Discouraging things people say to aspiring YA authors (and how to rise above the negativity)

When I tell people that I write YA fiction, I brace myself for the judging. The questions and comments that follow are often straight-up patronizing. I’m an adult, so why am I so interested in lit for teenagers? Shouldn’t I be writing fiction for people my own age? YA is one of the most popular genres around, and somehow it always fails to get the respect it deserves. 

At first I did feel embarrassed at these questions, but I’ve learned to shake them off — I love YA, I love writing YA, and YA haters are gonna hate. (Hate hate hate hate.) Never fear, fellow teen fiction writers, I’m here to walk you through how to handle the hard stuff and rise above the negativity:

“What’s your book about?” “OK, so, this girl is a senior in high school, and — ” “Oh it’s a teenager.”

This type of comment implies that teenagers are lesser protagonists, and therefore make for lesser stories. You might want to try telling that to all the great classic novels featuring adolescent protagonists (Catcher in The Rye, A Separate Peace, A Tree Grows In Brooklyn, Gone With The Wind, I could go on and on). This line of thinking dismisses the complexity of the teenage experience and makes adolescents feel unimportant—and making teens feel like their voices matter is a big reason why I want to write for young adults in the first place. 

“I know so many other people trying to write Young Adult right now.”

I know! Isn’t it great? It’s a huge industry now, so there are a lot of people who want to pursue this path. Which is awesome, because I really want to be a part of a great community, and I couldn’t exactly be a part of a community if I was the only member, now could I?

“I’ve heard writing YA is easier.”

As Amy Poehler explains in her memoir Yes Please, writing a book is like “hacking away at a freezer with a screwdriver.” It’s hard. You have to sit down, actually WRITE your book, and then when you finally have a rough draft, you have to edit like crazy and rework the material  over and over again. That all takes a LOT of time, care, patience, and just plain hard work. A great book is hard to write, no matter what the genre, and in order to write a great book, you have to work your butt off.

“YA is mostly by/for girls, huh?”

Yes, there are a lot of women writing and reading YA, it’s a genre that has been particularly friendly to the ladies. That said, there are also big-name male authors (John Green, David Levithan, Jay Asher, to name a few.). I’m proud to write for a genre that celebrates women. As a genre, YA is great about representing the traditionally underrepresented. Other genres, take note. 

“Are you ever going to write real fiction?”

When people say this, they almost always mean “books with adult protagonists.” I reject this definition. I believe books are for everyone, and I know the stories I’m telling are real. 

“I bet your characters are based on you and your friends in high school.”

Usually my characters are a combination of traits, thoughts, and actions of myself, people I know, and people I’ve invented. I think that’s pretty typical character development, in fiction across all genres.

“So is your book the next Twilight/Hunger Games/Fault in Our Stars?”

Would I love my books to be as cherished and widely-read as those books? Of course. Are my expectations realistic? I like to think they’re a good mix of grounded and grandiose. Is the plot for my next book about a vampire in a televised death tournament caught in a love triangle between a charismatic teen with cancer and a werewolf? Maybe.

Aspiring YA authors, I know it’s hard to be judged. But we love our genre and actually, tons of people do too — we have a lot of support out there. So let’s band together and stay positive. Together, we can handle any negativity thrown our way. Let’s also form a humongous workshop where we can all get coffee and rant a little. And critique each other’s work and stuff too, obviously. 

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