The first writing conference I attended was online. You had to have either Young Adult or Middle Grade stories in order to get feedback or participate on forums. There was a discussion panel made up of publishers, agents, and authors of children’s books where you could ask anything. Pretty cool, right? I was so excited to take part in this forum, that I was almost too nervous to type. Afraid I would ask a dumb question. So I sat silent for a bit and read other questions posed and after seeing the thoughtful responses, I finally mustered enough courage to ask one of my own.
the Q: Can a book still be considered Young Adult, if the main character is over seventeen?
Response 1: Once your main character is eighteen, they’re considered an adult. Therefore no longer Young Adult.
Response 2: It’s really an industry decision.
Response 3: There’s no market for writing a ‘Young Adult style’ book with characters who are older than seventeen.
I was just crushed. The recommendation was to make the characters fit a Young Adult age bracket. So with heavy heart, I stepped away from that conference knowing how much work would need to be asserted into rewriting, recreating, and polishing my novel, again. I rewrote and rewrote and created different scenes to reflect a similar storyline, only with characters that would fit in the realm of marketing for Young Adult. I found my inner self trying to absorb all of what I’d taken in from the conference, only to fight a battle against my subconscious mind, which was ripping apart my story. Worse yet, the entire time I scolded myself for not knowing better.
Here’s the issue with what I did:
- I recreated an entire story, losing the origin of relationships between characters, cut and killed off characters…toyed with a new plot line, and ultimately destroyed the heart of it. I do understand a similar process takes place during the editing phase, but the goal is to make your story stronger, not kill it. And at that time I didn’t understand what it meant to revise your story and keep the essence, so I penned a new story that a publisher or agent would like. Big mistake! I might as well of been trying to write to trend. It ended up a hot mess.
- Turns out, there was a market for what I did, it just wasn’t recognized as a category yet at that time. And while what the panel said was true, it mostly likely would not have been marketed as YA, if I wouldn’t have been so quick to dismiss the story, it might have found a place within NA. The only way to know that for sure would have been to see it through to the end, which I didn’t do.
- And because you can’t just take younger reflections of your characters and expect them to act the same way in similar situations they’re faced with, the whole story tied itself into a knot. I couldn’t salvage any of it, so I ended up walking away. Major bummer. (Little did I know this was a miracle in disguise)
It can be difficult to be on the verge of a trend that may or may not take off, so I think that is all the more reason to just write the story you’re compelled to write and keep in mind who your reader is, not who you’re trying to sell it to. There will be plenty of time for that later!
In retrospect, the conference was fantastic and even being a first timer, I learned so much! As far as my experience with the panel, I’m thankful that I had the opportunity to go through that entire process because it unearthed a confidence in myself that I never knew existed. And that prompted me to write another story, and another, and another, until a writing fury began.