“When are you going to write a novel for adults?” by Diane Lee Wilson
Writers of teen novels invariably receive the (only slightly disparaging) question “When are you going to write a novel for adults?” The implication behind that inquiry is: You’re not a real writer until you write a real novel, one for an adult audience.
I have been asked that question, and it comes repeatedly from good friends of mine, individuals who are avid readers and whose opinions I value. In the literary world there is more caché, I suppose, in writing a critically acclaimed, bestselling novel for adults than there is in writing one for teens. Perhaps that’s one of the factors that drove J.K. Rowling to write The Casual Vacancy. But authors need not apologize for writing novels for teens, and here’s why:
Teen fiction can and is being written so well that it is part of the fastest growing segment in publishing. In the United States the children’s/young adult book market saw overall publisher revenues for last year rise a reported 12%. The books in this genre offer unusual plots, fast pacing, and strong characters with whom readers of all ages can identify.
That’s another key to the genre’s growth: readers of all ages. According to a recent article in the Los Angeles Times, “The young adult, or YA, category is particularly healthy as a result of blockbuster franchises and strong crossover readership. Many young adult books are read as much by adults as they are by their intended teen audiences.” Personally, I’ve received letters and emails from many moms who “just happened to pick up” a title of mine brought home by one of their children and then admitted to me that they “couldn’t put it down.” I’m glad to hear that my stories appeal to readers of all ages. I try to write good stories and I never “write down” to my intended audience.
Historically, teen literature has included some of the best-written, most memorable works of any genre, books that can easily hold their own with any “adult” literature. Such titles as To Kill A Mockingbird, Fahrenheit 451 and Catcher in the Rye regularly make “best books of the century” lists. Harper Lee’s book won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.
What’s timeless about good teen fiction is that it gets to the heart of the matter, and century after century matters don’t change much. Children and teens continue to question the adult world in which they find themselves, as they should. Because they’re not quite adults, and not quite burdened by society’s expectations of what is proper, they can ask the naïve questions. “Why is it like this?” “Couldn’t we do it differently?” And adult readers can respond to that voice within themselves that recognizes the truth in these questions, a truth that they’ve always known but which, over time, they’ve learned not to hear.
In a way, writing for the teen market is the most important genre of fiction writing because it provides a chance to say things truthfully. To ask for change. The best part is, a great number of the readers of these books are young enough and energetic enough and naïve enough to enact that change.
Finally, should none of these reasons pop to mind the next time you’re asked when you’re going to write a real novel, answer with a retort once shared with me. It goes like this: “Do you ask your pediatrician why he/she isn’t a real doctor?”