Monday, April 4, 2011

Issues of Genre: Young Adult

I just got finished reading Terry Pratchett's latest Tiffany Aching novel, I Shall Wear Midnight. I generally try not to read those books when I'm actively working on Genevieve, because there are a lot of ways in which Tiffany and Gen are very similar, and I'm afraid of falling into the trap of writing Gen as Tiffany. Still, though, when Brendan found out about it, he reserved it at the library and I figured I ought to go ahead and read it while we had it out.

I love Pratchett's work, and I could go on for pages about his style, but the question that the Tiffany Aching series really brings to mind for me is one of publishing and genre, and it highlights one of the reasons e-publishing is better for anyone with a book that's even slightly nonstandard.

Pratchett isn't known for explicitness in his writing. While there's a certain amount of earthy humor, none of it could even approach being called inappropriate. I don't feel that the Tiffany Aching series gives these issues greater or lesser exposure than any of his other groups of novels. After all, they have Nanny Ogg in them, so they can't be entirely innocent. But since Tiffany is 9 at the beginning of the series and only 16 by this fourth book, these novels are classified Young Adult and shelved separately from the rest of Pratchett's books. Makes them really quite hard to find in the bookstore if you don't know what you're looking for, and I imagine it can have a major negative impact on your sales if you're not as famous a name as Pratchett.

One of my greatest fears when I was still considering traditional publishing for the Genevieve books is that since I'm facing a similar age range (roughly 11 to 19 over a planned trilogy), Gen would also be categorically defined as a children's heroine, and get relegated to the YA section as well. I have no plans to be truly explicit or horrifying in my writing, because I'm not really a fan of gore or sex for their own sake, but I don't consider my writing to be aimed at children. Even if the main character is a child, that doesn't mean that the book doesn't explore themes that would be over a child's head.

Mind, also, that I'm not trying to knock children as readers. I first read Dragonlance when I was 8, and quite enjoyed it, and there's nothing that bothers me more than the assumption that certain things will pass over a child's head. On the other hand, when I was 15, one of my high school teachers recommended that I read A Canticle for Leibowitz. Frankly, I wasn't old enough to read it at that point, and I got much, much more out of it when I re-read it in college, at about age 20.

I intend for Gen to have fairly broad appeal. I wouldn't be surprised if some kids pick it up and enjoy it on a level similar to Harry Potter. On the other hand, I've incorporated themes into it that I don't expect anyone but an adult to understand, and it would be a real shame if it were marketed as something primarily aimed at children. I'm really relieved that self-publishing allows me to make this choice for myself, to do what I think is right by my story. I don't think it's a bizarre experiment to have a child protagonist in a book aimed at adults, nor do I think it's necessarily an unspeakable mistake not to have explicit sex and gore in a book written for an adult audience. It's true that in some ways, the books will mature as Gen does, but I still don't see that as an indication that the first book in the series, or even the first and second, should be considered children's books when future books will be more more clearly 'adult' in outlook. In some ways it's similar to the Harper Hall trilogy, but as a novice writer, I wasn't about to expect as much latitude and support from a publisher as Anne McCaffrey can command.

When I get Gen's first novel up into ebook stores, I will likely tag it as 'fantasy' and 'alternate history', along with a few other denotations, and while I may tag the first one 'young adult' as well, it's only because computer technology means that categories can be searched separately and don't override each other. I'll take young readers, but I don't want to be limited to them, because this story has so much more potential than that. I'm only thankful that in this day and age, I have the choice.

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