Recent run-ins with youngsters that like my book Bits of String too Small to Save have made me wonder, is my novel Young Adult adventure? Is it children’s literature? Or is it simply its own literary phenomenon? (that sounded arrogant) Agents and publishers and people who really ought to know have told me the book isn’t YA, simply because there are too many twenty-five cent words, and the sentences are too long and complex.
For example, observe the sentence I wrote above, which is a compound sentence that contains a list and a comma-punctuated clause. It’s not a run-on. It’s perfectly punctuated. Nonetheless, publishers consider such sentence structures too advanced for young readers. Also, the construction, “agents and publishers and people who really ought to know” is considered ungrammatical by silly, ill-informed people who don’t understand rhythm.
For instance, “agents, publishers, and people who really ought to know,” is more concise, but in this case I wanted to draw out the language to give the impression of how tedious it is to consult with all these know-it-alls, so I used an extra conjunction. Apparently, though, children can’t understand (or don’t like) subtle implications embedded in their sentences. I bet children who are born writers do, though. (Read here about their horrible little lives.)
Is My Novel Young Adult Adventure?
The subject matter of my novel is suitably Young Adult adventure, for sure: it’s a novel of quest and fantasy with a bit of a science fiction element and no sleazy stuff, no dirty stuff, nothing of which parents would disapprove. There’s an out-of-wedlock pregnant lady, but I don’t think that raises too many eyebrows. Still, I’m left asking, “Is my novel Young Adult?”
Personally, I’d like Bits of String Too Small to Save to find a home wherever readers appreciate it, but I’m not, objectively, thrilled with the Young Adult adventure genre. What publishing agents, and (I guess) readers, find to be an age-appropriate writing style is often pretty weird to me.
Young Adult Adventure Novels and Their Being Verbs
I picked up The Golden Compass, by Philip Pullman: an award winning Young Adult novel beloved by many. I really enjoyed it, make no mistake, but here’s what I found on the first page: “The three great tables that ran the length of the hall were laid already … and the long benches were pulled out ready for the guests.”
A whole lot of other descriptive sentences primarily featured “was,” “were,” and other being verbs. This is something writers outside the Young Adult genre avoid like the plague. (Here’s proof if you want it!)
Verbs are the very thing that make writing great. Avoiding “was” and “were” is an issue of great focus for all writers outside the Young Adult genre, who know there’s always some more actionable verb that would give the sentence more zing.
However, inside the world of Young Adult literature, such descriptions actually seem to be preferred. Nobody can avoid being verbs all the time, but having a profusion of “was” and “were” right in the opening paragraph of a novel is something that would prevent an adult-level novel from getting published at all.
These are some reasons why I hesitate to call my book “Young Adult.” The subject matter would appeal to kids, as would the age of the main characters, but the style is, supposedly, too complex for them.
For Whom Did You Write Your Book?
Sometimes, when discussing Bits of String and this issue, people ask, “Who did you write it for?” and my obvious answer is: Me. I’m not trying to be all more-artsy-than-thou, but no, I didn’t sit and think “what audience will make me the most money on a book?” I just wrote what was in my heart. Alas, that’s shite marketing, but I don’t care.
I wrote my novel to amuse myself. It entertains me, it addresses topics of concern to me, the illustrations are appealing to me, and I think it’s cool as hell. So I guess whoever ends up liking Bits of String is going to be pretty cool, whoever they are.