This week, one of the editors at my imprint (and just to clarify—by “my,” I mean that they’re publishing my book, not that I own it, although Erin Entrada Kelly, An Imprint of HarperCollins does sound kinda cool) posted a New York Times article about an author who switched to YA and watched all preconceived notions of YA come a’tumbling down.
Honestly, YA writers suffer so much ridiculous b.s. from the Writerly World that I ejected myself out of the conversation long ago. Not that anyone noticed, since no one but me knew that I was even in the conversation, but still. My attitude: If you’re too self-indulgent to recognize YA as a form of literature, then why am I wasting my time listening to you in the first place? I got books to write, yo!
But this editorial really struck me. It articulated some inner thoughts that I’ve never been smart enough to explain succinctly. Basically, the thought is this:
Writing isn’t just about the writer.
Not exactly the most Earth-shattering sentiment, I know. And you’re probably like, ‘What’s that even mean?’ And what I mean is: There are far too many writers who are trapped in their own sense of literary grandiosity. They think they’re writing the Real Books. They look in the mirror and see Hemingway, cigar and all (or they try their darndest to see Hemingway, anyway). And they think: This is what real literature looks like.
But as Eliot Schrefer so aptly points out in the New York Times:
If there is one truism of successful Y.A., it’s that the book’s unrelenting emphasis must be on character and event, and not the brilliance of the author’s viewpoint. For me it was a humbling experience, trying to shed the essential narcissism of my writer’s project because my teen readers wouldn’t tolerate it. But on crawling out on the other side, I saw that what Y.A. novels value above all else is storytelling. It took me even longer to realize that that needn’t lessen a book’s complexity — it just prioritizes the reader’s experience.
Basically: You wanna write YA? Check your ego at the door. Shed the essential narcissism that makes so many writers unbearable. Young readers have a ridiculously low tolerance for pretention, which is why I love writing for them. Eliot writes …
When I turned in my first officially young adult novel, my editor didn’t cut for content. He didn’t strike a single moment of sexual desire or brooding or bad language. What he did was set a pretension barometer twice as strict as adult fiction’s and started deleting every time the arrow ticked over.
… and ends with:
That’s not to say that literary, harder-to-access fiction isn’t pleasurable or important (though I do think that it’s all too easy to mistake obscurity for profundity), but the explosive growth of Y.A. as a genre can and should lead all authors to some soul-searching about whom they’re writing for in the first place.
Thank you, Eliot. You are now my new BFF.