Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Tales from the conference: I wanna know your take on it!


Not only is Alan Gratz a talented author, he also makes a spectacular table-topper! (as pictured above. (sorry Alan. I couldn't resist.)

In Lieu of Alan Gratz's new release, I thought this also might be a good time to bring up Alana's break out session at the SCBWI Carolina's conference this past September. His subject: What makes a book young adult VS. middle grade?

His answer was pretty simple:

1) Age of protagonist: MG is usually 8-12 an YA is 12 and up.

2) subject matter/ The nature of the conflict

After 2 mintues he was ready to dismiss. ;0)

Actually, he did have some great advice on what concerns MG have VS. YA, but here's one thing he brought up. Alyssa Eisner Henkin brought up the same thing. They both said that while we want to be original we should be familiar with what is on the New York Times Best seller list and what is on the shelves at Barnes and Nobles. These places will tell us what is selling. What's hot.

As a preface, I must say I completely agree. But here's the thing. The buzz question around the conferences was "WHY?" if you want to be original why care about what is fad?

I have my own theories, but I want to hear it from you. What good does it do to be up to date in current trends?

Personally, I think it's good to know what publisher are into what topics. Who is publishing what. In addition, I've been shocked at how few original idea's there are. There have been at leat 3 changes I've had to make in my current WIP because I've read a book and somebody already wrote something similar to it!!!!! Can you believe it! They stole my idea before I even wrote it!!!! So I had to change it so I could seem more original. So, being up -to-date not only lets me know what is hot, but also helps me realize that I'm not as clever as I would like to think. :0P

What's your take on it? Why does it help you to be up to date on current MG and YA trends? Inquiring minds want to know!

15 comments:

Jacqui said...

Four reasons I think it's essential to be up to date on trends in your genre:
1. so you have an internal sense of what works and what doesn't
2. ironically, so you can be original. As you discovered, you can't write something "different" unless you know what's already been done.
3. because there's a reason it's popular and if you want your work to speak to your readers, you have to understand the kinds of things that speak to them
4. because as much as we'd like to think a book just has to be good to sell like hotcakes, this is a business and marketing concerns are valid issues too

Two reasons not to:
1. because by the time you invent, write, revise, and try to sell your novel inspired by a fad, the fad will be long gone
2. because you're hopelessly stuck several decades ago, oh wait, that's me.

kai said...

Yeah, what Jacqui said.

Especially the "by the time you write, revise...the fad will be long gone" part. Fads are discovered by agents and editors long before the reader beomes aware of and buys into them. What is being bought today is most likely not what is on the shelves. Except maybe vampires. Apparently they'll never die.

Ha...ha...

beth said...

I think it's important to know what your audience is reading. It's not for you to emulate the fad, it's for you to evaluate the market. Know their background, know what kinds of things they like, and you'll strengthen your own writing. It's like buying a present for someone--find out what they got last year to figure out what kinds of things they liked, then buy something different that you'd think they'd also like.

sruble said...

Good food-for-thought post. I think you need to know what's out there so:
- you don't do something that's the same as everyone else, and if you notice a trend, maybe you can find a way to do something that's along the same subject/genre lines, but in a slightly different way (enough to make your work stand out)

- so you know if there's a major shift in what's being published (long vs. short novels, more literary or commercial, etc.) it will help you to know how to position your book compared to what's out there

- you might be writing in an area that's really popular right now, but knowing what's out there, you can try to make yours better/special/new/sparkly

- you still have to write your book, but after that, you can see how you might make your book more marketable, maybe

Kelly said...

I write PBs, so I'm not going to chime in, but I am going to pass along your info and blog with a friend in my writing group who does write YA...we were just talking about the YA/Middle Grade subject.
Thanks, Christy!
I also like Kai's comment about vampires never dying! :0)

slhastings said...

I think it's too hard to chase publishing trends. And they could be like fashion–cyclical. (I just hope bell bottoms are a thing of the past!)


What's in one season- may be out the next. But it also may return. Like Vampires. Anne Rice wrote her series years and years ago. Now we have Stephanie Meyers and Heather Brewster and Darren Shan.

Things will calm down for a few years and then heat up again. It's all just a little bit of history repeating.

adrienne said...

I'm curious about the distinction between MG/YA - as a parent, I think the YA category is way too broad. My daughter just turned 14 and for the last couple of years it's been way too easy for her to get into books that really aren't appropriate for that age.

Can't add anything different on the trends issue...

Ian Sands said...

I thought the table was going to break.

Ian Sands said...

maybe you should post those fish...

Carrie Harris said...

I agree that you've got to write your own books. Absolutely. But I've also worked in marketing. (Please don't throw things at me. It wasn't my fault.) So I know that being able to position yourself and make yourself as attractive as possible to agents, editors, and such is really important. Case in point: I compared myself to Maureen Johnson in my query letter. I sent the letter to MJ's agent. And lo and behold, it got her attention. Of course, if the book had stunk, then it wouldn't have made a difference if I compared myself to the Queen of England. But I didn't. And it didn't. (I think.)

I'm sure I'm going somewhere with this, but it's late and I've suddenly lost my train of thought. Anyway, I think it's good to learn about the market, but that shouldn't completely dictate what you're writing. There. That sounds good. :)

Brenda said...

For me this subject is like which came first, the chicken or the egg...it is something that will be disputed again and again...

I write and will continue to write what comes to me, what I enjoy, and what I know...if it doesn't sell this year, then the next or maybe the one after that...At some point in time, what I write will be what is the "in" thing...grin...

My point...if you are writing about feathers, because everyone is reading about feathers right now, but you don't enjoy writing about feathers, then what you write won't be from your heart, which...to me...means it won't be the best you can write...

Hugs...

p.s. Christy...I got my book...Thank you! My niece had me read it to her 5 times this evening...We would finish...she wanted more...grin...Thanks again...

Angela said...

Oh I've had that happen--a great original idea, written down, polished, ready to send out...just to find out someone else has written MY story...grr.

I think it's good to know what's selling simply because it helps us know what the readers want. It can show the direction things are going in, allowing us to choose original ideas that should play well into the direction kids seem to be wanting to go in. For example, I notice a lot of horror books for the younger middle graders these days. I know I didn't see them a few years ago, and I'm pleased by the tred because it's a possible good indication that my scary books might not be too 'over the top.'

Rena said...

Everyone here has great ideas, as well as what Christy wrote. I mostly write PBs, but have done one MG novel. I just got my first rejection for it, so I'm feeling pretty low about that. I only have it out with one other house, so I'm not feeling hopeless about it yet.

Great advice though -- thanks!

C.R. Evers said...

Wow you guys! You make a ton of great points!

Thanks for adding and making this a great discussion!

Christy

taralazar said...

Ha! I was at a conference last week and I specifically said, "I don't get my ideas by looking at the best-seller list." It was an honest statement. What I meant by that was that no matter how popular wizardry and vampires get, I'm never going to write about them. It just doesn't interest me.

But that doesn't mean that I'm not aware of the hot sellers. Yes, I want to know what makes them popular. I can read them and enjoy them, take note of structure, subject matter, and voice. But ultimately, there's an intanglible success factor we'll perhaps never be able to pinpoint. There's no formula for guaranteed success. A quiet book might be a sleeper. A high-concept might flop. You just don't know until it's on the shelves.

So I'll be keenly aware of the newest releases, but I don't plan on emulating someone else's success. I've got my own success to plan.