From the mailbox

I’m taking advantage of still having internet at home when I thought it was going to turn off last night (we’re in household internet transition) to post one last thing before I go dark for a week. I’ll be at IRA next week, so it’s unlikely I’ll be posting from there.

On the flip side of the content question coin, a reader asks,

I’ve been reading your blog for awhile with interest. I have written a teen fantasy and I have a question about Mirrorstone and YA in general. My novel has some profanity, drinking, and sex. (I like to call it a Veronica Mars meets Tamora Pierce meets Joss Whedon type of book) This seems quite ordinary to me as my protagonist is seventeen years old. (And I remember high school vividly.) But I keep hearing that YA should be ‘cleaner’. Is that true and does it mean that I should submit to Wizards under the adult imprint?

Thanks for reading! As are most of my answers, this one is “it depends.”

How graphic is the mature content? We at Mirrorstone keep to a fairly strict PG-13 standard, so anything of a graphic nature really isn’t for us, but that doesn’t mean we don’t shy away from tough subjects. But Wizards books often have that restriction as well (though not as strictly) because of corporate policy–there is just a line we won’t cross as a company.

That doesn’t mean you won’t find that kind of thing out there, though, in the YA marketplace. There is a YA book to suit pretty much any teen’s taste, from the gamut of innocent adventure and fantasy like Shannon Hale (who nevertheless also doesn’t shy away from extremely tough subjects) to the darker work of Holly Black and Melissa Marr. (See that previous post for more on that.)

But that doesn’t mean we’re the right publisher for you. Or it might. The best way to answer this question is to read widely. Read all our YA books–check out our anthology, Magic in the Mirrorstone, and see the kind of variety we’re looking for–and notice that it has a Holly Black story and a Cecil Castellucci story, both authors who are known for their edgy material.
Look at how they crafted their stories, and see if your work fits within that same gamut. Then check out other books from other publishers putting out books similar to yours, and after all that, submit accordingly. You may decide that we’re not quite a fit for you–but then, you might.

Now, the secondary issue in your question is adult versus YA. Is an edgy novel with a 17-year-old protagonist YA, or is it adult?

Again, it depends.

Generally if your protagonist is living your story in the moment–not looking back on being 17 from the point of view of a 30-something–then that’s one clue that it’s YA.

Generally if teens (including the teen you remember yourself being at 15 or 16, because kids read up) would be more interested in the story than adults would, then it’s YA. Check out coverage of the “Think Future” Panel Debates to see some good discussion of this issue. Note what George Nicholson of Sterling Lord Literistic said about S.E. Hinton’s books:

Nicholson provided some historical perspective, recalling the days there was no category called “young adult.” Then, in the 1970s, a few writers came along “who had a social context,” such as S.E. Hinton, and a teen audience was identified and located. “When [Hinton] was first published by Viking,” Nicholson recalled, “No one wanted it in the adult world. But when the book was republished as a book for teens, with a new cover, it began to sell in the millions.”

With that in mind, who do you see reading your books? Thirty-somethings? Twenty-somethings? Or right smack in the teen years, anywhere from 12 to 18 or 19 year olds?

Also, boys or girls?

If you’re looking for teens to read it, you should be trying to sell it to a publisher who publishes books for teens, and then target a YA publisher who targets the readership you’re looking to reach. 

Teens, especially boys, do read the books published by the adult imprint at Wizards, so perhaps that complicates it and takes you back to square one, but I think if you just make sure to keep in mind what kinds of books that publisher makes and send it to the imprint with books most like your own, you’ll be fine.