What Do YA Readers WANT?!!

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Wouldn’t we authors like to know! Preferably, a good two years before YA readers actually want it, so we can write, edit, publish and market just in time to reach your ever changing moods, er needs. Just kidding. I read as much YA as the average teen, possibly more, so we’re in the same boat. I have wants of my own, and I also want to write a book that will resonate with readers.

Lucky for you, we have a little—just a little—insight into this very question. Recently Teens Can Write Too! ran a blog chain entitled What kinds of published books would you like to see more of? All of the respondents are teens who blog and write beyond their blogs. In fact, quite a few of them have some pretty amazing things to say, so when you’re finished reading this, check out their posts too.

While I was patiently—or not so patiently—waiting each day to read a new teen’s perspective on what they’d like to see published, I was also following a thread on Absolute Write entitled What would you like to see more or less of in YA? Between the two I was reading some great ideas about what books should be published in YA.

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Light bulb moment: I should compile the information and write a blog post about it!

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Honestly, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. The sheer mass of data was daunting. It’s taken me hours to compile it into any sort of usable format. You can check the data here if you like. But I’ll try to make some kind of intelligent response, since I promised I would, and I always keep my promises!

Part of the problem is that I didn’t really know what I was doing while compiling the data. Now that I’m finished, I might have done it a little differently, but there is no way I’m doing it over again! It’s like having a term paper almost finished two days before it’s due, and realizing you should have taken a different approach. No ‘A’ is worth the work it would take to start over. Sorry, but I have a life. 🙂

And what everyone wants is as diverse as the respondents themselves. I saw everything from wanting fan fiction traditionally published to requesting a book from the POV of a toddler! Funnily enough, I did have the idea to write a novel about babies and toddlers who turn into teens when they fall asleep and wake up in a fantasy adventure. Yeah, I haven’t written that one yet.

But there were some clear winners, and losers, so if you want the nitty-gritty details, check out the data, but I’ll give you an overview of the most common responses in this post.

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22 teens responded to the question: What kinds of published books would you like to see more of? on the TCWT blog chain, while 40 respondents of an unidentified age responded to the question: What would you like to see more or less of in YA? on the Absolute Write Watercooler forums.

 

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Fantasy received the most votes for a genre with at least 34% of respondents requesting more in some form. I say at least because it was one of those cases where I would have tallied the votes differently in hind sight. I might have missed a few votes asking for a specific aspect of Fantasy without actually requesting Fantasy in and of itself. Anyway, you get the point.

There wasn’t any one type of Fantasy that was a stand-out winner, but many different kinds were mentioned. In fact, I got the impression that readers would like to see more pure, traditional fantasy, not other types of stories posing as Fantasy, i.e. Romance set in a Fantasy world, Dystopian set in a Fantasy world, etc. The one thing they did not want to see was more Fantasy worlds based on Medieval Europe or books based on Western (Greek/Roman) Mythology. Japanese, Chinese, Egyptian and Celtic were mentioned (I know Celtic is Western, but at least it’s something other than Zeus and Poseidon!)

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On a similar note, Science Fiction, which 17% of respondents requested more of, also seemed to center on more pure forms of its original genre. Readers especially seemed to dislike Dystopian disguised as Science Fiction. They want to see robots, cyborgs, cool technology that’s not the bad guy, and fun adventures that explore new worlds and revel in the joy of future technology and uncharted worlds.

Dystopia was a mixed bag with 9 readers wanting more while 5 wanted less or none. One thing was fairly clear though. Readers want something different than the tried-and-true Dystopia we’ve been experiencing over the last few years. Diversity, LGBTQ+, new settings, and most importantly, move away from the cliched tropes. No big, bad, government that’s outlawed something as the end-all of society and the rebel character fighting against it.

Re-tellings as a category received 10 nods, with respondents asking for non-traditional and non-European fairy tales, classics, Shakespeare, mash-ups and even re-tellings of Anne of Green Gables. One interesting note: only 1 of the 10 votes for re-tellings came from the unidentified age group. Clearly, teens are more interested in re-tellings than their older counterparts who read YA books.

Other than specific genres, another winner was seeing more Families in YA. 26% wanted to see healthy family units in some form, whether it’s present parents, quirky families, complex sibling dynamics, big families and any of the aforementioned relationships being the main emotional stake of the story.

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One of the clear losers was Romance. Not so much the genre of Romance, but rather romance in YA books in whatever genre it happens to appear. 26% of readers said they are completely tired of or would like to see less romance in YA books. 18% said they’d like to see fewer or no love triangles and no “insta love” stories. 9 respondents asked for healthy teen love relationships with a wide variety of realistic relationship requests from LGBTQ+ to mutual breakups to relationships that end and the characters actually learn from them.

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While there were many other responses I could talk about, the last one I’m going to discuss is Diversity. This was another category with a broad scope that I wish I had compiled the data differently. For example, 12 respondents requested diversity in all forms, while 16 specifically said they want novels where the diversity is not the issue of the book. I could have tallied all respondents that called for diversity in any form and had a large number of people wanting something more from their YA, but I didn’t do it that way. And since some readers requested multiple kinds of diversity, I couldn’t just add up all the specific requests because the number would have been inflated.

Anyway, over and over again I heard YA readers saying they wanted to read more about people of color, characters of all sexual orientations, people with physical disabilities and chronic illnesses, neuro-diversity and ethnic people living their culture in contemporary and futuristic settings. The one overriding theme to all of this was the diversity needed to be a part of a character’s life, and the readers want to see how it affects their lives, but it can’t be the point of the book. They want to see people of color in fantasy, a teen detective with Chron’s disease, a wheel chair bound action hero, and romance between characters of all sexual orientations. Those examples are made up based on some of the comments I read, but they’re pretty spot on from the types of diverse ideas they want to see written. They want to see a cross-section of America, and in some cases the world, that isn’t white, Christian and straight.

So, how do we use this information? Well, first of all it would be great to see agents and publishers take a look because my agent research has indicated that agents are looking for Contemporary right now. Yet that had extremely low response numbers from this completely unscientific poll. Unfortunately I don’t have any agents or publishers that follow my blog, so chances are slim for that. 😉

I guess, if you see your book in these results, then congratulations! Get working and get it published! If you see some inspiration in any or several of the requests made by these responses, then once again, get busy! You’ve got some writing to do! But, if you see your book in some of the requests for NO MORE!, well, don’t despair. Even these YA readers couldn’t all agree on what they wanted, so there are readers out there for all kinds of novels. Just keep writing what you love. It’s all any of us can do!

Writing Process Blog Hop: Hey, they let me on the bus!

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Last week I was tagged in the Writing Process Blog Hop by Sarah J. Carlson, a fellow YA author, and an American living in Singapore! (I might be a little jealous right now.) I would have responded to the invite immediately, but I had a Ninja Training Birthday Party to plan for a six-year-old!

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Now that it’s over, I can concentrate on how honored I am to be included. Blog hops are fun, and so far I’ve enjoyed reading about everyone’s writing process. Besides, it might make me feel a teeny, weeny bit validated. Like I get to sit at the big girl author’s table. Okay, enough fangirling. On to the good stuff.

What Am I Working On?
Currently I am in the midst of what I hope are last revisions for my YA Post-apocalyptic novel I HAVE NO NAME. No, I don’t mean the novel isn’t named yet. It really is called I HAVE NO NAME.

If everyone you know is dead, do you still exist? For one sixteen-year-old plague survivor the answer is no. She’s broken, alone. Hiding from the pain of the past, she tries to forget everything, even her name.

Yeah, I’m still working on hooks and queries and synopsis, but right now I really need to concentrate on this novel. (No, Blog! Stop calling my name. I have work to do!) NO NAME has gone through at least twenty or more rounds of editing and I’m currently cutting a few characters, cutting a few scenes, combining two characters into one while giving him a new personality and adding him to the existing love triangle. Whew! It’s a lot of work, but I think will be satisfying in the end. I know, everyone is sick of love triangles, but this has a purpose, really. And adding this combo-character to the mix makes it more of a love quadrilateral, I think.

Besides the novel, which should be my primary focus right now, I’m also trying to get this blog off the ground. So far, I’m pleased with the results.

How Does My Work Differ From Others of Its Genre?
I have no idea! I read a lot of YA books and some in the Post-apocalyptic/Survival genre, but I never set out to be different. I just had a story to tell and I told it. The one thing I might do differently than some novelists is I don’t try to make you like my characters. They are who they are and their story must come out. I don’t change what they say or do because I think it will offend or attract anyone. This is what they as the people I imagine would do. No apologies. In fact, my husband at one point in reading the book said, “I don’t really like her (my MC) right now.” And one of my betas said something similar: “I don’t know if I like your MC.” My husband was referring specifically to something she was doing and later said he got over it. My beta never really said more than that. But as far as I’m concerned I’m doing something right. My MC doesn’t always need to be likable. But she does need to be real and believable. If I achieve that, I’m happy.

Why Do I Write What I Write?
Because I’m a storyteller. I always have been. My imagination runs wild and I’m always thinking, “What if?” As to specifically the novel I’m writing now, it’s because I had a dream. When I woke the next morning, I couldn’t get the story out of my head.

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It played over and over, morphing and developing into something different. The characters became alive with personalities and back stories and lives that needed to be lived. I was working on something different at that point and spent almost two years mentally developing the idea and keeping notes in a notebook. The girl’s story was almost completely realized before I ever wrote a word. It was just something that couldn’t stay inside me.

How Does Your Writing Process Work?
As I hinted in the previous para, I’ll get an idea and let it stew for awhile. Maybe I’ll do research passively or keep a notebook if the idea has its hooks in me, jotting down scenes that should happen, motivations, back story, personalities, whatever comes to mind. When I’m actually ready to write I usually have the whole thing laid out in my head. For my first novel I outlined, but this one I didn’t need to. It was there, like a movie I’d watch so many times I knew every line by heart. But even though the story was already told, that doesn’t mean I’m not open to change. The book is written organically, scenes and characters changing as they see fit. Sometimes I’ll be typing away and the scene and characters flow into what they should be, despite what I might have imagined earlier. Or a character’s motivation or personality trait will come shining through, where I had never even thought about it before. Very rarely do I have to rack my brains for what will happen or why it happens or what a character is like. These things just pour from my fingers into the keyboard and out onto the empty whiteness of my screen.

I liked what C.S. Boyack said on his blog stop about re-reading your last chapter before you get started for the day. When I’m writing (as in not editing or revising) I often find this helpful to get back into the flow of things. It allows me to fully immerse myself back into the world I’ve created, back into the head of my character and move forward. I can always tell when I was writing just to get something on paper and when I’m really and truly into my story. But those days when I can’t mentally be there 100% are fine too. That’s what editing and revising are for. If I can get it down, get through it, and come back later to make it better, it’s just part of the job. Besides, sometimes this is a red flag for something that needs to be cut or whittled down. If I’m bored writing it, my readers are going to through the book against the wall!

Once I’ve finished a rough draft, I’ll edit and revise a couple of times before I let a few trusted friends and family have a read. More revisions, and then I’ll seek out beta readers. More revision. That’s where I am now. Having revised so many times, and received opinions and advice from quite a few people (writers and non-writers) I’m ready to move forward, just as soon as I get a last bit of tweaking done. Knowing myself, a manuscript will never be good enough in my eyes to submit, so at some point you have to say enough is enough. I’m not making this better, just different. That’s when you need to decide what your next move is.

Passing the torch:
E.J. McGrorey at 90,000 Words is a mother, a wife, a digital communications specialist and aspiring author in Sydney Australia. Oh, and on top of it all she’s also studying for a Master of Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Technology, Sydney. So, you, know, a total under-achiever!
Paige Randall is a DC based writer of Contemporary Romance and has recently finished her first novel Circling.
Jodie Llewellyn like my first tag is another Aussie. Australia has some great bloggers and Jodie is an aspiring YA author like myself.

Check them out soon to see their posts on the Writing Process Blog Hop!