Where is the Line for Young Adult Literature?

Normally I’m the last person in the world to advocate censorship. I hate the idea of things being taken away from audiences, or artistic expression being tampered with because a few people have decided that it’s best for everyone. I’ve seen the ‘someone think of the children’ argument a thousand times and it fails to impress in most cases. I’m not advocating that children or young adults shouldn’t be allowed to read certain things. This is just a question of classification. What makes a book ‘young adult?’ Where is the line for that genre?

To that end I will address three case studies, Harry Potter, Skulduggery Pleasant and Michael Grant.

9780545162074_p3_v1_s192x300Let’s start with Harry, as that’s the series everyone knows. I would argue that Harry Potter stopped being young adult literature about five books in. They’re excellent books, starring a young adult character, but the tone subject matter and themes of the Order of the Phoenix are very different to those of the Philosopher’s Stone. Harry is forced to deal with grown-up problems. There is murder, chaos and suffering and I would argue that the change in all those things places these books in completely different age ranges. Harry Potter aged with its audience and by the end of the series the people it was originally written for were in their twenties. Still, I suppose the book is still about a magic school, romance, friendship between teens and it does keep a certain innocence about it. The issues Harry goes through are still balanced against romances friendships and nonsense. Somewhere in the series the books stop being young adult so where does the series transfer from young adult fantasy to just pure fantasy?

Skulduggery_Pleasant_seriesSkulduggery Pleasant can make no such claim to beginning in innocence. In its first book there was murder and torture, people, creatures and all manner of things were torn limb from limb. However, the tone still had a certain whimsical fanciful quality to it. Is that what dictates its genre? The writing style? Because if that’s the case Harry Potter ceased to be a young adult series about half way through book three. Is it the tone? The events? Or is it just a young protagonist?

If it is the young protagonist then the newest Skulduggery Pleasant certainly does not qualify, the main character is twenty-two, but the whimsical tone keeps up. So, should it still be classed as Young Adult literature? Or is it time for the series to be taken out of that section and be allowed to stand on its own in the fantasy zeitgeist? Are the adventures of Skulduggery Pleasant and Valkyrie Cain now suited for the world at large?

Gone-by-Michael-Grant-seriesMy third case study addresses the question in the starkest light. The work of Michael Grant, the Gone, BZRK and Messenger of Fear series seem to be built around the concept of traumatising children. While they involve young adult characters the work is even more vicious for that. IT doesn’t have a childish tone, it deals with issues that, while some are child-related could just as easily have adults in the main roles with little issue. The main thing that seems to make these series young adult is the young adult protagonists, which is a little strange isn’t it? What other genre is defined by the fact that the protagonist falls within a certain demographic? Grant’s work even comes with a warning that it may be unacceptable for younger audiences. While being in a genre designed for younger audiences.

There are almost no consistent factors between these series than that. One series deals with ‘teenage’ issues like romance and petty feuding, one walks that lone, one doesn’t. One has a whimsical tone and one is unapologetically dark. One is more or less peaceful, a single death treated like a massive issue, one has a massacre at the end of the first book, portrayed rather graphically at that. Even the age of the protagonist doesn’t always stick within its own limits.

From what I can see it’s almost completely subjective. There seem to be no real rules or regulations. Maybe it’s just whatever ‘feels right?’ It’s something we need to ask ourselves about our classification systems.

By Robert Barlow

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Published in: on July 29, 2017 at 4:58 am  Leave a Comment  

COMING SOON…

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Published in: on July 25, 2017 at 6:45 am  Leave a Comment  

Don’t Quit your Day Job

I was introduced to someone at a party who was in the middle of writing a book. Our mutual friend knew I was a published author and thought it would be good for us to chat. She told me all about her book and how long she had been writing it and how in-depth it was. I was fairly encouraging until the end of this person’s spiel when she said, “How much money do you think I can make off it?”

downloadI was sort of taken aback, so I asked this person what she meant. She said that she didn’t want to go to all that effort of writing a book unless she would get a lot of money from it. Out of curiosity I asked, how much would be a good amount? She said $20,000.

I felt equally enraged and disappointed. I don’t write for money. I never have and probably never will. I write because I love it. I have 3 books out and I’ve been writing for 15 years. I haven’t just written 3 books, I’ve written nearly 20, plus short stories and scripts etc. When I meet people and I tell them for the first time that I’m an author, they ask if I do it full-time, as my sole income? No, I say, I have a “day job”. Then they breathe a sigh of relief. With all the money I’ve made from writing books over 15 years I could afford to quit work for about 2, maybe 3 weeks. If you take all the hours I write, all the hours I plan and plot my stories; all the character development I do in my head or on paper, all the rewrites and edits, the cents calculated per hour would be so small you wouldn’t be able to read it.

typed-manuscriptMy dream, as with many people I know, is to write full time, quit my day job and tap away all day at the keyboard while drinking coffee. I do believe that this is obtainable, however I would never stop writing just because there is no money in it. I love it too much. My first royalty cheque was actually larger than I thought and I remember thinking that it wasn’t real money because I didn’t really “work” for it. I got paid to do something I really loved. I planned on buying something amazing with it. I was going to get my book’s ISBN tattooed on me. But the money went into the account and was spent as money is normally spent. It was if I didn’t really believe I got paid to do something I love. I just kept writing. It never changed my opinion of it.

The person eventually emailed me their book. It was their first book, and it needed a lot of work. But I didn’t tell them that. I told them it was good. After one or two rejection letters, they put it on Kickstarter to fund it. They were asking for $8,000. Although I love the enthusiasm, it was a bit high. You don’t need that much to self-publish a book. The Kickstarter failed and I never heard from them again. I really do hope they’re still writing.

Don’t write for money, write because you love it.

Mitchell Tierney

Published in: on July 17, 2017 at 11:15 am  Comments (2)  

Getting your manuscript ready for an edit

As an editor, I get works sent to me at several levels, from polished to draft. By the time you’re paying a trained editor to look over your work it should already be at the semi polished end, so I’m here to give you some tips on what to do BEFORE you send your manuscript to be edited.

SPELLCHECK

Now I know there are times when Microsoft Word is on crack but most times, if there are wiggly lines, especially red ones, check the word/s. Sure, in some genres you must make up words and most names will show up but the rest: FOR THE LOVE OF LIBRARIES, CHECK! Sure, some typos will always slip by, but by running a spelling and grammar check in Word or your preferred typing program, this should weed out a giant chunk of mistakes that make you look unprofessional at your craft.

shutterstock_107880212.jpgAdmittedly spell checks can sometimes get things TOTALLY wrong or make some bizarre suggestions, BUT if you have it set to the right language settings, it will pick up a multitude of sins. So use it, but be discerning. Missing spaces and common misspellings can be eliminated easily (I personally am notorious for typing ‘teh’ instead of ‘the’, and ‘withe’ instead of ‘with the’).

CHECK YOUR HOMONYMS.

Homonyms are words that sound the same but are spelt differently. The big culprits are there, their and they’re; your and you’re; its and it’s; wander and wonder; where and wear; weather and whether; and which and witch. If you don’t know which one is right LOOK IT UP!

TENSE

 

editorialThis is something I see all the time as an editor. I find several occurrences of people swapping from past to present tense. First step is deciding which tense (past, present or future) you want to write in. Most common is past tense and future being least common (I couldn’t even think of an example of a book written in future tense, if you know one please tell me). An easy way to tell the difference is in connecting words like HAVE of HAS and verbs. I find, if you aren’t sure, reading aloud can help make it more obvious.

 

PUNCTUATION and CAPITALISATION

This one may seem obvious but so often I see missing full stops at the end of paragraphs or marks before quotation marks. As for capitalisation, unless it’s a proper noun (i.e. a name) or at the beginning of a sentence, you should second guess that capital letter.

CONTINUITY

184928153-57a5555a3df78cf459a45874Continuity is something that isn’t as common and much harder to check. If you write fantasy and are creating creatures and names and places, I recommend a running list of all the words you make up and all your characters. If a character’s name changes several times it’s going to confuse people. Also, if there are words that can be written several ways eg. no one or no-one, make sure you stick to it.

READ IT OUT LOUD

I have told many authors this as it’s a great way to pick up tense issues, awkward sentences and when things sound just plain silly. I do this myself so I don’t skip over things when I’m self-editing for the 100th time. Record it if you can and listen to it back. You will find some horrifying sentences this way.

FORMATTING

Now most editors will have their own preferences, but the general rules of thumb are as follows:

  1. No front or end matter on a first edit (this includes copyright info, reviews, maps (unless they need to be edited), acknowledgements, fancy title pages etc.) A title page with your name and the book title then the actual book is all that is required.
  2. PAGE NUMBERS. Please number your pages. If I drop a 400-page manuscript I don’t want to have to try and reorder the pages.
  3. Plain fonts. I prefer a serif font such as Garamond or Book Antiqua but some prefer sans serif like Arial or Calibri. Find out if they have a preference but make it size 12, no stupid fonts (I once had a manuscript arrive in Papyrus font), all black text.
  4. Minimum is 1.5 but most editors prefer 2 line spacing and standardised margins so we can write notes.
  5. Standard file types if emailing. If you are getting an e-edit it must be a compatible file, usually a docx or doc file to use track changes. If it will be a print edit (my preference for first round editing) a doc, docx, or rtf will usually be fine if the editor will be printing it. Check with your editor.
  6. White paper. If you are sending a physical manuscript please use standard white copy paper with black ink.

KEEP AN OPEN MIND

Now I am a writer myself and I know how hard it is to hand your baby over to be judged. What I recommend is keep an open mind. If a suggestion is given, try and understand what the problem is. If you don’t understand something, ask! Editors don’t bite (although don’t approach me before 7am unless you bring coffee). Our job is to make your work the best it can be.

LEARN FROM IT

Edits are a learning opportunity. Do you keep making one error over and over? Write it down and try to not do it again. Do you use the same phrase repeatedly, or do you thesaurus words when simplicity is the key? Whatever your bad habit (we all have them) if you can learn from them, then you are only going to grow as an author.

Now go write your books and make them the best you can before you give them to an editor to polish.

 

Published in: on July 2, 2017 at 5:38 am  Leave a Comment