write more books! And buy pretty things! And useful things like potatoes and ramen noodles!

  7. Justine on #

    Lili Wilkinson: And ballgowns! Don’t forget the ballgowns!

    But, yes, what you said.

  8. Rebecca Leach on #

    I think people who say crap like that are bitter and frustrated with their own lives. Or maybe they just feel the need to make themselves feel superior by badmouthing something they know nothing about. Just like bullies.

  9. chandlerbing on #

    I totally agree. “Grown ups” underestimate young adult readers; they think that we will immediately mimic whatever bad behavior we read about in a teen novel. They fail to realize that we possess the mental capacity to read about fictional characters without mindlessly copying any questionable behavior in which the character might be involved. I read a book about drug addiction – I didn’t run out & start popping pills. Safe, literary exposure to a REAL issue that exists in our world (rather than actual, physical exposure) is something I consider beneficial. Get over it people, these things happen & you can’t shield your kids from them forever.

    One issue I have with YA novels (and many in other genres) is that many of them portray shallow, meaningless, lustful relationships as being “love.” When the characters are “in love” after they had one conversation and have sex after their second conversation, and the author doesn’t call that into question at all, to me that is irresponsible of the author.

  10. ElvinaGB on #

    I have been lucky enough to have spent the last 10 years working in a high school library and have seen a lot of changes in that time as to what the kids like to read. I used to have to replace my copies of “Diary of an Anonymous Teenager”, “Go Ask Alice” and “Annie’s Baby” every year; now no one reads them. Our copies of the “Twilight” series don’t circulate much at all. The kids who read all those Sarah Dessen books last year aren’t this year. Right now I have a wait list for all the Hunger Games books. What I do love is that something in those books spoke to those kids and they loved them enough to read them, re-read them and got their friends to read them too. And I love YA too! I’ve read more YA this year that adult Lit. So Justine, Scott, Cassie, Holly, and all the John Green’s out there keep writing great books!

  11. Vic DiGital on #

    When I first saw this headline, my assumption was that it was referring to established adult writers, and I WILL agree that every time I see a John Grisham or James Patterson come out with a YA title, my brain cynically sneers, “Looking to get some of that easy YA cash, eh?”

    Everyone else? Write what you think you can sell! All the more power to you. It just looks like a clear cash grab when someone who had never dabbled in YA before comes out with something that obviously checks off all the required YA boxes.

    In the same vein, we’re now fully in the cycle where many new writers are just wanting to crank something out purely for what SEEMS like easy money. How tempting must it be to think that since you’re just writing for kids, that you don’t have to worry about all that annoying literary stuff that books for adults might require you to have. For every legitimate YA series like Hunger Games or Uglies, you have a dozen that are created simply to attempt to cash in on a trend and/or get optioned for a movie series.

    My favorite “cashing in” book is easily Tyra Banks’ dystopian modeling sci-fi series. Pure gold.

  12. Sam X on #

    In general it’s a conflagration of two things: 1) YA is one of the most successful types of literature, as least in terms of pop culture visibility, and 2) A lot of writers say they want to be paid, and/or make a living off their art. A casual listener could interpret those things as being: I write to make money.

    Most writers want to be read rather than wealthy, but in contemporary society being read translates to being bought. So, like all things in modern capitalism, being a wealthy author implies that you’ve been read by a lot of people.

    Finally, to your point, “It swiftly becomes apparent that it’s artists, not just writers, but any kind of artist, who shouldn’t earn money from their work. Apparently money taints art or something.” My stance isn’t that money taints art, but the compulsive purchase of art prior to digestion taints art. That is, why do we pay upfront for an artistic experience? It distorts the relationship as we become hung-up on the idea of whether or not it was worth our purchase. I encourage the idea of “pay what you want” like Radiohead used for In Rainbows, or of simple donations to the artist. That’s about as pure as it gets to support artists while maintaining an honest experience with art.

  13. Ashley Hope Pérez on #

    I think there are a number of sources for the angstiness about the prospect of making money in YA, including several of those mentioned in the main post and comments above. One thing that HASN’T been mentioned, though, is the way some people lump YA authors in with kindergarten teachers as if we all ought to be doing it (just) out of love. This isn’t fair to teachers or to writers, of course; the fact that we DO love what we do doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with getting paid for it.

    And on poverty… I blogged earlier this week about “Writing Hungry” here: http://www.ashleyperez.com/blog/item/265-writing-hungry

  14. Jim from YA Yeah Yeah on #

    Great post! (And some really interesting comments, as well.)

    It’s mindblowing how many people seem to think that ALL authors/musicians/other artists are making a small fortune every time they release anything, when the reality is so different.

  15. Lori on #

    I absolutely understand everything you’re saying with this post. Even though I’m not a writer, I am an artist (on the side, of course, because like most writers, I cannot make enough with my art to earn a good living). I get people all the time asking me to do things for them, painting, photography, etc., but the thing is, THEY DON’T WANT TO PAY FOR IT! They think art should be free. Why should you pay someone for spending countless hours at a canvas to create something original? Why should you pay someone to come to your crappy wedding for hours on end, taking precious photos, and dealing with your picky family? It’s very frustrating for people to think they shouldn’t have to pay for art, and even worse, when they think you have “the nerve” to charge for it. If everyone could create art, no matter in what medium, they’d understand the work, talent, and creativity that goes behind everything created.

  16. Jazmin on #

    I do agree that YA writers aren’t in it for the money, but there are definitely some that are in it for ‘easy money’ (the authors who write the popular trends). As an aspiring author (who just so happens to write YA) and teenager, I often get ridiculed for writing young adult. Then, I laugh at them because my version of teenage years end up much more fun than theirs.

Comments are closed.