Thursday, July 24, 2008

That NY Times YA article

There's this article from the NY Times that's been circulating the web for a few days now. Basically it talks of the stigma still attached with writing YA, and how it's seen as a bad thing if one's book is placed in that category. Of course the article is very much supportive of YA, but it surprised me because in my social circle most everyone I know is either writing MG/YA or is impressed that I and my friends write MG/YA.

But I thought further on it. And I realise that my experience isn't quite as innocent as all that. I get a very strange response when I tell people I've written a children's novel, but it isn't quite the same response as the ones in the article. The person I tell seems interested, and I go on talking about it for a bit, and then eventually, I let it slip that it's around 300 pages. Suddenly their eyes come into focus and they say something along the lines of, "Oh like a real book!" And start asking me questions again, this time with a sense of urgency.

Now I suppose I could see this as a positive thing, they think I'm a real author even though I write for kids, where many people don't. But because I now have a few picture book author/artist friends, I have to say, I still find it pretty insulting.

Because the implication is that a real book needs to have a lot of words. That it is a real accomplishment to write a long book, versus basically anyone can write a picture book. But this is just so not true. In fact I often find the mark of an amateur is a first time author who writes a massive doorstopper of a book. Basically that person doesn't know how to craft the story in a tight manner, they wander in their writing trying to find their plot, they are just plain longwinded. I know. I suffer from that exact affliction.

A picture book has got to be short. It has to convey a very specific story, be meaningful and have a voice all its own, in less than 1000 words. I honestly don't know how picture book authors do that. It is a very difficult thing to do.

Next, of all the books to get published, I would wager the picture book is the hardest.

First off the advances are quite small so that agents don't really sign that many picture book writers, it's not worth their while. On the plus side this means an author can submit directly to the publisher, on the bad side it means EVERY picture book author out there is submitting directly to the publisher. Picture books are also the books that most celebrities suddenly find themselves inclined to write, and the market is limited of course. And picture books, really popular picture books, have a long shelf life. Great for the already published, not so great with the new ones trying to compete with Dr. Seuss.

Point is . . . let's not be dissing the picture book writers please? It isn't easy okay, it just isn't.

But I seriously don't get in general how anyone can look at a genre of writing and presume it is easier than another genre. Each has its own unique challenges. Each has its own unique benefits.

Anyway, I just wanted to share the article and do the picture book rant. I'd really actually like to hear from you guys now . . . what do you think about the stigma attached to the children's book thing (including YA)? Did you find your mind was changed in one way or the other? Does it scare you off from writing in a certain genre (say Romance) because of the stigma attached?

Discuss, people, discuss.


Doug A Scott said...

I've never really encountered the negative reaction to something like pictures book, but that's probably largely because I work in a library. I'm sure our children's librarians would scoff at the idea that picture books are somehow easier to write or, even worse, might be considered less worthy that a lengthy tome.

Unfortunately, I must confess to a certain instinctive "looking down" on romance novels. Although, that probably comes largely from my time as a page having to shelve the damned things. People who read the romance paperbacks tend to take out a couple dozen at a time, so they come back a couple dozen at a time and need to be shelved a couple dozen at a time. [shakes fist at the sky] Damn you, Harlequin Romance! Damn you!

Anyway, regarding the Romance genre, mea culpa. My apologies to all those involved with it.

hwalk said...

In my small experience, if you're a published writer talking to unpublished people, you'll automatically impress them.

And my problem with that article was that it seemed like adults didn't buy YA books. And it seems like tons and tons of adults I know buy YA books. I buy YA books.

Polenth said...

Crossover titles are pretty common in fantasy and science fiction. Perhaps it's more of a stigma in literary fiction?

Prince Balthazar said...

Although I am not yet published, when I tell people I am writing a novel for kids, they usually say: "Oh, yeah, I was thinking about writing one of those." As if it's something that anyone can do in an afternoon. I usually direct them to the books of Philip Pullman to set them straight: Yeah, real easy.

Sue Eves said...

I use to be an actor in Oily Cart, one of UK's leading children's theatre companies (established in 1981). There is the same stigma about performing in children's theatre - it's not real theatre and it's the job you do before coming a real actor.(It was the job I did before becoming a 'real' actor in children's TV and more recently, a 'real' writer of children's books.)

And I agree with the last comment. Why do people always tell you about the children's book they're thinking of writing?

Charles said...

I've come across the stigma among some writers that "children's lit" is easier to write than other types of fiction and similarly, short fiction is easier to write than a novel but obviously, each type of writing is difficult and isn't necessarily easier or harder (but of course some people will be more accustomed to writing one than the other).

Adrienne said...

Really interesting comments so far folks!

doug - though it isn't a genre I am particularly interested in, I will say there are some quality authors who write in the Romance genre. Maybe give one a shot - anyone have any recommendations for him?

hwalk - yes exactly. Adults are obsessed with YA books as much as teens.

polenth - I dunno. I don't think it's a literary fiction thing though. I really think many people think "Oh it's for kids, can't be as well written then", even in the fantasy genre. But hard to know really . . .

prince - Pullman is an excellent example. Most consider his stuff actually adult books despite the MC's age.

sue - So with you on that one! I am a part of a theatre company that performs for highschools. The teens come in busloads to the theatre that we are in and see some Shakespeare. The theatre is huge, one of the nicest in the city, we get far larger audiences than most of the smaller more reputable theatre companies in the city, we are doing Shakespeare at a very high level - no dumbing down at all - and yet it is met with little respect when you tell people about it. So strange.

charles - yes short stories also get the rough end of the stick. It shocks me really, all of it, why do people assume what other people do is easy?

K.S. Clay said...

I think most genres have some stigma attatched. I've heard prejudicial remarks made about all of these genres:

Romance: Oh, it's trash for middle aged housewives who read it for the sex scenes.

Science Fiction/Fantasy: It's escapist literature for people who can't cope with the real world.

Literary fiction: It's for pretentious snobs who look down at everyone else.

Horror: It's disturbing and therefore the writers must be disturbed (you wouldn't believe the number of times I've heard people say Stephen King must be really weird and scary because he writes books that are weird and scary.)

I don't think you can get around it. No matter what you write someone is going to judge you. Personally, I think it's great when people can write well for children. I imagine it's an even harder audience to hook than adults (less patience to put up with things that don't grip them right away). Also, a lot of adults read children's and young adult books as well. Harry Potter, for instance, wasn't just a phenomenon among young readers.