Not that fussed

Initial disclaimer: I realise that just by announcing that I’m not that fussed I’ll be seen as protesting too much. To which I respond: Whatever.

In the course of reading Diana Peterfreund and Carrie Ryan’s lovely posts about all the ways in which YA is dismissed by people who know nothing about it and have read at most two YA novels, and the New Yorker blog post that set Carrie off, I realised that I, in fact, wasn’t particularly annoyed or outraged by it. There are a few reasons for that:

  1. The post in question, while declaring that it is the exception that proves that YA is not worth reading, raves about a novel by a truly wonderful writer: Kathe Koja’s Headlong. I’ve not yet read it. (Tragically, it is not set in the 1930s.) But I have heard great things and I’ve read several of Koja’s other novels. She’s a genius. Pure and simple. Anyone spending time praising her work in a public forum is okay by me. Continue!
  2. I’ve seen that kind of dismissal of the genre many times before—not just YA, but also sf and fantasy. It’s boring and I’m bored by it. Yawn. Been there done that. The more you hear an erroneous set of assumptions, the less they bother you. I’ve also mounted the counterarguments and had them largely fall on deaf ears so I can’t be bothered saying it all again. I’l leave it to those more able and willing. Like Diana and Carrie and Maureen Johnson and John Green and Jennifer Lynn Barnes.
  3. We’re doing better than they are. I don’t want to skite about my genre, but . . . Oh, who am I kidding. I totally want to skite! I don’t care that there are adults who will never read YA because there are heaps of adults who are reading it. Not to mention the gazillions of teenagers. YA totally outsells adult litfic. Our audience is bigger than theirs. Our books earn out; theirs mostly don’t. Many of the YA writers I know can make a living writing; most of the litfic writers I know can’t. Many YA writers sell in multiple territories. We have books in Korean and Russian and Indonesian and Turkish and Estonian as well as English. We get fan letters from our readers all the time. We’re doing just fine; it’s adult litfic that’s in trouble.

Now that last skiteful point may turn out to be an historical aberration. Horror as a genre was riding very very high in the eighties and look at it now! Exactly. There are very few “horror” sections left in book shops and Stephen King’s pretty much the only one still doing fabulously well. Best to take that point with a grain of salt. I imagine that when the genre dries ups and my books stop selling1 I’ll be annoyed all over again at those mean litfic types peeing on YA. But I hope not. On both counts. But, yes, especially in the US, this has been a very scary year in publishing.

In the meantime, yay for Koja praise. Yawn to ignorant dismissals of any genre. And yay for all us YA writers doing just fine, thank you very much, while the rest of the publishing world collapses. Some of you astute followers of publishing in the US may have noticed that there were way more job losses and other slash-and-burns in the adult publishing world than there were in children’s/YA. Maybe the current spate of litfic sniping at YA is sour grapes?2

Oops, seems that I’m still skiting3 Look away, pretend you saw nothing! And read whatever damn books you want to read: litfic, YA, romance, fantasy, manga, airplane manuals, cricket books. It’s all good.

I’ll get out of your way now . . .

  1. Those two events may or may not be concurrent. []
  2. Well, except that as I pointed out t’other day many of them haven’t even heard of us. []
  3. Which is dangerous given how precarious publishing feels right now, even though book sales are actually up in the USA on what they were the year before. []


  1. smartass on #

    I think you’re protesting too much.

  2. Malcolm Tredinnick on #

    I agree; you should write a YA fantasy romance manga airplane manual.

    Wait… did I miss the point? And when did we stop spelling it “aeroplane”?

  3. Brent on #

    I’m an adult reader of YA and discovered YA from your (and Scott’s) appearance at a local con. I haven’t bought a lot of books this year, but I noted that they’re split pretty much even between YA and “adult” litfic. The other thing I noticed? All my adult purchases were from author’s I’ve been reading for years, and in most cases continuations of series.

    YA books, so far, have been more vibrant for me. They don’t have as much depth in world creation/detail as my adult titles, but that’s an average, not an absolute. The characters aren’t always as detailed, except for the protags. The YA characters DO more however. There is much more action and plot/story movement.

    My adult titles (in my library) have things happening in exquisitely detailed worlds. My YA titles have MORE happening, with details as required to enhance the story. I still enjoy SF/Fantasy as a genre, but have discovered that YA books SF/Fantasy books have their own benefits.

    People may turn to books more for entertainment as the economy gets worse. US$8 for a paperback seems a better investment than the same for a 90m movie. Escapism always does well in poor economic times. Look at the pulps during the 30s for an example.

  4. marrije on #

    I still can’t figure out exactly *why* the whole publishing world is tumbling down so badly. As you pointed out, Justine, book sales are actually *up*.
    It all sounds to me (pretty clueless outsider that I am) like a panic and a bit of mass hysteria, plus big conglomerates going for a chance to make some big cuts and earn more money doing less.
    Do you know of any sensible economist types who have explained what is going on and why?

  5. Justine on #

    Smartass: You picked the perfect name, didn’t you?

    Malcolm: I agree; you should write a YA fantasy romance manga airplane manual.

    That’s astonishing! How did you know what I’m working on right now?

    And when did we stop spelling it “aeroplane”?

    Don’t look at me, I can’t spell.

    Brent: Yay that Confusion led to so many good things. I do think a lot of fans of adult sf/fantasy are missing out. Yay, that you’re not!

    Though I’m a bit miffed on your world building comments. (I note that you mean on average and I have read YAs whose world building disappointed me.) I work really hard on my world building. Honest!

    Have you read M. T. Anderson’s Octavian Nothing books? Now that’s some world building!

    Marrije: While book sales are up that’s mostly in paperbacks. Hardcovers, which have the biggest profit margin, are down in sales.

    There are lots of theories floating around about what’s happening and many I’m sure that I haven’t heard. Most of them revolve around the big conglomerates who’ve bought up publishing houses over the last ten-twenty years and expect them to sell books the way you sell cereal. Even though it doesn’t work that way. Huge advances that don’t earn out are being blamed. Also rises in the cost of paper. The moon being in the seventh house. Or not being in the seventh house. Gazillions of different things.

    It’s also important to remember that some houses are doing better than others. Just as some divisions are. (Like YA and children’s book as well as Christian publishing.)

    Personally, I don’t think it’s any one thing. But I honestly don’t have enough information to really understand it. Take what I say with a grain of salt. As an author I’m on the peripheraries of the industry.

    I do think publishing has lots of problems. From top to bottom and across the board. There are all sorts of crazy wasteful practices—like the returns system. Crazy money is spent on crap celebrity books. Problem is sometimes that works out. Like the returns system allowing bookshops to take a gamble on an unknown author. If the books don’t selll they can just send them back to the publisher.

    But some of the problems are external to publishing to do with the management of those big corporations and how leveraged they are. The real economy is doing very badly in the US and everyone’s suffering.

    Compared to many other industries publishing’s not doing that badly.

  6. marrije on #

    Ooh, Justine, you said “leveraged”!! You smart person you 🙂

    But thanks for explaining – your explanation makes sense to me, or at least gives me things to think about and research further. I have a (USian) online friend who is a litfic writer, and she is indeed seriously spooked by all this, so I’m trying to understand what is going on.

    It’s interesting. In a scary way, like all this crisis mayhem.

  7. Justine on #

    Marrije: I think what most people are scared of is that this may mean the end of the midlist. That the only books published by big houses will be ones by known best-selling authors. And that books that have little chance of those kind of sales will languish unpublished. So books that are more experimental or worthy or challenging will go by the wayside.

    There are ways in which that’s actually been happening for years already. I’ve noticed especially that genre publishers have become vastly more conservative. I don’t think Samuel R. Delany’s Dhalgren would be published in the curent climate.

    On the other hand, there’s been an expansion of small independent publishers who can afford to take those kind of risks because a successful book for them does not have to sell hundreds of thousands of copies. Also as electronic publishing continues to expand I think it will create more venues for books that can’t find homes with the big publishers.

  8. Liviania on #

    What I found annoying about the article was not the denigration of the genre, but that of the audience. The discussion began speaking of teens’ short attention span and preference for non-challenging reading experiences, like the Tropic of Cancer. I thought that was a line of latitude, not a book.

    I read mostly YA, SF/Fantasy, and Romance so I’m used to people ragging on my genres even though they do well. I’m not used to people asserting that due to my age I prefer the facile. Pfft.

  9. Justine on #

    Livania: I agree. Contempt for teenagers is a large part of the dismissal of YA literature. Jennifer Lynn Barnes just posted a wonderful piece on exactly this point. You should check it out.

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