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Transitioning to YA/Teen: It’s Harder Than It Looks

InfinityThe other day I was doing my semi-regular rounds on the Internet, checking author  Web sites, seeing what they’re up to.  Well, color me surprised when I saw that an author – whose books I used to love but who has fallen waaaaay off my radar after a string of duds – is publishing a Young Adult/Teen book.

After my eyebrows shot up, they went down again pretty quickly, and upon reflection I couldn’t say I was exactly surprised.  Many authors try new directions for various reasons, but oftentimes when they change genres, they change names for a complete disassociation with their former lives.  So Anne Stuart becomes Kristina Douglas (historical to paranormal), Lisa Marie Rice turns into Elizabeth Jennings (erotic to suspense), Candice Proctor writes as C. S. Harris (historical to mystery), and Patricia Cabot is now more commonly known to the world as Meg Cabot (historical to teen), to name only a few.

The latter marks a trend that I’ve seen grow slowly but surely.  We don’t see too many authors transitioning to historical, probably because 99% of romance authors start writing historicals.  And there isn’t much of a jump from historical romance to paranormal or suspense.  But YA/Teen?  I feel like it’s happening a lot.  A cursory search and scan of the bookshelves yielded, just to name a few, Kelley Armstrong, Sherrilyn Kenyon, Richelle Mead, Gena Showalter, Rachel Vincent, Mary Jo Putney, Shana Abe, Sophie Jordan, Roxanne St. Claire, and Kathryn Smith writing YA/Teen fiction, some under pseudonyms.

Some authors have clearly found their niche, like P. C. Cast and Meg Cabot, who wrote some other stuff (contemporaries, fantasy) but clearly revel in the teen arena.  Or, in the non-romance category, Pittacus Lore, who wrote the super successful I Am Number Four series, and who also doubles as James Frey, aka Mr. My-bestselling-drug-addiction-memoir-was-actually-part-fiction.  Others – well, I won’t name names, but their books read like teen bandwagon jumpers rather than sincere efforts.

Based on some comments I’ve read, my suspicion is that some of the wagon jumpers thought of most YA/Teen books as simplistic, superficial, and a dash in the park.  Well, some of them are, no doubt about it.  But hey, it’s an entire genre.  I could roam around the general adult fiction section at Chapters and pull out adult novels that are also simplistic, superficial, and a dash in the park.  (Um, Snooki, anyone?)

At the very worst, I’d say YA/teen is hard to write because half the time it’s so short, and because you may have to distil language, but not concepts, to a 10-year-old vocabulary.  At best, this is section of literature that has given us Robin McKinley, J. K. Rowling, Suzanne Collins, Lois Lowry, and Judy Blume – all authors whose books resonate equally with adults as with their purported target audience, and those are only a few authors.  The key is writing on two levels (or, to put it into teacher speak, differentiating) – and dammit, that’s hard.

So am I surprised that romance authors turn to YA or Teen?  Nope.  There are too many similarities, especially at the Teen level – romance, suspense, family issues, relationships at the core.  But I don’t think it works for everyone.  Fair enough – you can’t know until you try it.

What do you think of romance authors turning to YA/Teen novels?  Have you read any, and what do you think of them?

– Jean AAR

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