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One highly opinionated feminist YA nerd's twisted, snarky and informative journey through the genre's perils, pitfalls and sparkles.

Jump on the (band)Wagon.

Another day, another published article discussing YA that makes eyes roll and twitter typing fingers fly furiously. The difference this time is that the article is not some so-called YA expert or a journalist whose only experience of YA comes from shelf browsing or assumptions; this article, published on Slate, is written by a YA author, or rather two authors who wrote a YA novel together. It revealed some interesting things, not to mention incredibly stupid.

Katie Crouch and Grady Hendrix, writer of “The Magnolia League”, (which my fellow Torch bearer Vinaya reviewed here with particular zeal) managed to pull a double whammy by slamming both YA fiction and literary fiction in one swift generalisation:

But readers in Y.A. don’t care about rumination. They don’t want you to pore over your sentences trying to find the perfect turn of phrase that evokes the exact color of the shag carpeting in your living room when your dad walked out on your mom one autumn afternoon in 1973. They want you to tell a story. In Y.A. you write two or three drafts of a chapter, not eight. When kids like one book, they want the next one. Now. You need to deliver... In many ways, Y.A. is the lookingglass world to literary fiction, where everyone's jockeying over who got the biggest advance, the ultimate dream is to be anointed by the New Yorker, and you're expected to take two years or more to turn in your next novel that very few people are waiting to buy. The direct relationship with teen readers actually comes as a relief since the literary fiction crowd can get a little full of itself.

To be honest, after this article, where Crouch and Hendrix manage to insult their reader base by patronising them and acting as if they’re stupid, displaying sheer arrogance in relation to any type of criticism and displaying a questionable lack of skill and respect for the work itself, I’ll be surprised if “The Magnolia League” finds any new readers.

But this article is a puzzling piece to me, because it appears to be an author standing up and admitting that she’s on the bandwagon, and that profit trumps quality every time. I’ve commented frequently about my cynicism regarding YA publishing trends and their potentially problematic content, and I’ve displayed disappointment over the lack of author/industry discussion of it within the community (although that has been changing somewhat lately), but I’ve never seen an author be so bold and arrogant as to admit this sort of attitude so publicly.

YA’s had to fight for its place a lot lately, between this, the Wall Street Journal’s hack-job and every other YA controversy that seems to come as regularly as the setting of the sun. Despite its massive popularity, increasing sales and undeniable power in getting young people to read, it’s still seen as lesser, somehow unworthy of true merit, merely a tool for profit. James Frey has exploited this space in the market well. He comes up with a basic, simple but easy to market premise, sells the movie rights then churns out a simple novel with the help of a very low paid graduate who receives none of the credit (at least James Patterson gives a co-author credit to his minions) to flood the market and set the pace for the movie publicity. While “I Am Number Four” didn’t set the box office alight (thank god for that), the book has been on the New York Times children’s bestseller list for 22 weeks. We may jump up in arms over Frey’s blatant lack of respect for his readers, his exploitation of others for monetary gain and his less than skilful output, but it sells.

The market wants this stuff, and there’s only so much of it we can blame on publishing hype and marketing. YA is no longer just a book thing, it’s an entire money making industry that spins out into movies, TV, merchandising, etc. It inspires movies to release YA novelisations, as was the case with “Red Riding Hood”. It commands how millions of dollars are spent. Countless YA books have been optioned for a movie, many of which had the movies rights purchased before the book’s release, banking on these trends (e.g. Divergent, Matched, the upcoming Black is the Colour.) I’m half convinced one of the reasons YA, and romance, get so much flack is because they’re one of the few bits in the industry turning a profit these days. One can’t blame an agent for pointing out a profitable gap in the market to their clients (although maybe they should also tell them to keep mum about their true intentions.)

Awful books have always existed. There will always be awful books in every genre and YA is no expection. There have always been terrible books for kids and teens, many of which were churned out to meet popular demand, such as the Nancy Drew and Sweet Valley High books. The difference between the derivative nature of the market then and its current state is that the derivative, trend following books of the 70s and 80s weren’t reportedly selling to publishers for 7 figure sums. I don’t know how well “The Magnolia League” has been selling but there is an intrinsic appeal to what is popular. Why? That would take a much deeper analysis than I am capable of giving.

Crouch and Hendrix displayed a complete lack of tact in their article, as well as ignorance and disrespect towards their readers and the industry they openly want to exploit for financial gain. But let’s not pretend that they’re the only ones doing it. There are many wonderful YA writers dedicated to their craft, and I’d argue that the market’s more diverse than ever, even with the blasé trends and next-big-thing campaigns. We should continue to demand the changes we want, both readers and writers. We may not like Crouch and Hendrix’s piece, but the industry stays the same as long as this stuff keeps selling. They know exactly what they’re doing.

Hopefully, we do too.

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Has said...

I think you summed it up perfectly - another factor is that the majority of authors writing for YA and for romance as well for that matter is women. And I think that is why they get ragged on. In that article Crouch and Hendrix wrote - they referred and blasted slutty werewolves, shows how much they know and care about the PNR genre and are only in it for the money. When an author who does this only for the money, there is no heart an soul and it shows in their books. Readers will know too.

Anonymous said...

"but I’ve never seen an author be so bold and arrogant as to admit this sort of attitude so publicly."

This. It annoyed me so much that they were like, "Woo we're jumping on the bandwagon and it's awesome!" because I kept thinking that these kinds of authors and these kinds of attitudes are exactly what's wrong with current YA trends. These people are in it for the money and care little for quality, and so long as awful YA books are being churned out I'll be right here giving them their deserved negative reviews.

chrysoula said...

At one point I was writing content for a kid's game, a franchise property. The company who had hired the people who had hired me was composed exclusively of people who disliked children. Very few of them had any, and they universally considered kids to be dumb. They constantly wanted me to dumb my content down, and to play up gender stereotypes and so forth.

The worst, most frustrating part of their attitudes was that they were never going to be proved wrong. They WERE wrong-- kids, obviously not dumb. But kids-- not used to being exposed to intelligent content, and with no basis to compare-- ate up what they were familiar with.

It was heartrending.

Anyhow, that article read to me like the authors had spent a lot of time with high-level publishers with similar attitudes as my ex-employers, and were just parroting and riffing off what they'd been told when they took the comission.

S.J.Kincaid said...

Thank you for this! You articulated beautifully the same impression I got from the article (I'll link to this from my blog, too).

Forget the other aspects of that article, THIS is what struck me: "But this article is a puzzling piece to me, because it appears to be an author standing up and admitting that she’s on the bandwagon, and that profit trumps quality every time... I’ve never seen an author be so bold and arrogant as to admit this sort of attitude so publicly."

This whole article featured an established author talking about putting out something she knew was mediocre, just to chase the money. That's what was rather frustrating about it-- the cynicism so openly touted like it was a good thing.


Fierce Heroines said...

I just finished The Magnolia League - started it before I saw this article and I almost decided to not to keep reading it afterwards. But I did and it was baaaaaad. Would've be nice to know the author totally disrespects her audience enough to put out a terrible product before I bought it.

I totally agree with what you said about YA is constantly being told it has no "real" value outside of making money. Nothing really grinds my gears more than the way people get dismissive with it.

Adee said...

I cope with these articles by reminding myself that there are still good books written by authors who actually care about quality and respect their readers.

In related news, I was at Barnes and Noble and noticed that Markus Zusak has a new book out. Needless to say, it restored my faith in literature.

Anonymous said...

Having problems with my Google and LiveJournal account, so this is future_guardian from both.

The thing that bothered me most about the Slate article is that there are a few ways to write about YA problems (ideas, writing style, individual stories) and not sound dismissive and insulting and these folks didn't take that opportunity.

Another thing: Have either one of the article writers encountered real teenagers to know what they think about?

For example, I now work with two high school girls and I noticed that the way they approach work is completely different from the college kids and adults. Because being young teenagers means they might be saving up for a car or college or maybe it's extra spending money, but they're not paying all the bills and they're not worried about "Oh no, I only got eighteen hours, how am I going to pay for (insert big-price item)?" These girls are good workers (from what I've seen, they have good customer skills and they're effective on the register), but they're more free-spirited and have less responsibilities. I think YA novels, regardless of subgenre, capture that responsible-but-not-one-hundred-percent-independent idea.

Phoebe Caulfield said...

Damn... come to think of it, the root of all the shit going down in the YA craze at the moment probably comes from the condescending attitude towards teenagers.

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