Friday, June 20, 2008

It's true: Some people just don't get it.

I love Editorial Anonymous, the blog of a children's book editor. Yesterday's post on answering the question of "Who is your book for?" led to some fascinating comments, one of which made my head spin so much that I had to respond to it here.

Direct link to the comment is here: What an idiot.

First, this: I'm not yet published, but I have 2 books done and 1 almost done in a series. Not a normal series because the main characters get older in each book.

That's called a bildungsroman, and it's not uncommon, definitely not since Harry Potter. It is neither normal nor abnormal to have the characters get older in each book. It does not make you edgy to age your characters, it just means you chose a different form for your series. The Pendragon and Uglies books do this.

Second: I know exactly the type of reader these are for. I knew that before I wrote any of books. I wrote for the age of the reader for the book. Adults won't get some of it because I didn't write it for them.


Knowing the type of reader your book is for is great. It helps us purchasers and reader's advisers immensely if you can say something like, "My book is for teens who love historical romance." If you knew it before you wrote your books, okay, I can't argue, because you're the writer and not me, and if that helped you focus the book more power to you. But don't you DARE say that "adults won't get it because you didn't write it for them." Here's the major problem I have with writers who write children's books with that attitude:

Who do you think is going to buy, publish, publicize, review and sell your book?

Here's a hint: It's not children.

I am forever sick of being told that I don't "get" a teen book because I'm an adult. First, didn't an adult WRITE this book? Second, I think that a reader "getting" a book depends much more on the writer than on the reader. It's the writer's job to convey his or her ideas in a fashion that will make it clear to the reader what's going on. If a writer writes a book that no adult will understand, how will an adult literary agent sell that book to a publisher? How will an adult editor edit? How will adults in the publicity department get copies out to adult reviewers who write for review publications read by adults? I am curious as to how this anonymous commenter thinks the book will ever reach any kind of an audience if adults can't read it and sell it to child readers. Unless, of course, s/he envisions some kind of wunderkind Utopia over at 1745 Broadway, filled with the most brilliant minds under the age of 18.

I am not stupid and non-understanding of children because I am an adult, and if your book is written so adults "don't get it," that is your problem, not theirs.

Third: I am going to have a hard time "selling" this to a publisher. Of course.

Well, you said it, I didn't. But really, why do you think that is?

Probably my most beloved publishing blog of all time is the late, great, Miss Snark. Miss Snark wrote about the business of acquiring and selling fiction. No matter what questions most authors had about their books, one thing always seemed to be the theme: Good writing trumps all.

There are many YA books that are hard sells because they don't booktalk easily. Holes is one of them. The Book Thief, Impossible and everything John Green has ever written are prime examples of this. All of those books have one thing in common: The writing is absolutely stellar. None of these authors said that adults wouldn't understand books. They wrote the best story they could aimed at a YA audience. Publishing is a difficult industry to get into, yes, but in the end, it's all about how well you write. Good writing will be recognized by children and adults alike.

Also, why is "selling" in quotation marks? You sell a book. Period.

Interestingly, I have heard the "adults just don't get it" argument from an author who blogged about the reasons his book got a bad review in Kirkus.

Fourth, this gets my Ridiculous Line of the Day Award: I hated Harry Potter. She killed a teen aged boy and there was cruelty in the books.

J.K. Rowling killed someone? When? Why was she not sent to jail?

Ohhhh, because she killed a fictional character in one of the sharpest, most honest moments in the entire Harry Potter series. I will argue until the end of time that Cedric Diggory's death was an absolutely instrumental plot device, turning the entire series. And if it was wrong to kill Cedric Diggory, does this anonymous commenter also have it in for writers like Katherine Paterson, Jerry Spinelli, and E.B. White? How guilty can any of us feel about what we do to fictional characters?

And there was cruelty in the books! One would think that without J.K. Rowling all books for children would be perfectly safe stories of children frolicking in rainbows and playing with butterflies and puppies. Because there was never cruelty chronicled in children's books before Harry Potter, oh no.

Look, no one has to like the Harry Potter books. I certainly liked them but if someone gives them a chance and decides it's not for him, that's fine. To every reader his or her book. That's why libraries have thousands of books and trained reader's advisers. Feel free to hate the books because you thought Cedric Diggory should have lived, but don't hold Harry Potter to a different standard than the rest of the genre.

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