YA stigma

The lovely Margo Rabb (yes, I know her—all writers of YA in the US of A know each other—or at most there’s two degrees of separation) has an article in the New York Times about how writing YA is looked down upon by those who write proper Literachure for teh adults.

I must be living in a lovely cocoon. I honestly have not experienced the kind of snobbery Margo Rabb describes in the article. I suspect that’s because pretty much all the publishing people I know are YA people. Whereas most of the people quoted in the article either come out of the adult literary world or aspired to write for adults.

I never did.

So there are many things in the article I’m startled by. Like Meg Rosoff’s claim that YA gets more respect in the UK. My experience, though obviously much more limited than hers—I mean she lives there—is the opposite. I think it gets tonnes more respect here in the US. In fact, the one and only time I was asked when I was going to write a “proper grown up book” was in London.

Also I think the idea of having an adult and a young adult edition of a book (which happens a lot in the UK) screams of not respecting the YA genre. Why would you need an adult edition (which is always the exact same text but—usually—with a different cover) if you felt no shame about reading the young adult version?

Here in the US, I run into adults who read lots of YA all the time. In fact, the majority of my fan mail comes from adults. The “stigma” of being published as YA does not seem to be stopping them from reading my books. The same does not seem to be true in the UK or Australia for that matter.

In fact, the writers for teh adults I do know, here in the USA, are all hell bent on switching to YA. But none of them write Literachure, they write fantasy, science fiction and romance, and they’ve heard that the going is good in YAland. That they can write whatever genre they want—crime, realism, fantasy—and that their books will be shelved next to each other and what’s more they’ll be paid better than they are in their given genre. So off to YA they go.

I guess that’s the biggest dissonance for me reading the article. I do not write Literachure. I have never written it. I have never aspired to write it. I have only ever wanted to write historicals or fantasy or crime and I can do ALL of that while writing YA.

That’s why I’m a YA writer and plan to stay one for the rest of my career.


  1. Diana Peterfreund on #

    As an adult writer who worked hard to break into the YA genre, I was also baffled by this article.

    However, I know several writers who, having achieved some measure of success in the YA world, think ONLY of breaking into adult literature. Have left agents, publishers, abandoned book deals all in their determination to write for a “better” audience.

    Almost every single one of my favorite books is written for children or young adults — I think that’s the highest audience.

  2. Justine on #

    That just makes me sad that there are writers who think like that. Also talk about buggering up your career! Right now the money is mostly better in YA. And other than Christian publishing it’s the only booming section of the fiction publishing industry. Something I was suprised was not mentioned in the article.

    And yes, Diana, you were one of the writers I was thinking of who’s crossed from adult to YA. And most welcome you are. I love your YA book, Rampant, SO MUCH.

  3. Kelly McCullough on #

    I’m currently working my butt off to get a second career going in YAland*, but of course, I’m one them damn fantasy people anyway so why would the lit-er-ture types pay me any mind. Silly article.

    *Are the street really paved with gold there? That’s what I’ve been told.

  4. Margo Rabb on #

    The adult “literary” world can also be horribly snobby about fantasy and mysteries…basically anything that they don’t see as “serious fiction.” I think it’s representative of a very deep-seated elitist attitude that’s entrenched there…

    (I talked to Justine for the essay too–I’ll be posting her amazing quotes on my blog this week!)

  5. sherwood on #

    I remember Jane Yolen talking wryly some years ago about people who would ask when she was going to write a “real” book, and similar crapola.

  6. Margo Rabb on #

    Forgot to mention that “serious fiction” very often can be defined as “boring fiction” !

  7. PixelFish on #

    I think I wanted to be a YA writer because that’s what I read when I was a kid. Who wants to be Anita Shreve* when I could be the next Madeline L’engle or Susan Cooper.

    You’ll notice how people kept wondering if JK was going to write a book for grownups after Harry Potter. (And in many circumstances, the implication was that now that this silly wizard fad thing was over, she could get down and write seriously. Completely ignoring how her style of writing was so well suited for YA.)

    *No offense to Anita Shreve–good on her for attracting Oprah’s attention–but man, I didn’t really dig her books that much. I hesitate to say they were too depressing–I’ve loved depressing books before, ie. Blindsight–but they just didn’t do much for me.

  8. PixelFish on #

    (Also it should be noted that when I was younger, I had no clue that YA was a separate category. I mean, I was reading Dune at age four, sneaking into listen to my dad read it to my mum, and then climbing the bookshelves the next day so I could read ahead. And my dad would also read the Encyclopedia Brown books BEFORE he’d read them to us or let us have them. So I grew up in a house that didn’t think of books in terms of Kids Books and Adults Books, but just books books books.)

  9. Laini Taylor on #

    When I was a snooty young English major I aspired to write “literachure.” I tried and tried — but I gave up because it was so boring and I stopped writing for years until the college tinge of snobbery wore off and I rediscovered the books I really loved — fantasy, mystery, romance. Not since then have I ever aspired to write for grown-ups. Middle-grade and YA are the best. I’m so happy here, and I too have been lucky not to meet with the snobs. I’m always surprised when I hear other authors talk about their negative experiences!

  10. David Gill on #

    Writers for adults, please remain in your market category. You can keep the highly competitive, non-paying literary magazine market, the MFA programs, the great ambition of being published by a small or university press. You can be the king of the prestige hill or walk about with a dab of snot on your noses looking down on other writers. Be my guest.

    Here’s a box of tissues. Please go away.

  11. Kelly McCullough on #

    I phrased one bit poorly. It’s not a silly article, the stigma things is silly premise on the level of the part of the publishing world in which I operate. Sloppy of me not to make the distinction.

  12. Justine on #

    Kelly: Yeah, it’s not a silly article at all. I really loved the fan letter she ends with. Made me a bit teary actually. But some of the quotes though!

  13. Kelly McCullough on #

    Yes, I realized after rereading what I’d written that I’d left the wrong impression entirely and went back to correct myself. I should actually also have apologized for the error at that point as well. Since I didn’t… Margo, I’m sorry for that. Mea culpa.

  14. Brent on #

    So, what makes a book YA rather than “proper grown up” again? *wink*

  15. Margaret C. on #

    I have gotten so much pleasure, security, and escape out of reading books (mostly genre fiction). I just don’t understand people who think that reading “for fun” is wrong. I agree that this whole YA/adult divide is really just another incarnation of the literachure/popular divide. Hey, I try not to look down on people who read Proust, and I expect the same respect when I’m reading a Georgette Heyer on the subway. Readers should be uniters, not dividers! 😉

  16. Mary Elizabeth S. on #

    My dream is to open a bookstore where everything is set up like a YA section. Nothing separated by genre or age or anysuch thing. Of course, I contradict myself by wanting to sell mostly YA, but it’s my fantasy so I can do as I please.

    So, Justine, use that 2-or-fewer degrees of separation to spread the word that if I ever open said store, it’s be really cool if all the YA authors came to do signings there. I’m just saying…


  17. Margo Rabb on #

    Mary, I LOVE your idea of a YA bookstore. I think that not only would YA authors do signings there, we’d probably want to move in.

    This is a great idea also because the big chains like B&N and Border’s don’t even stock every YA book published each season, and they often keep new books in stock for a very short time.

  18. Leahr on #

    I read the book review this morning and the second I came across Margo Rabb’s article I knew I’d see a comment here about it! I think YA fiction is often superior to adult, and I wished more people realized it.

    Is it true there is more money to be made in YA? Only in comparison to genre adult fiction like sci fi, or in general, including so- called “Literachure”? (I love your spellings of things, Justine.)

  19. hillary! on #

    what exactly makes a book “LITERATURE”?

  20. Jennifer on #

    LITERATURE tends to be very, very, very, very depressing. And about adults. Preferably, everyone dies horribly.

  21. hereandnow on #

    I know I’m late to the party here . . .

    Why would you need an adult edition (which is always the exact same text but—usually—with a different cover) if you felt no shame about reading the young adult version?

    Matching the cover to the target audience is only one of the reasons. In my experience, the other main reason is very prosaic: many retailers’ inventory systems only allow a book to be shelved in one area. So if a publisher thinks a certain book has crossover potential, it needs two separate ISBNs to be put in the adult and YA sections. If the publisher keeps the same cover across both of these editions, having different ISBNs on (what is otherwise) exactly the same book can confuse staff and customers. Plus, stock control becomes a nightmare.

    Finally, keeping the same cover across editions can be a missed opportunity to get the cover just right. (And as we all know, covers are HARD.)

    Just my two cents.

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