If you read a lot of author interviews or FAQs you’re probably sick of seeing this bit of advice: ‘make sure you read lots of [genre/field X!] if you want to write it!’ For writers, this can feel disheartening, as though you’re being encouraged to exchange your wondrous, original, creative soul for cold harsh cash.
Unpublished writers in particular have a terrible fear of their work being mutilated or even cannibalised to ‘fit’ the ‘system’ more easily’, as though editors swoop in like primary-school teachers with red pens and declare the One True Way of writing. (They don’t.)
But it is, alas, the case that if you are writing with a view to publication it is useful – even essential – to have some sense of what the market looks like. That most emphatically does not mean pandering to it – but it does mean, for example, having some sense of what books have been published in the field in the last 2-3 years.
There is a particular tendency for writers to view children’s and young adult fiction through the lens of their own adolescence reading experience, one often shaped as much by local choices as by the broader market (for example, there were indeed YA novels in the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s – but whether they were treated as such by local booksellers or libraries is a different matter. (In the 90s, my local library in suburban Dublin had a superb young adult collection – but kept in the adult section, and thus possibly missed by many readers who would have yearned for such titles.)
Other genres and fields are shaped this way too, but up until recently both children’s and YA fiction have been such niche categories that it has been much more common for aspiring writers to be unsure about what’s about there now. There’s also an excuse often used by writers – ‘I don’t want to be influenced by anyone else . . .’ – that is best saved for after publication, rather than used as a justification before it.
Occasionally a writer will hit on the perfect tone and feel for a modern children’s or YA novel without being familiar with the market – but even then there will be editorial guidance (as there always is). More often than not though, ignorance breeds . . . well, out-of-touch writing.
It is important to move past what you read as a child or teenager – and also remember that when you read whatever it was, you did so as an individual. Marketing for books thinks about the broader market – you may have read fiction aimed at a general or ‘adult’ audience at thirteen but that doesn’t mean that those books were YA novels.
The best – and easiest – way to get a sense of any field is to read what’s out there, and what’s been out there relatively recently. This doesn’t mean that you should slavishly copy any of these authors – but just use them to get a sense of what the boundaries are (or aren’t) for the field.
You mightn’t like all of the titles suggested (indeed, it would be slightly weird if you adored all of them) but if you find yourself frustrated by each and every one, it may be time to rethink your own project and its potential audience. Maybe it’s for a younger audience (age down the characters slightly?), or it’s about teens but actually implicitly for an adult audience looking back? It’s okay if it’s something else – it’s better that you know that now.
YA BOOK LIST FOR AUTHORS (a starting point)
- Aaron Starmer – Spontaneous
- Adam Silvera – They Both Die At The End
- Aidan Chambers – Dancing on my Grave
- Aidan Chambers – This Is All
- Angie Thomas – The Hate U Give
- Caragh O’Brien – Birthmarked
- Cat Clarke – The Lost and the Found
- Courtney Summers – All The Rage
- David Levithan – Boy Meets Boy
- David Levithan – Everyday
- Deb Caletti – The Fortunes of Indigo Skye
- Deirdre Sullivan – Needlework
- Deirdre Sullivan & Karen Vaughan – Tangleweed and Brine
- E Lockhart – The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks
- E Lockhart – We Were Liars
- Emma Donoghue – Kissing The Witch
- Francesca Lia Block – Baby Be-Bop
- Francesca Lia Block – Violet & Claire
- Francesca Lia Block – Wasteland
- Garret Freymann-Weyr – My Heartbeat
- Gayle Forman – If I Stay
- Jandy Nelson – The Sky Is Everywhere
- Jennifer Donnelly – Revolution
- John Green – The Fault In Our Stars
- John Green – Turtles All The Way Down
- Judy Blume – Just As Long As We’re Together
- Judy Blume – Tiger Eyes
- Kendra Fortmeyer – Hole in the Middle
- Laurie Halse Anderson – Speak
- Laurie Halse Anderson – Wintergirls
- Louise O’Neill – Only Ever Yours
- Margrit Cruickshank – The Door
- Melvin Burgess – Doing It
- Moira Fowley-Doyle – Spellbook of the Lost and Found
- Paul Zindel – My Darling, My Hamburger
- Rainbow Rowell – Carry On
- Rainbow Rowell – Eleanor and Park
- Robert Cormier – The Chocolate War
- Sara Ryan – Empress of the World
- Sara Zarr – How To Save A Life
- Sarah Crossan – Moonrise
- Sarah Crossan – One
- Sarah Dessen – Along For The Ride
This is a mix of relatively-new titles and older ones that expand the imagined boundaries of YA fiction and expand it into a complex literary genre. Of course, there are plenty of titles that sit comfortably within the field – like any – and ‘pushing limits’ may well not be your goal. But it is useful, I’ve seen, for people to see how far YA can go – and to use this knowledge to help them understand their own work (and potential audience) better.
(c) Claire Hennessy
About Like Other Girls:
Here’s what Lauren knows: she’s not like other girls. She also knows it’s problematic to say that – what’s wrong with girls? She’s even fancied some in the past. But if you were stuck in St Agnes, her posh all-girls school, you’d feel like that too. Here everyone’s expected to be Perfect Young Ladies, it’s even a song in the painfully awful musical they’re putting on this year. And obviously said musical is directed by Lauren’s arch nemesis.
Under it all though, Lauren’s heart is bruised. Her boyfriend thinks she’s crazy and her best friend has issues of her own… so when Lauren realises she’s facing every teenage girl’s worst nightmare, she has nowhere to turn. Maybe she should just give in to everything. Be like other girls. That’s all so much easier … right?
Like Other Girls was shortlisted for the 2017 Irish Book Awards.
Order your copy online here.