Welcome to just about the only kid-lit oriented blog on the internet that has not responded to the Wall Street Journal article on dark YA literature. Let me just warn you that immediately following the period at the end of this sentence, that is about to change.
You may be wondering why. After all, the article appeared two weeks ago, and in today’s news market, that’s old history. Even on Facebook the furor has died down. And really, I’m not all that qualified to respond, being A. not quite published, and B. debuting with middle grade novel, MAGIC CARP, which is neither YA nor dark (although as I’ve mentioned previously, there are some chickens that meet an evil fate, so I guess to chickens, it is very dark.) Adequate and eloquent responses have already been written regarding the need for dark themes and topics and refuting many of the article’s points about YA Fiction in general. I cannot add anything more on those fronts.
The whole discussion got me thinking in a different vein, about the Market and the conundrum it presents to the not-quite-published. The market and its trends loom large in the eyes of the average-Jane-trying-to-get-published. At conferences and in books she hears how you have to know your audience and know the market. For every book on the shelf with a title like Write What You Love, or Learn Your Craft, she finds just as many with titles like How To Get Published in the Market. And the trends, whether you agree with them or not, are apparent, especially when scanning the shelves in the big box stores that may not cater to varied tastes.
So here’s Average Jane–the kind of writer whose life is full of ideas and aspirations and rejection letters. Whose hope is bleeding steadily toward desperation, and the only tourniquet in sight seems to be to write toward the market trend–maybe a nice manuscript about a bulimic zombie rapist with a drug problem and serious halitosis (We’ll call him Bob.) Average Jane feels the temptation to do this because to her there is something far more monstrous and life-threatening than Bob, and it is called “The Market.” Jane’s no fool; she reads the Wall Street Journal and knows Bob is her best shot at staying alive.
Let me just change gears for a moment and tell you about one of my favorite things on the internet. It is a quote from the wise and witty children’s book editor Elizabeth Law on the Shrinking Violets blog, where I would encourage you to read the whole interview. In talking about market savvy writers, Law offers the following:
“Just write your heart out. I promise you that’s what matters. I would much, much rather find a great, unusual, distinctive book by a phobic writer covered in oozing sores who lives in a closet than a decent but not amazingly original book by the world’s best promoter.”
I love that quote, even though I am not covered with oozing sores or living in a closet. Average Jane loves it too, and like many other writers out there, has spent years trying very, very hard to believe it. (Trust me, Average Jane and I are very close.)
But no matter how hard Average Jane tries to believe, she has her doubts. She worries, “Kids today have tons of sparkly fun gadgets around them–why would they read a book about coal miners, set in Nowhere, Colorado in 1901?” But she wants to believe, and she wants to write her heart out, and so she puts her trust in her passion and her pen to the page.
Now enter Bob’s nasty little buddy, THE MARKET. Because after she bravely wrote her heart out and sent her manuscripts out on submission, Jane started acquiring rejections that said, “I loved it, but I’m afraid it’s just too quiet for today’s Market,” or “Funny, but not quite where the boy book Market is heading,” or, “I just can’t see this story making it out of the midlist in today’s Market.” (Which also means it won’t make it into the midlist, because it won’t make it into print.)
All of which causes the aspiring and increasingly desperate Jane to give in to her earlier temptation and embark upon revisions that make those ill-fated chickens return as zombies that do unspeakable things to the Magic Carp, not to mention the coal miner’s daughter, and as she works, she will compose increasingly long, run-on, crazy-desperate sorts of sentences while gnashing her teeth and muttering, “LOUD? DARK??? I’LL SHOW YOU LOUD AND DARK!!!!”
I’m not trying to be bitter here and I hope none of you will take me that way. There is a message of hope that I am getting to, so put down that razor blade and keep reading. I have heard those kinds of rejections, but eventually, I also heard: “I love it, I want to publish it, we’ll find it’s place in this Market.” And all without zombie chickens. (although there is still time to work in the zombie chickens, should my editor be reading this. Call me.)
I know, mine is only one small success. And even now I sometimes hear about a writer whose debut trilogy of dark novels has been fast-tracked, and optioned, and promoted like crazy, and I find myself wondering if the zombie chickens weren’t the way to go (oops–I mean, Jane wonders. This is about Jane.) But mine is not the only story where heart mattered more than market trends. More than one of us here at EMU’s Debuts can attest to that. So all in all, I am content with my gentle story of human strength and perseverance, and more than content that it found a home. Editors have to think about the market, that’s their job, but they also want original, beautiful, well-crafted manuscripts, and they understand things about the market beyond what the novice writer sees. Trust yourself, and trust them to find a place for you.
And one final thought on the dark YA debate, before I leave it. After reading the many responses on blogs, newsletters, journals, Facebook, and Twitter, I am proud to be part of a community that responded with so much passion. The response is one more proof that whether their writing is dark, light, or chiaroscuro, kid-lit writers are truly writing their hearts out.