Transitioning to YA/Teen: It’s Harder Than It Looks

InfinityThe other day I was doing my semi-regular rounds on the Internet, checking author  Web sites, seeing what they’re up to.  Well, color me surprised when I saw that an author – whose books I used to love but who has fallen waaaaay off my radar after a string of duds – is publishing a Young Adult/Teen book.

After my eyebrows shot up, they went down again pretty quickly, and upon reflection I couldn’t say I was exactly surprised.  Many authors try new directions for various reasons, but oftentimes when they change genres, they change names for a complete disassociation with their former lives.  So Anne Stuart becomes Kristina Douglas (historical to paranormal), Lisa Marie Rice turns into Elizabeth Jennings (erotic to suspense), Candice Proctor writes as C. S. Harris (historical to mystery), and Patricia Cabot is now more commonly known to the world as Meg Cabot (historical to teen), to name only a few.

The latter marks a trend that I’ve seen grow slowly but surely.  We don’t see too many authors transitioning to historical, probably because 99% of romance authors start writing historicals.  And there isn’t much of a jump from historical romance to paranormal or suspense.  But YA/Teen?  I feel like it’s happening a lot.  A cursory search and scan of the bookshelves yielded, just to name a few, Kelley Armstrong, Sherrilyn Kenyon, Richelle Mead, Gena Showalter, Rachel Vincent, Mary Jo Putney, Shana Abe, Sophie Jordan, Roxanne St. Claire, and Kathryn Smith writing YA/Teen fiction, some under pseudonyms.

Some authors have clearly found their niche, like P. C. Cast and Meg Cabot, who wrote some other stuff (contemporaries, fantasy) but clearly revel in the teen arena.  Or, in the non-romance category, Pittacus Lore, who wrote the super successful I Am Number Four series, and who also doubles as James Frey, aka Mr. My-bestselling-drug-addiction-memoir-was-actually-part-fiction.  Others – well, I won’t name names, but their books read like teen bandwagon jumpers rather than sincere efforts.

Based on some comments I’ve read, my suspicion is that some of the wagon jumpers thought of most YA/Teen books as simplistic, superficial, and a dash in the park.  Well, some of them are, no doubt about it.  But hey, it’s an entire genre.  I could roam around the general adult fiction section at Chapters and pull out adult novels that are also simplistic, superficial, and a dash in the park.  (Um, Snooki, anyone?)

At the very worst, I’d say YA/teen is hard to write because half the time it’s so short, and because you may have to distil language, but not concepts, to a 10-year-old vocabulary.  At best, this is section of literature that has given us Robin McKinley, J. K. Rowling, Suzanne Collins, Lois Lowry, and Judy Blume – all authors whose books resonate equally with adults as with their purported target audience, and those are only a few authors.  The key is writing on two levels (or, to put it into teacher speak, differentiating) – and dammit, that’s hard.

So am I surprised that romance authors turn to YA or Teen?  Nope.  There are too many similarities, especially at the Teen level – romance, suspense, family issues, relationships at the core.  But I don’t think it works for everyone.  Fair enough – you can’t know until you try it.

What do you think of romance authors turning to YA/Teen novels?  Have you read any, and what do you think of them?

- Jean AAR

5 thoughts on “Transitioning to YA/Teen: It’s Harder Than It Looks

  1. Kids are a tough audience – they have short attention spans and high expectations. If you don’t get their attention within a few pages you have lost them as an author.

  2. Like anything, it depends on the writer. Sophie Jordan aka Sharie Kohler went from romance to YA and did neither well in my mind. Kathryn Smith became Kady Cross, also not worth reading in my humble opinion. On the other hand, Kelley Armstrong’s YA series have been favorites of mine, far more so than her adult paranormals.

    Interesting side note: Julie Kagawa was a RITA finalist with her YA fiction Iron King printed under Harlequin Teen. The fact that Harlequin has a teen lable says something to me about the link between romance and teen novels.

    In the article Jean said: Based on some comments I’ve read, my suspicion is that some of the wagon jumpers thought of most YA/Teen books as simplistic, superficial, and a dash in the park.

    I think that is a problem YA shares with romance. They attract writers who are trying to earn a living at writing and turn their hand to whatever is profitable at the time. They have no love for the genre they choose, they are simply looking for the largest market. For many years that market was romance. I am sure I am not the only person who has picked up a book written by an author who clearly has no love for the genre and who would read anything other than romance if stuck on a desert isle. But they want to write, romance is a huge market and they feel “stuck” with pumping out harlequins to get the bills paid. It amazes me that these people are amazed they never become best sellers. Regardless of how technically good a writer you are if you don’t have a story to tell that you love, that communicates itself to the reader.

    I have started to notice that in YA as well. When the market first exploded a few years ago, some of the works were amateurish but they were all heart felt. Now many of them are well written but lack heart. As a reader I choose the former over the latter. I want a story teller, not a polished reciter of tales. I have no doubt many of these ladies will find the same lack of success in YA that they did in romance.

    My advice to writers as a reader is tell me the tale you want to tell me. Don’t find the market and force yourself into it. Work a day job (probably more lucrative in the long run) and tell your heartfelt story. Then worry about publishing. That certainly worked for Rowling. Maybe it can work for you too.

  3. Kresely Cole of the IAD series is also starting a new YA series this fall. I don’t know that I will make the jump with her. While I have read a few YA books and loved them (like Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, even Twilight), they aren’t my first choice. With all the book choices, I just don’t think that I need to follow to YA. Though I may get the urge one day, right now, Cole’s YA series is not on any of my anxiously waiting or preorder lists.

  4. With only half a year left until I’m no longer officially a teenager, I can definitely see the link between YA and romance fiction. I made the transition a number of years ago and to me it seemed like a natural one: I’d loved teen-lit like Meg Cabot and historicals like Eva Ibbotson, both of which have strong romantic elements .

    One thing that does annoy me when done badly is the tone of the characters. Some authors just don’t put across the YA voice well – it’s either not believable because it’s so exaggerated, or the characters seem maturer than their supposed years. It’s the same issue I have when you see thirty-year-olds in TV shows/films portraying teenagers.

    I’ve only read one of Kelley Armstrong’s Summoning series, but I much prefer her adult books. I know Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy books are popular, but I’d gotten sick of vampires by then and stuck with her Succubus books which are amazing.

  5. I read a lot of YA books over the years, including books by Rowlings, Diana Wynne Jones, Patricia C. Wrede, Robin McKinley, etc.. Mostly fantasy novels or historical fiction and mostly I was reading them aloud to or along with my children. What I don’t care for as much are the contemporary or PNR type teen novels. If I’m going to read contemporary or PNR, I’d rather read a book for adults. I’m not a big fan of sex in books for teens, even if that does make me a dinosaur. If I read about a physical relationship, I want to read about one between consenting adults, not teens. With a house full of teens and young adults, it’s something I deal with in real life, so I don’t want it in my entertainment. ;-)

    I have to admit it disappoints me when a successful writer of adult romances chooses to write YA fiction. I know I won’t be reading any of the books.

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