Today in our “Genres (and why we write them)” blog series, we have YA author, Brenda Vicars, author of Polarity in Motion. Connect with Brenda on Facebook and Twitter or at her website: www.brendavicars.com
Brenda Hummel: Young Adult Genre and Uneven Playing Fields
I love reading and writing YA, but the marketing side of this genre is tricky. You have to appeal to two distinct audiences: the young adults plus the older adults in their lives. Since most young teens do not have Amazon accounts or autonomy to buy whatever they feel like reading, they must get parent permission or school approval to acquire a book. Most parents and teachers are not reading and screening stacks of YA books in order to provide their charges with a range of choices. Instead, millions of parents and teachers rely on American Library Journal to rate and review YA books. Moms and teachers know if ALJ says it’s okay, it’s okay! Seems simple—get your book in ALJ. Not simple—you have to submit at least 15 weeks prior to publication. It’s then or never! (If anyone knows a way to get in ALJ after publication, please, please, please let me know!)
So why, in the name of sanity, write in a genre in which you must to win two audiences, who often have opposite tastes and opinions? Because I have no choice. Polarity in Motion had to be written. When Polarity’s nude photo shows up on the Internet, her journey distills the voices of teens I’ve known. Her eyes are opened to more than the dangers of a photo prank. She discovers that the playing field is not even for all kids. This message is my passion. My heart. I cannot not tell it.
Still, there have been moments since Polarity met the world, when I’ve wondered whether I want to keep writing in a genre that is tough to market. But this past school year, those moments of doubt ceased. A high school class from the Northern Lights Community School in Warba, Minnesota read Polarity in Motion. Their teacher Gail Ann Otteson and I had met through Goodreads, and she set up a Facetime conversation with her class and me. I don’t have the words to do justice to the rich experience of having high school students react to my book. Their young faces and their insights warmed my heart and energized my creativity. For example, there’s a strange character, Arvey, who slinks in and out of the Polarity’s life, doing a wicked thing for twisted reasons. Mrs. Otteson’s students asked questions about Arvey and wanted to know if there will be a book about her. Up until that instant, the answer was, “no.” I’m done with Arvey. But now Arvey stomps around in my head demanding that her story be told. At this moment she’s leaning across my dining room table smirking at my laptop screen, too unimpressed to even roll her eyes. Arvey is one of those kids who is looking at an even playing field, but she knows her own feet will never touch it.
I asked Mrs. Otteson’s class if they would like to read chapters from the new book I’m writing (Polarity in Love), and they said, “Yes!” Critiquing chapter by chapter, these students are as insightful as any editor I’ve worked with. I love these students! For example, I used the word “tingle” (way too often) when describing Polarity’s feelings about her hunk, Ethan. The class nixed the tingles. So I’m working on new YA pleasing plus parent appeasing lingo for tingling. How lucky to have this kind of feedback!
Even with the genre’s double marketing challenges, people like Gail Otteson and her students are motivation to keep me in YA! My journey is not that different from Polarity’s. We both can’t stay out of the uneven playing field.
About the Author
Brenda Vicars has worked in Texas public education for many years. Her jobs have included teaching, serving as a principal, and directing student support programs. For three years, she also taught college English to prison inmates. She entered education because she felt called to teach, but her students taught her the biggest lesson: the playing field is not even for all kids. Through her work, she became increasingly compelled to bring their unheard voices to the page. The heartbeat of her fiction emanates from the courage and resiliency of her students.