How To Write A Shitty Young Adult Novel
November 20, 2014 4:33 AM   Subscribe

"Books are dead. It's sad, but it's basically true. Sure, you can eke out a decent living if you dedicate yourself to your craft, spend years researching niche topics, and fleshing out the true human characteristics of your characters–that is, if you're extremely lucky and enormously talented. Or you could write a young adult novel."
posted by Jacqueline (126 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
 
These grapes are so sour, why do we keep eating them?
posted by robocop is bleeding at 4:45 AM on November 20, 2014 [27 favorites]


Every so often we get one of these "I really don't enjoy 'X' type of story, so here's why it's objectively bad to like 'X'." I suggest that we use this thread to prove him wrong. Yes, there are bad YA novels. There are bad every kind of novel.

I'll start.

Anything by Tamora Pierce.
posted by Mogur at 4:46 AM on November 20, 2014 [4 favorites]


He does have a caveat at the very end of the article, but he does have a few good points. TVTropes is there for a reason, after all.
posted by YAMWAK at 4:49 AM on November 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


The entire Series of Unfortunate Events, which I really need to reread sometime.
posted by Quilford at 4:50 AM on November 20, 2014 [3 favorites]


I don't know about the author's work in general, but Inkheart was a really good short story in this category. Unfortunately it took about 8000 pages to tell that short story.
posted by DU at 4:50 AM on November 20, 2014


Ten years ago people were whining about "chick lit," now it's YA. I look forward to hearing about what genre we're not supposed to like in 2024. I bet it's not fiction for straight white men!
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:57 AM on November 20, 2014 [102 favorites]


After my wife had us listen to the first book in the Raven Boys series by Maggie Stiefvater, I've been working my way through the series (only 3 books so far) on my own. I really enjoy the world building and setup she does - there's a commitment to the concept (Ancient Welsh King Lies Sleeping In Rural Virginia For Some Reason!) and some well thought out world building that I didn't expect from a YA book.

Really, if you want to write a "Just Give Up And Write A YA Book" screen, target it instead at the mass market urban fantasy set. Authors who have gone on for seventeenillion books in their Shoulder Tattoo Vampire Soap Opera (also with Werewolf Love Triangle) could clean up in YA (provided they clean up the sex).
posted by robocop is bleeding at 4:57 AM on November 20, 2014 [9 favorites]


Quilford, his new series All the Wrong Questions is even more fun.
posted by sneebler at 5:01 AM on November 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


I look forward to hearing about what genre we're not supposed to like in 2024. I bet it's not fiction for straight white men!

Techno-thriller spy novels space shoot-em-ups are well-respected in the academic community for this very reason.
posted by DU at 5:01 AM on November 20, 2014 [21 favorites]


1. "Teen Paranormal Romance"
2. "New Teen Paranormal Romance"
3. PROFIT
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 5:01 AM on November 20, 2014 [3 favorites]


Books are not dead
Far from it. It is just that the format has evolved.
posted by adamvasco at 5:22 AM on November 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


Really, if you want to write a "Just Give Up And Write A YA Book" screen, target it instead at the mass market urban fantasy set. Authors who have gone on for seventeenillion books in their Shoulder Tattoo Vampire Soap Opera (also with Werewolf Love Triangle) could clean up in YA (provided they clean up the sex).

I have always said whoever managed to create a book series about a paramilitary vampire group fighting terrorism with overtly right-wing/libertarian themes and lots of weird romantic entanglements you'd become the king of all the book people and rule the NYT Best Sellers list with an iron fist.

Think of those horrible books by John Ringo except with supernatural romantic times. It would sell like hotcakes! It would be a dirty, dirty thing to do and you'd never get your soul clean, but you would at least have piles of cash with which to console yourself.
posted by winna at 5:28 AM on November 20, 2014 [18 favorites]


There was never a time when most books were good. Most books have always been bad. For every classic work of literature you can name, it was contemporary with literally thousands of books which have been utterly forgotten by history. And that's fine! Not every book needs to be Great Literature, just like not every meal needs to be haute cuisine.

Frankly, a steady diet of only great books convinced me I would never be a writer. Mediocre books make me believe I can get my foot in the door. Maybe I'll never be a writer like the writers I love, but if I didn't know about the meh writers, I'd never even have the courage to try.
posted by showbiz_liz at 5:30 AM on November 20, 2014 [65 favorites]


It would be a dirty, dirty thing to do and you'd never get your soul clean, but you would at least have piles of cash with which to console yourself.

This is when you have the third book in the series do a total 180 and make it about socialism
posted by showbiz_liz at 5:33 AM on November 20, 2014 [18 favorites]


Vampires overtly parasitic nature makes them better as a bad guy in a libertarian fantasy. Will werewolf or wizard protagonists work?
posted by Drinky Die at 5:37 AM on November 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


Ha, so the vampires are Big Government? Or maybe the UN (Undead Nations)?
posted by showbiz_liz at 5:38 AM on November 20, 2014 [3 favorites]


Or you could self-publish on Amazon with a series of interspecies erotica books featuring nymphet clowns being seduced by weredolphin aliens.

I, er, hear it's a surprisingly lucrative option these days.
posted by delfin at 5:38 AM on November 20, 2014 [10 favorites]


This is when you have the third book in the series do a total 180 and make it about socialism

The real goal would be to set up a "studio" like big shot artists do ("I was Jeff Koons's studio serf") full of low-paid employees who produce your work. You supply the ideas, they crank out the product, and your name sells it.

There are a couple of writers whose new books are always filling airport bookstores who I suspect of following this model. The less well written end of YA would seem purpose made for this approach.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:42 AM on November 20, 2014


Isn't that how Babysitters Club and all those series worked?
posted by showbiz_liz at 5:43 AM on November 20, 2014 [2 favorites]


delfin....or weredelfin?
you won't believe the surprisingly true story
posted by kokaku at 5:43 AM on November 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


Wizards are probably the best bet as libertarian protagonists, especially if you do the 'magic is an extension of will' and 'every one can do it if they do the work' type thing. Put your magical libertarian school in Galt's Gulch - "We going galted the entire school! To keep it away from those socialist vampires and their moonbat werewolf lackies!" (did I mention that werewolves are Anonymous? I should have).
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:45 AM on November 20, 2014 [8 favorites]


"I have always said whoever managed to create a book series about a paramilitary vampire group fighting terrorism with overtly right-wing/libertarian themes and lots of weird romantic entanglements you'd become the king of all the book people and rule the NYT Best Sellers list with an iron fist."

"Vampires overtly parasitic nature makes them better as a bad guy in a libertarian fantasy. Will werewolf or wizard protagonists work?"

On Preview: "Wizards are probably the best bet as libertarian protagonists, especially if you do the 'magic is an extension of will' and 'every one can do it if they do the work' type thing. Put your magical libertarian school in Galt's Gulch - "We going galted the entire school! To keep it away from those socialist vampires and their moonbat werewolf lackies!" (did I mention that werewolves are Anonymous? I should have)."


Well, I've won Nano Wrimo early this year, so I am currently looking for something to write for the next ten days... thanks for the tips!
posted by marienbad at 5:47 AM on November 20, 2014 [6 favorites]


Are books dying again? Yeah, the publishing biz has been so vibrant and fair to creators this whole time.
posted by clvrmnky at 5:48 AM on November 20, 2014 [2 favorites]


Isn't that how Babysitters Club and all those series worked?

Weren't those more like a corporate property, owned by the publisher with different ghost writers hired for each book? I am imagining the popular writer being able to control the means of production and take on that role of exploiting the labor of the hired workers instead, though of course the end result is the same, especially for the hired labor.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:50 AM on November 20, 2014


That was a particularly terrible article.
posted by rtha at 5:52 AM on November 20, 2014 [2 favorites]


Yeah, that's James Patterson - he's more a producer than a writer. At least he has the actual authors' names on 'his' books now.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:52 AM on November 20, 2014


Wizards are probably the best bet as libertarian protagonists, especially if you do the 'magic is an extension of will' and 'every one can do it if they do the work' type thing.

One word: Batman.
posted by Kadin2048 at 5:54 AM on November 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


There are interesting discussions to be had both about the genre and the industry (and we've had them here before), but this clickbait garbage isn't a good starting point for either.
posted by ryanshepard at 5:57 AM on November 20, 2014


Dr. Strange Fateman.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:58 AM on November 20, 2014


One word: Batman.

Free Market Batman would be a good riff for a satirical comic
posted by thelonius at 6:01 AM on November 20, 2014


Most books have always been bad.

Sturgeon's Law called, chuckled for a few seconds, then hung up.
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:02 AM on November 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


Also, as if it needs to be said: dude writes article dismissive of genre dominated by women.
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:04 AM on November 20, 2014 [10 favorites]


Techno-thriller spy novels space shoot-em-ups are well-respected in the academic community

Possibly, in an academic community somewhere, but I haven't encountered this. The best I can say is that I knew an academic who collected William Haggard, a collection which always looked a bit, well, haggard.

Every so often we get one of these "I really don't enjoy 'X' type of story, so here's why it's objectively bad to like 'X'."

While we're on the topic, I think these let-me-take-minor-cultural-touchstone-and-say-provocative-things-provocatively pieces are pretty tired and I'd be delighted if I never saw another one. Especially from dudes who half-ass it like this dude does.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:06 AM on November 20, 2014


Also, as if it needs to be said: dude writes article dismissive of genre dominated by women.

Is that really true? Nearly as many of the really big guns that come to mind are men. I'd like to see some sales numbers to back this claim up. Sure, there are more women writers that have taken the genre to new heights of sales, but it's not exactly like the men are faring poorly here.
posted by cjorgensen at 6:09 AM on November 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


Most books have always been bad, but lately we have been hearing a lot about how "YA is actually really GOOD and more than just a guilty pleasure!" from people who should know better.

I don't even like that much "high literature" or experimental fiction. But somehow we have allowed YA to get more mainstream respect that isn't granted to other light genre fiction.
posted by deanc at 6:12 AM on November 20, 2014 [2 favorites]


But just because it's genre, does that mean it's necessarily light? Why?
posted by showbiz_liz at 6:13 AM on November 20, 2014 [2 favorites]


Free Market Batman would be a good riff for a satirical comic

How is that different from regular Batman? Except maybe you have a point, in order to become a billionaire Bruce Wayne had to be an apex predator. But now he spends his time reducing the competition from small time gangsters, which is clearly reducing the power of the free market for gangster activities and enhancing the monopoly powers of operators like himself. So, logically, free market Batman should spend his time clobbering other billionaire industrialist gangsters in order to restore competition and the free market for violence, intimidation, and exploitaiton.
posted by ennui.bz at 6:15 AM on November 20, 2014


Nearly as many of the really big guns that come to mind are men.

The adult audience for YA skews heavily in favor of women. While science fiction and military fiction probably tilt towards a male readership, you don't generally hear those genres denigrated as unacceptable reading except by people who believe themselves to write "literature."
posted by deanc at 6:17 AM on November 20, 2014 [3 favorites]


But just because it's genre, does that mean it's necessarily light?

No -- I think the point is that YA, and certain kinds of SF and fantasy, get taken seriously because they're the things "the right sort of people read," while Westerns, "military fiction," romance, "urban paranormal," etc. are not.
posted by escabeche at 6:18 AM on November 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


The real goal would be to set up a "studio" like big shot artists do

Meet James Frey's Fiction Factory.
posted by nicwolff at 6:23 AM on November 20, 2014 [2 favorites]


You know, the current respect for YA lit COULD have something to do with the spate of brilliant and innovative YA fiction that's come out over the course of the past decade or so, rather than some mysterious unknowable mystery of mysterious mystery.
posted by kyrademon at 6:23 AM on November 20, 2014 [18 favorites]


In an old episode of the Girls in Hoodies podcast, Molly and Emily discussed that dismissive and wrong-headed article that ran in Slate a few months back. Emily (I think?) suggested that a better article on the popularity of YA would involve looking at why YA novels with idealized male characters have resonated so strongly with women coming of age during a period where bro culture is strong.

Someone should write that article, rather than dismissing the genre on the whole.
posted by pxe2000 at 6:30 AM on November 20, 2014 [5 favorites]


You know, the current respect for YA lit COULD have something to do with the spate of brilliant and innovative YA fiction that's come out over the course of the past decade or so, rather than some mysterious unknowable mystery of mysterious mystery.

You mean Harry Potter? The problem with these sorts of screeds are that they imagine that the problem is one of aesthetics. Opinions differ about how brilliant Harry Potter is, but you'd be hard pressed to argue that if, say, you distributed half of the money J.K. Rowling made from her work to other authors (in return for production) that you wouldn't have increased the production of works and, simply by random chance, increased the production of brilliant works, assuming that none of these works would have existed without the redistribution.

The basic point is the same you could make for any number of other industries. J.K. Rowling's compensation is completely divorced from what you would find in a rational market for books... the same economic conditions that are redistributing the value of various markets upwards are at work in the book trade, except that you only see the effects on a cultural level, instead of a political and social level.
posted by ennui.bz at 6:33 AM on November 20, 2014


Here is the transcription of Ursula Le Guin's acceptance speech at the National Book Award thing last night. For what it's worth, I thought it was beautiful and angry and relevant.
posted by newdaddy at 6:36 AM on November 20, 2014 [13 favorites]


I mean, just to be concrete. J.K. Rowling earned $13 million last year from her writing. Suppose you took $7 million of that and distributed it in $60,000 chunks to various authors as advances on books, you would obtain 115 new works, just for this year... and Rowling would still walk home with $6 million.

That's as clear an example of misallocation of capital in a market as any.
posted by ennui.bz at 6:41 AM on November 20, 2014 [4 favorites]


J.K. Rowling's compensation is completely divorced from what you would find in a rational market for books.

I've never read the Potter books, but I'm curious about this. So tell me, in a "rational market for books," what would Rowling be compensated?
posted by octobersurprise at 6:43 AM on November 20, 2014


Redistribution of author income? This sounds like socialist vampire talk to me. TO THE GALT CAVE!
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:45 AM on November 20, 2014 [14 favorites]


I think it's overly simplistic to take kyrademon's comment and assume that it only refers to Harry Potter. If *one* series was the only good thing that had come on to the YA market in that timeframe then praise for the genre would be pretty silly. But there are SO MANY great YA novels out there and it drives me nuts that people assume that either means Harry Potter or Twilight.
posted by brilliantine at 6:46 AM on November 20, 2014 [5 favorites]


> "You mean Harry Potter?"

I'm not sure how you got "J. K. Rowling solely and only" from "spate of brilliant and innovative YA fiction that's come out over the course of the past decade or so", nor am I quite clear why you thought that by "current respect for YA lit" I meant "a few authors have made a ton of money from it".
posted by kyrademon at 6:47 AM on November 20, 2014 [6 favorites]


Writing a shitty novel of any genre is always a path to money, provided it's the right flavor of shitty for the times in which you live. That's the tricky part, really.
posted by emjaybee at 6:49 AM on November 20, 2014 [2 favorites]


Oh god, this is the kind of guy who thinks Guy In Your MFA sounds like a cool dude.
posted by kmz at 6:50 AM on November 20, 2014 [4 favorites]


I have always said whoever managed to create a book series about a paramilitary vampire group fighting terrorism with overtly right-wing/libertarian themes and lots of weird romantic entanglements you'd become the king of all the book people and rule the NYT Best Sellers list with an iron fist.

I think I've read that series. I was surprised that it wasn't horrifically bad. (It was one of those "That sounds awful - I have to read it!" moments). Lost interest around book 8, though.
posted by jb at 6:50 AM on November 20, 2014


How is [Free Market Batman] different from regular Batman?

Batman doesn't charge for his services, which is obviously a failure on his part. Really, he should just go directly to the City Council and offer to underbid Gotham PD for police services. The city gets to replace a bunch of union guys with a single market-rate vigilante — it's a win/win.
posted by Kadin2048 at 6:50 AM on November 20, 2014 [4 favorites]


I think it's overly simplistic to take kyrademon's comment and assume that it only refers to Harry Potter.

Without Harry Potter, there wouldn't have been the massive investment in YA novel production that has led to the production of those other works.

So tell me, in a "rational market for books," what would Rowling be compensated?

I was being sort of facetious. my point is that you could vastly increase the production of new works of fiction by changing the way Rowling, and authors like Rowling are compensated i.e. the marginal value (in terms of production of fictional novels) of a Rowling work is not anywhere close to $13 million. Maybe I'm wrong, but that seems obvious.
posted by ennui.bz at 6:52 AM on November 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


I repeat my assertion that these novels are misnamed. Young Adults are people in their late teens and early twenties. These books are read by the ten to thirteen set, thus they should be called Elderly Children novels.
posted by jonmc at 6:53 AM on November 20, 2014 [9 favorites]


Free Market Batman would be a good riff for a satirical comic

Strangely enough, there is a real Free Market Batman, named "Berlin Batman" aka Baruch Wane. His mission was to rescue the manuscripts of right-wing libertarian Ludwig von Mises from the Nazis. It's Ron Paul's favorite comic. Reality outpaces satire faster than you could ever dream.
posted by jonp72 at 6:54 AM on November 20, 2014 [9 favorites]


I was just really pleased that this post was about crappy YA novels for boys, as the "YA sucks" is usually a not terribly thinly veiled attempt to judge teenage GIRLS.
posted by jeather at 6:57 AM on November 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


Frankly, a steady diet of only great books convinced me I would never be a writer. Mediocre books make me believe I can get my foot in the door. Maybe I'll never be a writer like the writers I love, but if I didn't know about the meh writers, I'd never even have the courage to try.

This is a truly excellent point. There is an awful lot of garbage on the shelves, why not yours! I wrote a NaNoWriMo a few years back. I picked it up a couple years afterward and thumbed through it, and the thought I had was, "You know, I've seen worse garbage on the shelves at Waldenbooks when I was a kid." Of course, I haven't written anything since, but the thought's still good!
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 6:59 AM on November 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


One thing to keep in mind is that YA gets to be a genre that contains other genres; there's innovative YA sci-fi, romance, fantasy, historical, mysteries, plain old' lit stuff, and strangely wonderful combinations of all of the above. And so this recent explosion has the ability to attract a lot of different folks to the YA shelves.
posted by redsparkler at 7:00 AM on November 20, 2014


I guess if YA is (and I want to be clear, I'm not questioning this) now so innovative, smart, complex, literary and can be of any genre, what makes something YA now? The characters are kids? Is the vocabulary aimed at kids? Is it just how it's marketed? Are there authors writing what they think is just an adventure tale, and the publisher decides it's a kid's book?
posted by spaltavian at 7:05 AM on November 20, 2014


Um, Harry Potter is straight up kids lit and not YA, regardless of crossover audience.
posted by Artw at 7:05 AM on November 20, 2014


I was being sort of facetious. my point is that you could vastly increase the production of new works of fiction by changing the way Rowling, and authors like Rowling are compensated i.e. the marginal value (in terms of production of fictional novels) of a Rowling work is not anywhere close to $13 million. Maybe I'm wrong, but that seems obvious.

I'm guessing that unless she has the best contract this side of never, she's made her publishers quite a bit of money. Maybe you should ask them why they're not distributing their money fairly enough for your liking. Or is the complaint that she's not giving her publisher enough of a share?
posted by kmz at 7:05 AM on November 20, 2014 [3 favorites]


the marginal value (in terms of production of fictional novels) of a Rowling work is not anywhere close to $13 million.

Why not? I actually suspect that the value of each additional HP book was significantly in excess of $13M. Lots of people paid somewhere in the neighborhood of $15-30 each for her books, presumably because they thought it was a good deal. I don't think anyone was coerced into buying them. (Well, parents for their kids, probably, but that's their problem.) Rowling—along with the editors, typesetters, and other folks involved in the books' production—entertained a lot of people for what they got paid. It seems like a straightforward transaction to me. Per hour of end-user entertainment it's certainly cheaper than going to the movies.

If your argument is that more books could have been written if the $13M (or whatever) paid to Rowling would have been distributed out to more authors, that's probably true, but that's not really what people want. People don't want 1,000 different books similar-but-not-exactly-the-same-as Harry Potter, they wanted to read the Harry Potter books, probably because it was a social phenomenon and they want to be able to read what everyone else is talking about. That everyone ends up reading the same book is, to many people, a feature rather than a bug.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:10 AM on November 20, 2014 [7 favorites]


Harry Potter is seven books, and book one is kidlit and book seven is YA, and I don't know where it switches over -- book 4 or 5, maybe.
posted by jeather at 7:10 AM on November 20, 2014 [7 favorites]


This is actually not terrible advice for writing D&D campaigns.
posted by Reyturner at 7:11 AM on November 20, 2014 [3 favorites]


Rowling already does enough redistribution of her own funds without some stupid scheme to prop up knock-offs, which it's not like we don't have enough of anyway.
posted by Artw at 7:11 AM on November 20, 2014 [4 favorites]


I was just really pleased that this post was about crappy YA novels for boys, as the "YA sucks" is usually a not terribly thinly veiled attempt to judge teenage GIRLS.

These and other comments in this thread ("I bet it's not fiction for straight white men!") are bizarre, because they're simply demonstrably false.

Genres aimed at straight white men have been targets of mockery for like ever. The spy thrillers and military fiction mentioned above may have sold well but were never respected as anything more than something you'd grab to read on a plane or at the beach.

Sci-fi and fantasy were for decades dismissed as genre trash read by virgin neckbeards in their mom's basement. Even now that those genres make tons of money as movies and TV shows, they still don't garner respect. Actual comic books even less so.

It's just hard to see how this "they're only mocking things women like!" idea has any justification. YA novels get written about because they're hot now, but it's not like stuff favored by straight white men automatically means praise and respect.
posted by Sangermaine at 7:13 AM on November 20, 2014 [8 favorites]


I don't know where it switches over -- book 4 or 5, maybe.

Maybe goblet of fire? It's got the first on-screen child death.
posted by poffin boffin at 7:20 AM on November 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: TO THE GALT CAVE!
posted by sammyo at 7:23 AM on November 20, 2014 [3 favorites]


These and other comments in this thread ("I bet it's not fiction for straight white men!") are bizarre, because they're simply demonstrably false.

"Why YA sucks" is a current genre of editorial-style writing, and it is almost invariably about YA aimed at girls. I am not talking about all comments about all fiction, I am talking about how this one article linked in the FPP was not about "Twilight sucks girls are stupid" and it was a really nice change.

Goblet of Fire is book 4, but it's pretty kidlit until that very last chapter, so I couldn't decide.
posted by jeather at 7:24 AM on November 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


"Why YA sucks" is a current genre of editorial-style writing, and it is almost invariably about YA aimed at girls.

As I said, because YA is hot right now in a way that, say, Space Opera or Spy Thrillers aren't. Popular topics get written about more. A biting takedown of post-singularity SF stories isn't going to attract many readers.

And the most popular YA properties (Twilight, Hunger Games, etc) are ones aimed at girls, so those get written about more.
posted by Sangermaine at 7:29 AM on November 20, 2014


I have to admit that the woman who became immensely rich by bringing joy to millions of children, has given away a vast part of her personal fortune to charity and philanthropy, and who refuses to lower her income tax rate by moving out of the country explicitly because its welfare system supported her when she was impoverished, is not really the kind of oligarch that has my hands itching for the pitchfork and torches.

In fact, I suspect that in general "the royalty rates given to authors for novels are too high!" is never going to be a really powerful rallying cry for the great Revolution.

But that's pretty much all I'll say from this point on about this weird derail, since I am not particularly interested in trying to navigate the perplexing path from "there is a lot of good YA lit right now" to "that is only because J. K. Rowling got rich but there would somehow be even more if she hadn't gotten rich".
posted by kyrademon at 7:29 AM on November 20, 2014 [27 favorites]


I don't know where it switches over -- book 4 or 5, maybe.

The end of Prisoner of Azkaban. That came out when I was a camp counselor and I'd read the first couple of books and liked the first and found the second okay and had started the third and was talking to one of the campers who was around twelve who had already finished the book and I told her that I'd liked the first few books but they were starting to feel formulaic with the whole "Harry gets into trouble, Dumbledore saves the day, everything works out perfectly" thing that had happened before and her eyes got really big and she shook her head slowly and interrupted me to say "Not this time. Dumbledore doesn't fix everything." For her the fact that everything wasn't completely wrapped up and cheerful and perfect was clearly a Big Deal. Yeah, stuff ends up mostly okay, but Sirius Black's name isn't cleared and Harry doesn't get to go live with him and things aren't all completely great. A perfect happy ending is set up but doesn't materialize and we can pinpoint that as the exact moment when the Harry Potter books become thematically YA as demonstrated by the saucer-wide eyes of this kid I knew a bunch of years ago.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 7:34 AM on November 20, 2014 [16 favorites]


Through my twenties and most of my thirties, I lived all over the country and had a long series of roommates. Some were actors, some were artists, some were musicians. A few had regular jobs. To the best of my recollection, two have become authors.

One guy was very serious and devoted to his craft. He took courses, analyzed the works of writers he admired, talked to many of his heroes (and collaborated with one); he has published maybe a dozen short stories and I think four novels in the last fifteen years. A google search reveals that he is best known for (a) his blog, and (b) a winning entry in a Bulwer-Lytton contest. One of the hits on the first page is a biographical blurb from the publisher of one of his short stories.

The other was someone I worked with. She had no interest in writing that I can recall, and not much more in reading (I replaced a departing housemate when I arrived, and there was not one book in the house until I got there so far as I remember). Eighteen months ago she published her first YA novel. The entire first page of google hits for her name is about her success with that, and the sequel is coming out in early 2015.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:34 AM on November 20, 2014


And that Rowling's writing income for 2013 probably had more to do with Cuckoo's Calling than her Harry Potter stuff.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 7:35 AM on November 20, 2014


But that's pretty much all I'll say from this point on about this weird derail, since I am not particularly interested in trying to navigate the perplexing path from "there is a lot of good YA lit right now" to "that is only because J. K. Rowling got rich but there would somehow be even more if she hadn't gotten rich".

The specifics of Rowling's compensation and her choices of how to spend it are maybe a derail, but the overall pattern in publishing to focus resources on a small number of potential blockbusters rather than a deep bench of mid-level writers is a big deal and not at all a derail when thinking about YA as a genre. That's a lot of why you get so many formulaic series, and why publishers choose to publish one book over another.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:38 AM on November 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


The real goal would be to set up a "studio" like big shot artists do

Which is what James "A Million Little Pieces" Frey is trying to do with his content production company Full Fathom Five, which is basically a neo-Grub Street sweatshop. He's achieved some material success with his co-written I Am Number Four series of books, though, and he's now teamed up with a Google company to co-write/co-produce a cross-platform novel series/ARG/movie franchise.

Here is the transcription of Ursula Le Guin's acceptance speech at the National Book Award thing last night. For what it's worth, I thought it was beautiful and angry and relevant.

That's terrific news about the award - Le Guin is a national treasure, not to mention the author of a certain young-adult fantasy novel about a boy whose gift for magic gets him a place at wizards' academy.

In any case, her acceptance speech is practically addressed to this discussion thread, so it's well worth quoting in part:
I think hard times are coming when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who can remember freedom. Poets, visionaries—the realists of a larger reality.

Right now, I think we need writers who know the difference between the production of a market commodity and the practice of an art. Developing written material to suit sales strategies in order to maximize corporate profit and advertising revenue is not quite the same thing as responsible book publishing or authorship.{...}

Books, you know, they’re not just commodities. The profit motive often is in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art—the art of words.

I have had a long career and a good one. In good company. Now here, at the end of it, I really don’t want to watch American literature get sold down the river. We who live by writing and publishing want—and should demand—our fair share of the proceeds. But the name of our beautiful reward is not profit. It’s name is freedom.
While Rowling's storytelling talent shouldn't be sold short, nor her charity efforts underrated, she doesn't have Le Guin's way with words.
posted by Doktor Zed at 7:41 AM on November 20, 2014 [5 favorites]


Where is the corresponding criticism of movies that are basically cribbing off of Save the Cat?

But I guess that we need to be saved from the horrors of mediocre YA novels written primarily for young female readers.
posted by vuron at 7:46 AM on November 20, 2014


Where is the corresponding criticism of movies that are basically cribbing off of Save the Cat?

Here.
posted by Sangermaine at 8:00 AM on November 20, 2014 [2 favorites]


Where is the corresponding criticism of movies that are basically cribbing off of Save the Cat?

Here you go. I can tell you cared enough about the answer to take 30 seconds to Google.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 8:01 AM on November 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


As far as Rowling goes, don't think she is taking anything away from anyone, or ever has. A rising tide floats all boats, at least in terms of traditional publishing. I realize that is kind of a nonsense statement since she is in a sense self-published through Pottermore. But a lot of authors ride on the coattails of the breakout series and the whole book business worries when there is no breakout for the fall season.
posted by BibiRose at 8:05 AM on November 20, 2014


a vine star's dogs have a line of clothing at American Eagle. keep working on ur novel

As the husband of a writer, I have to laugh to keep from crying
posted by The Card Cheat at 8:08 AM on November 20, 2014 [5 favorites]


Or you could just write short articles on the internet.
posted by IndigoJones at 8:23 AM on November 20, 2014


. I bet it's not fiction for straight white men!

Looking at the numbers straight guys don't read fiction period sooooo.
posted by The Whelk at 8:34 AM on November 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


The best part of that article was the description of the author at the end. It should have been at the beginning so you'd know it's not worth reading any further.
posted by benito.strauss at 8:44 AM on November 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


Poor guy may have gotten stuck with that personality through nominative determinism.
posted by Artw at 8:53 AM on November 20, 2014


I guess no one noticed this part of the article: "Author’s Note: I actually enjoy a lot of YA novels and many other stories that follow some of these tropes. Faux bitterness aside, write whatever you want. Just make it good.."
posted by Saxon Kane at 9:12 AM on November 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


Harry Potter is seven books, and book one is kidlit and book seven is YA, and I don't know where it switches over -- book 4 or 5, maybe.

Well yeah, if we're going to base genres on the age of the reader (which is actually pretty questionable IMO) then Potter is going to have to change genres at least once. The whole point was for him to grow alongside the readers, going from an 11-year-old in the beginning to the edge of adulthood at the end.

Which is why she had no choice but to have a whole book in the middle where Harry is an insufferable, self-absorbed asshole.
posted by Naberius at 9:13 AM on November 20, 2014 [7 favorites]


It's just hard to see how this "they're only mocking things women like!" idea has any justification. YA novels get written about because they're hot now, but it's not like stuff favored by straight white men automatically means praise and respect.

It's not that stuff aimed at straight white men automatically gets praise and respect, it's that stuff aimed at teenage girls (and even adult women) automatically gets derision and disrespect. This is starting to change, but books aimed at women have to clear a much higher bar to be considered serious or high-quality. You're correct that genre books aimed at men have never gotten much respect until fairly recently, but I disagree that the readers of these books are subject to the same amount of derision as women readers of YA or "chick-lit" books. Just look at the way people talk about women reading romance novels, or Twilight, or whatever - it's a hell of a lot meaner than when they talk about men reading fantasy even when those fantasy books are equally fluffy and poorly written.
posted by dialetheia at 9:17 AM on November 20, 2014 [5 favorites]


I was going to come in to the comments and make deriding comments about whether the writer of this article has actually read any of the YA he's criticizing - and then I realized that wait, actually, this is a laundry list of all of the exact reasons why I stopped watching Doctor Who.
posted by capricorn at 9:41 AM on November 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


I disagree that the readers of these books are subject to the same amount of derision as women readers of YA or "chick-lit" books. Just look at the way people talk about women reading romance novels, or Twilight, or whatever - it's a hell of a lot meaner than when they talk about men reading fantasy even when those fantasy books are equally fluffy and poorly written.

As you note, this is only very recently, like the last 5 years. For decades the readers of pretty much any genre were talked about in pretty damn mean ways. An SF fan in even the 90s was the butt of jokes and derision in the same way a romance reader was. Both were losers enjoying trash, just in different ways.

That's changed a little since SF and fantasy have become so high-profile, and things like the Game of Thrones TV show have made reading books like that somewhat more socially acceptable. People aren't embarrassed to be seen reading one in public anymore. I can tell you this wasn't the case in the 90s when they were first coming out.

You're seeing the same cycle with YA. It's profile is being raised and those kinds of books are getting more public exposure, so public opinion is smoothing out. It's becoming more socially acceptable to talk about reading them. But while they're in this new-found public glare, they're going to be at first mocked, as it always was.

I just don't like this kneejerk "it's being criticized because women like it" idea being pushed here because there's no evidence to back that up and it seems like just a convenient shield for bad writing. Books shouldn't be criticized because women prefer them, but they're not immune to criticism. Maybe people write about how Twilight sucks because it's mega-popular and does suck. People also write about how comic books and their movies are escapist pap for man-children.
posted by Sangermaine at 9:48 AM on November 20, 2014 [5 favorites]


How to write a shitty internet post:

-Make a list of common tropes described in a vaguely derisive fashion without any insight or self awar...

...

Drat.
posted by Zalzidrax at 9:57 AM on November 20, 2014 [2 favorites]


robocop, I just finished Book 3 of the Raven Boys series. Soooooo good. Stiefvater is really good at sucking you in and immersing you in that world.
posted by mogget at 9:58 AM on November 20, 2014


I think the male equivalent of Twilight is 'series' fiction (ie, star trek novels), and it's just as looked down upon as Twilight is, but it doesn't have as high a profile right now.
posted by empath at 10:26 AM on November 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


Both were losers enjoying trash, just in different ways.

Leaving all else to the side, I cannot understand why people become upset if their preferred entertainment is not considered high quality.

Next on my reading list is Dan Fante's Chump Change, the first sentence on the back cover of which reads "A blackout brought on by a Mad Dog binge that ended with a self-inflicted steak knife wound bought Bruno Dante another stint in the nuthouse, no different from all the rest." Will this be as fine a sample of prose as Pedro Paramo? Who gives a damn? What I'm looking for is entertainment.
posted by mr. digits at 10:28 AM on November 20, 2014


That's changed a little since SF and fantasy have become so high-profile, and things like the Game of Thrones TV show have made reading books like that somewhat more socially acceptable.

Would you say that the high production value, "event television" treatment of Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series is starting to do the same for romance?
posted by Naberius at 10:36 AM on November 20, 2014


"Imagine if you will, a vulnerable teenage girl. She's just moved to a new school and is having trouble making friends, when suddenly, a strikingly handsome young boy from the next grade up takes a liking to her. A boy who is secretly... a Cthulhu!" (VIDEO, 5m)
posted by JHarris at 10:45 AM on November 20, 2014 [2 favorites]


I came in here to gush about Maggie Stiefvater. The Raven Boys books are just phenomenal. Her stand-alone The Scorpio Races is really good, too (magical killer horses from the sea in Ireland!). I also really like Lauren Oliver and E. Lockhart. The adult fiction I read tends to be genre (mostly historical English ladies solving mysteries and having adventures with a subtle dash of romance), but when I do venture into Real Adult Fiction, the biggest difference in writing seems to be stretching out the amount of patience required for reading the book. YA is really good at getting you to care about the characters fast and moving the plot along. I would put Stiefvater's writing up against Gillian Flynn's any day and be confident that Stiefvater would come out on top.

Would you say that the high production value, "event television" treatment of Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series is starting to do the same for romance?

I hope so! The tv treatment of Outlander is so outstanding. I keep hoping some of my other favorite historical fiction authors will get optioned on the Outlander bandwagon. Or even the Philippa Gregory bandwagon.
posted by banjo_and_the_pork at 11:12 AM on November 20, 2014


Somehow I doubt that Just A Normal Teen would have come in for such abuse if posted to the front page (maybe it was!).
posted by kenko at 11:32 AM on November 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


Probably was, Mefi loves Ortberg. Here.
posted by Drinky Die at 11:34 AM on November 20, 2014


You certainly can, and many people have, criticized Twilight—called it trash, even—without criticizing the genre as a whole. It's when you make the jump from "this book or series of books is terrible" to "this genre is terrible" that you have to really make a strong case for yourself. Doubly so if the genre in question is one where female authors are heavily represented. (Which is the case with teen romance books and YA in general, from what I've been told.)

Twilight is a terrible series and it would still be terrible if it were science fiction rather than 'teen paranormal romance' (or whatever sub-sub-genre you invent to contain it). There's no shortage of feminist critiques of it. Overall, there seems to be much more highly-critical ink spilled in its direction than praise.

But there doesn't seem to be anything inherent to the genre that is terrible, except insofar as you draw the boundaries so narrowly that they are effectively defined by Twilight. If all the commercially-successful books in the 'teen paranormal romance' genre turn out to be hugely problematic, anti-feminist, anti-sex, anti-choice, stealth Mormon propaganda, then it might be worth considering "what is it about this that appeals so broadly?" But one really successful blockbuster series doesn't really seem to even raise that question very highly, IMO.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:34 AM on November 20, 2014


The new project I'm tempted to have a go at is "Broke-Ass Batman." Seriously. Batman with limited resources, maybe he's a union carpenter or something. Would be interesting. He would make things out of wood I suppose, and never have a fancy 12,000-HP tank thing come to his rescue.
posted by Mister_A at 11:37 AM on November 20, 2014 [4 favorites]


He would make things out of wood I suppose

Bats, presumably.
posted by octobersurprise at 11:38 AM on November 20, 2014 [6 favorites]


Metafilter: TO THE GALT CAVE!

Screen fills up with image of rapidly spinning dollar sign, moving from background to foreground...
posted by jonp72 at 11:40 AM on November 20, 2014 [3 favorites]


Ten years ago people were whining about "chick lit," now it's YA. I look forward to hearing about what genre we're not supposed to like in 2024. I bet it's not fiction for straight white men!

Personally, I'm not criticizing anybody's literature choices. At this point in our cultural decline, I'm happy that we still have people reading at all!
posted by jonp72 at 11:43 AM on November 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


Is there a market for snuff books?
posted by Mister_A at 11:48 AM on November 20, 2014


I also want to gush about Maggie Stiefvater. I'm a big fan of The Raven Boys series, not so much for the fantasy plot, which is fine, but for her way with character and relationships. Stiefvater, and similar YA writers like Melina Marchetta, are great at treating teenagers' relationships with each other and adults with gratifying nuance and seriousness that manage to avoid tipping over into melodrama. It's a neat trick, and one that brings more of an adult or literary sensibility to YA without sacrificing YA's immediacy.
posted by yasaman at 12:08 PM on November 20, 2014


Yes, blogger, congrats - you've successfully identified and described Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey, though which countless stories have been told over many thousands of years.

As for the recommendations of good YA fiction, I recently read Patrick Ness's More Than This, which was fantastic.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 12:22 PM on November 20, 2014


Is there a market for snuff books?

Yeah, Bill O'Reilly is all over it.
posted by Drinky Die at 12:27 PM on November 20, 2014 [5 favorites]


Somehow I doubt that Just A Normal Teen would have come in for such abuse ...

(follows link.)

(reads.)

(looks at nanowrimo folder on desktop.)

(weeps.)
posted by mittens at 12:32 PM on November 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


Um, Harry Potter is straight up kids lit and not YA, regardless of crossover audience.-- Artw
Harry Potter is seven books, and book one is kidlit and book seven is YA, and I don't know where it switches over -- book 4 or 5, maybe.--jeather

Ugh! I hate the whole YA label. I read the Harry Potter books in my 40s and enjoyed them very much. I like them better than the Game of Thrones novels, and don't give a rats ass if you judge me.

If I were to write a series of books (which I won't, so don't panic), I'd make them enjoyable to all ages, then throw in a bunch of graphic sex and gory violence for no reason other than to make it difficult for people to use the YA label on them.

If you really want to see what the author Randall J. Knox is all about, click on his name to see what other articles he's written. Here are a few:

The Stupidest Things My Friends Have Said In The Last Week (a running series)
Kim Kardashian’s Mobile Game Is Still Making An Absurd Amount Of Money And You All Should Be Ashamed
An Apology Letter To All Of My Former Hookups
5 Types Of Assholes Everyone Likes


In other words, the typical Internet fluff nonsense.
posted by eye of newt at 12:44 PM on November 20, 2014


If there is such a thing as MetaFilter Is The Wrong Audience For This, I think we've found it. I enjoyed this guy's writing style, but I absolutely recognize it -- it's what boys in my college dorm considered how to be funny, a style which characterizes humor columns in campus newspapers. It's not fraternity "dude-bro" but it is very "guy." Your reaction to his biographical blurb is a perfect predictor of whether you'll like his style:
Randall J. Knox (known colloquially to his friends as "Knox") left his native Texas a few years ago, and moved to Los Angeles in his '03 Buick Regal named LeRoi to write movies with his jackass college buddies. His favorite things in life include bourbon that's above his pay grade, mix CDs, and Kevin Costner films. He isn't sure what "dad jeans" are exactly, but he knows he wants a pair.
Also worth noting is that the author clearly does read a lot of YA books, at least of the Eragon / Divergent / Percy Jackson / Hunger Games ilk.

jeather is right on with "I was just really pleased that this post was about crappy YA novels for boys". While there are plenty of girl-centric kids books with action-adventure themes too, he's not talking about the genre of young women's YA that grapples with complex feelings and nascent romance, like PhoBWanKenobi's novels.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 12:55 PM on November 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


In other, overtly economic bat-types olds from teh early 80s: Moon Roach
posted by Sparx at 2:57 PM on November 20, 2014


Which is why she had no choice but to have a whole book in the middle where Harry is an insufferable, self-absorbed asshole.

This probably sounds weird, but I really liked that part of the book. Where he's angry, and doesn't know why, and is horrible to everyone, and feeling bad about being horrible just makes him more horrible? OMG MY LIFE. Amusingly/interestingly, my brother thought it was completely unrealistic and was shocked when I was like "THAT WAS ALL OF JUNIOR HIGH AND MOST OF HIGH SCHOOL OMG ALL OF IT JUST ANGRY AND FLAMES AND SIDES OF FACES AND OMG OMG OMG I WAS HORRIBLE". I have a feeling that book hits very personally for a subset of us who were all emotions for years and endured the irrationality of that.

I cannot recommend enough Howl's Moving Castle, by Dianna Wynn Jones, which I believe is kids/YA fiction even though none of the characters are. The Dark Lord of Derkholm is likewise excellent, especially for it's deconstruction of fantasy tropes. I'm on a Tamora Pierce resurgence thanks to Mark Reads, especially her Circle series which has the added bonus of being non-European fantasy and quite diverse (unfortunately, the sexual identity diversity is mostly implied). I'm also quite a fan of Mercedes Lackey's two new series, one Historical Urban Fantasy with a fairy tale edge, and the other about the 500 Kingdoms, which is outright fairy tales - both of which I would have devoured when I was a teen; very good from a gender perspective, not so good on the other axes.
posted by Deoridhe at 4:13 PM on November 20, 2014 [3 favorites]


If there is such a thing as MetaFilter Is The Wrong Audience For This, I think we've found it.

I posted it because I thought it was funny, but you guys ripping it apart turned out to be WAY funnier.
posted by Jacqueline at 4:47 PM on November 20, 2014


> "... her Circle series which has the added bonus of being non-European fantasy and quite diverse (unfortunately, the sexual identity diversity is mostly implied)."

If I am recalling correctly, by the time you get to "The Will of the Empress", it will no longer be just implied.
posted by kyrademon at 5:37 PM on November 20, 2014


The new project I'm tempted to have a go at is "Broke-Ass Batman."

Darren Aronofsky's already got that covered.
posted by Saxon Kane at 6:49 PM on November 20, 2014


Wizards are probably the best bet as libertarian protagonists, especially if you do the 'magic is an extension of will' and 'every one can do it if they do the work' type thing.

I am genuinely astonished that no one here has yet mentioned that this is exactly and explicitly the plot of Terry Goodkind's Sword of Truth series, so, sorry y'all, someone's been writing these books for 20 years already.
posted by Errant at 8:47 PM on November 20, 2014


Saxon Kane, I'd love to read that link, but the page promptly covered it with one of the most annoying video ads I've ever seen. DigitalSpy should go to hell.
posted by JHarris at 12:52 AM on November 21, 2014


If I am recalling correctly, by the time you get to "The Will of the Empress", it will no longer be just implied.

One relationship won't, which is glorious.

I believe we only know about the others due to implications during the first four books and the word of the author, since the romantic relationships of the adults were all barely hinted at in the books. Of course, Mark Reads ships all the best ships, but I have to admit I mostly missed all of the implications until I read it through with those thousand shipwrights.
posted by Deoridhe at 1:43 AM on November 21, 2014


speaking as an actual YA/kidlit author.... I fucking love you guys.
posted by changeling at 8:50 AM on November 21, 2014


JHarris: Here's a different one
posted by Saxon Kane at 9:21 AM on November 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


An annotated edition of Fight Club with David Foster Wallace-style footnotes provided by all my worst boyfriends.
23 Things I’d Rather Read Than Another Think Piece On What’s “Wrong” With Children’s Literature
posted by kmz at 9:27 AM on November 21, 2014 [3 favorites]


Dossiers on every Law & Order character seen unloading crates from a truck or ship.
I would read this, a new one every two-three days.
posted by benito.strauss at 10:26 AM on November 21, 2014


I think "Free Market Batman" is Ozymandias, and/or a number of Alan Moore characters.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 12:30 PM on November 21, 2014


I like angry screeds more than any other kind of thing, and I don't believe I have ever read anything that could be considered "young adult fiction" since I was a young adult, but I am 100% fully behind the genre even if it's mostly identikit computer-generated heroic fantasy stuff because kids need to be opened up to the idea that the things they do matter, and that they can actually be a force for small yet positive influence in the world as they grow older, otherwise we are twice as screwed as we already are.

Young adult fiction as I understand it is valuable because it is in direct opposition (or at least, it ought to be) to the compulsory twelve years of schooling that (most) children are forced to go through, which is designed from the bottom-up to thrash joy and potential and aspiration out of them.
posted by turbid dahlia at 6:48 PM on November 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


« Older DO IT LIKE YOU MEAN IT   |   "Plastics." Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments