Tuesday, April 19, 2016

I'm Taking an Indefinite Break

Hi everyone,

I'm sorry to announce that when I finally get around to completing my historical fantasy novel THE DARK AND THE SAPPHIRE (sequel to THE RED AND THE SCARLET), I will be taking an indefinite break from writing. This may mean for good, it may not, hence indefinite. I will probably still blog here, as I'm happy to share the loads of advice I've gathered and hunted down over nearly eight years of writing, but I myself will not be writing. This includes dropping my pursuit of getting published and continuing on my unfinished projects other than TDATS and a story my sister and I hope to get around to co-writing. Before y'all protest, there's a number of factors in my decision.

1. College

I simply don't have time for anything these days beyond occasionally decompressing with my friends in the library or over a movie, and that usually involves homework anyway. I'm projected to have close to twenty credits every semester except when student teaching, and y'all who have student taught know how much time that leaves you. I tried to reboot my writing habits (I went from writing a thousand words a day to maybe ten words a month) with Camp NaNoWriMo, but it's just not working. I ended up losing sleep trying to catch up with the word count goal. I'm too busy.

2. Lack of Interest

I've written nine novels, queried three, and out of them all, THE RED AND THE SCARLET is the finest thing I've ever written. Normally, every time you write something new, it becomes the finest thing you've ever written, but my recent works, though polished and possibly more advanced technically, are just not working for me at all and do not have the depth and development of TRATS. Knowing my limits, I doubt I'll be able to top the TRATS and TDATS duology. As it is, I'm struggling to keep the end of TDATS up to par with the rest of the work. That said, I've been querying TRATS and though it fits the market beautifully (diversity, female POC lead, historical fantasy in a non-European setting, upper YA, siblings and pirates and revolution and politics and slow-burning romance), I essentially have been told the same thing about fifty times: "This is amazing, but I don't want it. But don't give up on it! I KNOW someone else will love it!"

Unfortunately, despite the gatekeepers' promises, no one else wants it.

I've revised TRATS and edited the heck out of it according to people's advice, and I dare not go further trying to groom it for the market. It's as marketable as anything (I always get plenty of favorites in pitch contests and plenty of requests), and I've combed it over a span of three years now for what exactly is wrong with it, and I've found my answer: nothing. It's just not my time to get published, apparently, or it may be that it's just not in my future at all. As hard as it is, especially with people encouraging me that I'm destined to get published, it's time to come to grips with the reality that it's just not happening.

That said, it's exciting seeing everyone who has helped me out and vice versa get picked up by agents and publishers. A good deal, if not all, of my #YayYA friends, fellow contest entrants, and pitch swappers have signed deals, and I'll gladly stand on the sidelines to offer feedback and wave pompoms for those of you still looking for a bite. Personally, though, for me, it's time to hang up the towel. I do still have a couple queries out there in the blue, and if I was to suddenly get an offer on TRATS, I'd undoubtedly pick up the pen again, but otherwise I am not planning on continuing to query.

3. Next Stage

Yes, yes, I know, I'm young. But I think this moving on is just an unfortunate part of growing up. I've been writing in chapter form since I was 5 and hoping to get published almost just as long, but there's a difference between being an excellent teen writer in a world of excellent adult writers and getting attention for that and then being another adult writer in a overcrowded market. It's kind of like going from being the most top-notch student at your high school to being just another scholarship winner at your college full of other former best-in-their-school kids. Sometimes being a prodigy doesn't mean success later in life, and it seems this is the direction my talent in writing is going.

That all said, I just want to make a couple things clear :)

1. No, I'm not considering self-publishing 

2. I will still be blogging on both of my blogs

3. I will still hold #YayYAs in the future

4. I'm still happy to read your work before you sub to contests/agents

5. I'm immensely grateful to everyone to put their time and effort into me and my work and trying to help me. Your efforts were not in vain. They just helped in ways unrelated to publishing (I now have a wonderful community of online friends!)

Thanks everyone, again! If you have questions, I'm happy to answer.

Happy Writing! I'll enjoy hearing about how you all are progressing with your own writing journey.

Mine is seemingly drawing to a close.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Rethinking YA and MG: An Alternative to Gap Books

Today in the writer Twitterverse, author Shannon Hale (Princess Academy, Austenland), asked a simple question: where are the books for 12-14 year olds who are too old for MG, but are too young to feel a connection to the 17-18 year old characters of YA fiction?

This question resonated with a lot of writers on Twitter. Hale suggested, with resounding agreement from others, that there should be a new age category, or, as she calls it, "gap books." Books that, like middle school, bridge the hole between fiction oriented toward those below fourth grade and those in high school.

While this is certainly an option, I disagree. I think, rather, we need to rethink what we're doing with the MG and especially the YA age categories.

Let's look at MG. Generally, with the exception of upper MG fantasy which has a higher reading level and a wider age-range appeal (it also crosses over a lot, e.g. Ranger's Apprentice, Harry Potter, Ashton Burials, Redwall), MG is usually humor or historical on a third grade level. Upper MG tends to go into the more awkward middle school topics a little, which is a thin line to walk. If you step too far, you find yourself in YA. But I would argue that YA, not MG, is the problem here.

I remember when I was in that exact dilemma that Hale poses. I was frustrated because I had read through the MG section at my library, including all the Nancy Drew books and the entire Redwall series, but when I wandered over to the YA section, all I found was sex, drugs, language and alcohol, with the only alternative being the then wildly popular and terribly written, terribly unrelatable Twilight. And this is increasingly the case. YA fiction is basically gratuitous adult fiction, but with older teenage characters. So my solution for the problem posed by Ms. Hale is not a new age category, but a reshelving of the current age categories.

MG is designed for 8-12. So far, we're doing a good job at feeding that audience, even if it's a smaller market than YA. There's books that appeal to both the younger and older spectrum.

YA is designed for ages 13-19. I'm afraid the 13-15 half of that audience is suffering at the hands of fiction that is too adult for them to relate to it. I find there's increased pressure on YA authors to discuss and delve into fictional relationships beyond the puppy love crushes that 13-15 year olds typically experience and straight into full out sexual relationships. It's hard for me to find books in the YA section that don't feel the need to cross this line, especially among new releases. Also, characters are driving, drinking, going to prom, searching colleges, and doing other things that younger teens can't typically relate to. In my personal experience, this is why teens in the 13-15 age group gravitate toward fantasy. Fantasy worlds don't have all of these milestones that separate them from older teens and appeal to the sense of adventure they want in their stories, but beyond the Boxcar Children simplicity of their primary school reads.

This is my suggestion. Considering the strong desire among agents and writers to see the New Adult age category go beyond a trend and break out of the "hot college romance" genre, let's move some of these "upper YA" reads to NA, and refocus YA on the middle age group in YA, the 15/16 year olds. YA used to be focused on this age group, as evidenced in the age of protagonists at the time, such as Eragon. These days, YA is actually written about adults, 18/19 year olds. You lose your 13-15 year olds here when you only delve into racier topics only relevant to college freshmen, topics that are better on the NA shelf in the first place.

This benefits everyone. It allows some upper MG back into its rightful place as younger YA, expands the NA market, and makes YA more relatable to its realistically younger audience. And all it requires is some shelf-switching.