Perceived Impressions of “Young Adult” and Why They are Wrong

When I tell people I read and write young adult books I run into a few issues. At best I get a half smile and head nod and at worst I get the wrinkled nose and grunt. I’m not saying this is always the case, but it’s happened enough times for me to compile a list of annoying responses.

They automatically assume I’m writing a fantasy, dystopia, or paranormal romance.

It’s great that YA is getting attention. People recognize it more than they used to, and that’s awesome. The problem is that there seems to be a direct correlation between YA and some type of fantasy/paranormal theme. Like people think all YA falls into these categories. And, yes, it is a huge part of YA. Walking into a Barnes & Noble these categories take up most the shelves. There’s an audience and demand for that, and it’s been massively hyped, especially since Twilight’s success. Everyone knows Twilight. So it’s easy to say, “I write Yong Adult books” and the response to be, “Oh like Twilight!” That’s when things get awkward. “No, not really. I write contemporary stuff, you know, without fantasy and all that.” And then the person looks blankly at me because they don’t have a famous example to shout out off the top of their head.  This leads to me rambling to try and explain myself or just nodding silently while I try to ignore their disappointment. My point is YA doesn’t automatically mean fantasy.

They believe I imagine myself as the next Stephenie Meyer or J.K. Rowling.

People think I’m writing because I think I can be as famous and successful as these authors. I think they believe I’m trying to hop on a bandwagon and come up with a fantasy series that will sell millions and make me rich. I have no expectations of that. I don’t anticipate being a household name or earning millions. Seeing their success didn’t suddenly make me believe I could write and sell books. Yes, they are inspiring and talented authors to look up to. But they aren’t why I write. I don’t sit down and type with money and fame in mind, just as I’m sure they didn’t. I write because I need to and because I have stories to tell. Mirroring someone’s success or having unrealistic expectations of similar grandeur is not on my mind when I write.

They wonder why an adult would read books for teens.

This one might be my favorite. Why on earth would someone who isn’t a teen be reading teen books? Sure I’m not exactly a grandma, but so what if I was? Teens read adult books, don’t they? But people admire them for that because adult books are somehow more credible. Look, maybe this isn’t an issue for you.  Maybe you think I don’t know what I’m talking about. If that’s the case, I envy you.  Because that means no one judges you for your reading preferences. I’ve gotten “You’re too old to be reading these” and “Why don’t you read books for your own age group?” It sucks. It’s like somehow my reading a YA book is a bad, dirty thing.  But think about it. Who writes those teen books? Adults, most of the time. They’re the ones creating these teen characters and high school situations so why don’t you go bother them for not writing about adults? Why do I have to get dirty looks or listen to snickering for my choice of book type?

Some of the best writing advice I ever received was simple: read. Reading helps you write better. It familiarizes you with how plot unfolds and how voice can sound and how pacing can be done. It shows you different delivery methods and page layouts and narrator types. So if I want to write YA wouldn’t it make sense to read as much YA as possible? It’s research. It’s inspiration. And it’s fun. Oh yeah, and it’s my choice.

What about you? Have you ever encountered an awkward assumption, judgment, or question aimed at your reading or writing habits? How did you respond?

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