Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Is Mâvarin for Kids?

Becky asked,

Do you have a particular audience in mind for your books? Young adults, per chance, like your idol Ms. L'Engle? I wonder about that because of the lack of sexual tension, innuendo, nudity or anything else of that nature. ;-)

This is a crucial question, not from the writing standpoint but in terms of submitting and marketing these books. Although I reject utterly the idea that a book for adults must have sex in it, it is true that Heirs of Mâvarin fits the profile of a YA book. YA is short for Young Adult, a book industry category that pretty much means "suitable for sixth graders." The protagonists of Heirs are 15 and 16 years old, an age group that YA readers look up to. Like many YA books, Heirs also has magic and adventure and animals, but (as Becky points out) no sex.

Now, if some publisher wanted to put out Heirs of Mâvarin as a YA title, I wouldn't mind at all. To be honest, many of my favorite fantasy and sf writers are marketed as YA: Patricia C. Wrede, J. K. Rowling, Diane Duane, Madeleine L'Engle, and C.S. Lewis among them. Even some of the Pern books have a YA pedigree. When I browse through the fantasy and science fiction section of a bookstore, I seldom find anything that I really want to read; but I could easily spend a hundred dollars in the YA section.

But are these books really YA? After all, despite the fact that it has a young protagonist and is assigned to school kids, Huckleberry Finn isn't really a kid's book. A teenage protagonist does not automatically make a book YA - or, at least, it shouldn't.

And what about Mages of Mâvarin? Like the first book, it has teenage protagonists. It also has a fairly intense kissing scene, interspecies nuzzling (tengrem/human), and cannibalism. And no, the cannibalism can't be excised from the plot to make it more palatable to the YA age group.

Back in 1959 or so, when Madeleine L'Engle was trying to sell Meet the Austins, publishers shied away from the book because it began with a death. Heirs of Mâvarin also begins with a death, but these days, that's considered pretty mild subject matter. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that there are YA books with incest and child abuse in them. But cannibalism?

So what do I do? Do I try first to sell these books to the adult market, or go straight to the YA publishers, or concentrate on publishers that do both, and let them decide where it goes? Do I submit to only agents that cover both YA and adult fantasy, or focus on one or the other?

And does the cannibalism subplot mess up my marketing? If it does, too bad. It stays.

Meanwhile, I've bought the 2006 Guide to Literary Agents, and a few YA books for my personal reading pleasure. Mind you, I don't know when I'll get to the reading part. I'm too busy with Heirs and Mages. As usual.



Becky said...

You'd be surprised what is being marketed to the YA's today. Teens in particular. You are right that there are themes of abuse, suicide, self-mutilation, drug abuse...it goes on and on. I was really shocked when I bought a recent book from one of my favorite YA authors a few years ago and the lead character had suffered abuse and would cut herself as an escape. Kids are more sophisticated these days (for the good or bad) so I don't think your cannibalism or kissing will even raise an eyebrow. :-)

Honestly, your books do have that readability and flow that I associate with my favorite YA authors. They aren't bogged down with complex language, abstract concepts, overly convoluted plots or sex sex sex. LOL

julie said...

Becky's right. Go over to fanfiction.net and see what the teenagers are writing - if you dare. Cannibalism may be tame.

V said...

S__L__E__E__P !!