Last week we featured teen YA author and illustrator, Bethany Stevenson, as one of our Extraordinary You girls. Catch her profile here! Today, Bethany is back with some heartfelt thoughts about what she’s been noticing in YA lately, and how some authors are depicting teens in YA. Bethany provides a unique voice in this issue. She’s not only a teen reader, she’s an author with many words and stories under her belt
.If you’re a teen Chronicles reader, we’d love for you to read Bethany’s post and comment with your opinions on what you’re seeing in YA books. If you’re visiting as a fellow young adult author or other professional in the publishing world, we welcome your thoughts as well. What is your opinion on this issue? Most of all, I want to thank Bethany for her courage in speaking up and being candid.
Wake Up Authors: YA is for Real Teenagers
By Bethany Stevenson (Twitter @bethanypeep)
All my childhood, I filled notebooks with stories or little ideas that cycled in my head. At age 9, I wrote my first, full length 100 page novel. At age 13, I’d written three stand-alones and an entire trilogy, while plotting the 110k word story I wrote in under two months. At age 15, I pumped out a new, complete book every three months, with two or three new ideas piling up behind it. I also joined PitchWars for the first time, without any success. At 16, I joined the Twitter community. Had my first two full requests. Swapped with half a hundred CPs and readers. Won a few contests. Learned to revise and stuck my toes in the publishing world… or tried. At 17, I’ve written 40 complete books, been in multiple contests, and have started thousands of other ideas.
In some ways, my story is only beginning, but at any moment it can shift toward good or bad.
Some of you may have seen my thread throughout the social media world, which is how Laura offered me the chance to write for her blog. I’m so very grateful for this chance because I’m ready to expand and speak out with the voice everyone says matters. I’m going to show you how it matters.
This is my opinion on the YA writing world…
(Before I begin, I just want to add a note that I respect everyone who’s helped me and given me time to battle the mistakes in my novels. I also appreciate all my followers on Twitter and YouTube, and everyone who stands behind me.
I don’t always follow everything in the Twitterverse, but occasionally, I’ll wake up to find people defending how YA isn’t a genre, how it matters, and arguing over blogs that misrepresented the teenaged category in our publishing world. But when I figure some of the issues out, I always see a trend on who’s deciding what’s best for my age group. This isn’t only in arguments either; they’re deciding what should be popular, what’s appropriate for teens, and who teens are.
You can already guess who I’m talking about.
The professionals, the authors, the writers in the slush… the respected adult authors of YA whose voice determines what I am to read. What I think like. How I feel. How I live.
As a YA aged reader and teen author, I’m writing to you now to remind you about who you write for, who you write, and who you represent: an entire generation. The young teenagers who will be the next generation of where you are now: the next bestsellers, the next presidents, the next inventors, the next scientists.
And you’re writing us as characters.
Or so you think.
Do you know what I see when I read your books? Blood-thirsty, sex-focused, drug addicted, invincible, rebellious, hateful people. Not teens. Definitely not myself.
Do you know who I am? I am you reader. The target age you’re writing for.
And your novels scare me.
Do you know that I am afraid most of the time to pick a book up off the library shelf that’s considered YA? Have you felt the worry I have when I open a page and automatically expect Adult Erotica or Game of Thrones in my YA shelves? Books I have to put aside because it insults, discriminates, and hurts me? Your characters are adults proclaimed as teens. Your characters are too mature. And I don’t understand them. At. All.
They are not me. I am not them.
I certainly don’t want to be a lot of them either. I don’t have the ability to overthrow the government on my own, lead a war, and definitely have no interest in anything intimate right now. I’d rather be with my large groups of friends, in my writing worlds, drawing, or doing the other dozens of hobbies and things I love to study.
But all the characters my age that I read are murdering people with a flick of their knives without enough regret, and sexually admiring every teenager or young adult they pass. Do I really care how the moon reflects on his skin and biceps? Or how her curves move underneath her flowing gown? Heck, that makes me awfully uncomfortable. Especially every scene your ship-characters are together. Every. Single. Scene. Where’s the room for simple friendship? Simple admiration for each other’s gifts and courage?
And your characters are spitting f-bombs or the s-word every three sentences. Do you think I actually use that much language?
What you write influences how people view teens. How people think teens view the world. So think of me. Are you representing me?
You may like your characters and connect to them, and your adult readers might as well, but what about your real readers? Ask them, can they fully connect to everything in your book? Can you confidently say the characters are teens that match how teens think and feel today?
You know who I see excited about these new YA books and recommending them to each other online? Adults who write the same thing. Adults who think this is who I am as a person. Adults who decided how I should be represented in the publishing world. And I don’t read it because I don’t want to. I am not an adult. I am a teen.
Please, write me as one.
So instead of reading the newest trends, I write my own books. I write what I want to read. How I feel. How I see the world. Then I swallow my fears of query submitting and click ‘send,’ expecting four months of hopeless waiting to receive the rejection letter explaining why everything is too young for the market or not ready enough. Then I clench my jaw as my uneasy fingers type the words “I need a Critique Partner” into a tweet.
Why am I so nervous and scared, you might wonder? Here’s why, my fellow authors: I’m patted on the head, put to the side, literally told my newly revised book is a nice first draft. Told I sound too young. Me.
Sounding too young, while writing teenagers. I get this from agents. CPs. Fellow authors. I swallow it and try to think it’s normal and everyone gets it. But it’s not true. And this is why I have to speak out.
I see you celebrating each other’s pages online and fangirling over your sexy, muscular guys and sword flinging kick-butt rebel girls while I go to small parties to talk about my school or pets or YouTube channel with my teenaged friends. When I reach out online to published or agented writers, I’m given a smiley-face as a fan and sent along to ‘go find out who I am.’
I know who I am, authors. I am you. A writer.
I’m young, but do you remember how much passion boiled in your fingers when you wanted to grow and thrive and be recognized for what you loved to do? Do you remember being crushed, put back with the children, and told ‘someday, someday,’ as a teen?
I’m told my voice matters and I should speak up how I feel or what I believe. But once I do, it doesn’t seem to matter enough. After all, I’m young and still learning and have so much time to learn. What I want isn’t worth your time. So I’m supposed to use all my time to do the work your CPs and fangirl friends and agents help you do.
On my own.
And if I don’t get it right, I’ll never go anywhere.
My hopes, passions, who I am, what I write–– all dies.
Everything I’ve written, collects dust. Everything I loved and spent years crafting to show you, forget it. After all, I still have plenty of time. I’ll get there one day.
But you still don’t see me as an author. You still don’t help me as one. You still don’t support me. Listen to my word. You cut up my work, leave me choking on burning sobs, and go back to tweet about your amazing ‘real’ CPs pages.
I have two close writer friends who wanted to be published as teens. When they fought to get their dreams, they ended up becoming adults in the process. They had to become you to try to even be considered to get what they wanted at my age. Do I need to be you to be able to say what I want to say and have it mean anything? Apparently, so. Because if I say to a new CP I’m a high schooler, but wrote all my life, you know what I get? A list of basic writing information, a pat on the back, and a polite ‘you’ll get there.’
Will I? You certainly don’t make it very easy for me. For me to shine. For me to get into contests or noticed by agents because the slush is full of everyone’s words and the big-leagues only seem to pick what they want to read. Not what I want to read, writer-gods forbid something so young, lighthearted, simple, unpolitical, helps me forget the real world, yet deep and magical to be published. Something so teenaged.
So when I, as a teen writer, mention my age to you, it’s my way of trying to reach out and show I know I may be young, but I respect you as a further-along adult who knows more about publishing and I want your help. But what kind of hand are you going to offer? I can swallow criticism. I know the rules. Keep open contact. Be willing to give advice. Show me where I mess up and make me shine. Or don’t tell me I do at all.
Our teenaged years are quick, especially for writers like me. (You yourself know how long writing and editing and revising a book takes.) But we’re trying to get professional ADULTS to accept our art and creativity as “teenaged enough” or “what we deserve and want to read” to be noticed. And soon, we won’t be able to present ourselves as teen authors.
Please, think of me when you write and pitch and revise teenaged characters. Think of my fellow teen authors. Who are you writing for? Who are you representing?
It is time to make my voice matter. To make my age category represented correctly. To not make me an object of adult entertainment for grandparents to scoff at this generation of teens because of the movie trailers they’ve seen.
Yes, others read the YA section. But what is it mainly targeted for? Oh, wait a minute, that’s right, young adults. Teens. There’s plenty of room in the adult publishing world to write what you want to read.
It’s time to make YA for teenagers.
Are you going to support us now or when we’ve “arrived?”
Write for me and support my teenaged author friends. We are the next authors–– and how you help us matters in our next steps.
How to Support Teenaged Authors:
- Critique our books for us, honestly. If you can’t do the full thing, hook us up with someone else. And get back to us as soon as you can or at least give us updates about when you think you’ll have the feedback to us. We’re in school or trying to work a job like you. Please don’t tweet about another writer’s project you’re helping without saying something to/about us either. We’ll assume you put the other person ahead of us, especially if you didn’t contact us that someone needed you more due to their deadline or something. I’ve had this happen over a dozen times. It hurts. A lot. And it makes me feel out of place or unimportant to the writing world.
- Don’t say our characters act/think/feel too young. Just don’t. I’m plain sick of this. It’s bad enough a lot of agents did it to me when I tried to query. Sure, I didn’t mention my age, but it made me feel like I’m too young or immature to even consider the field of publication. Instead, if you have a professional suggestion or thought about how we could revise something the character might have fault with, say, ‘this is what I would do,’ or ‘maybe try this?’ Or even, give us a blog link to back up your suggestion. We’ll listen.
- Retweet our pitches in twitter contests. Tweet support if you see us trying to talk to contest mentors or agents. Don’t just direct message us that you loved something or are here for us. Show, don’t tell 😉
- Don’t keep telling us ‘you’ll get there someday.’ How helpful is that for me in the moment when scrolling through the bright red you left all over my document? How is that going to break any of my self-rejection when I certainly don’t feel like I’ll ‘get there.’ Tell me how I can get there by improvement. Answer any of my questions, especially if you’re agented. Promote me to your own followers or readers. If an agent’s wishlist sounds like our book, let us know.
- If you see a newer teen writer pop up in a hashtag, follow them. Reach out. Somehow, I personally passed the 1,000 following while only being on social media a year. But I already know that’s not very common for younger writers. Connect with us, and if we seem unsure at first, it’s mostly because we’re trying to fit in, and adjust to all the new expectations and rules.
- Don’t over-mommy or patronize us. If we need extra support, we’ll come. Trust me. I have a few adult writer friends I know I can turn to when writing depression or harsh rejections pile in my life. I love them for being able to listen and giving sound advice of taking a break or how to rethink my first motives to get better in my craft. But if you continue to pat my hand and give me a lollipop every time I’m really struggling, it’ll hurt me more in the long run. Every time I’m personally dealing with creative-depression, the overly encouraging comments drown me deeper in doubt the next time I’m whammed with self-rejection. Offer to read or suggest a book we might like, or even better, try to help us figure out the revision problem that is screaming in our heads.
- Also, don’t reach out to take advantage of us. With the movement of becoming more aware and supportive of teen authors, don’t think you can get a free read through from us without helping us equally in return. I’ve had a few times I’m asked to be ‘teenaged’ eyes without much detail of what the author wanted, read for them, sent a few of my own pages, was given the usual ‘too young, here’s basic writer info, and show don’t tell,’ and the author walked off with my couple weeks’ worth of detailed notes and line edits. It drives me up the wall. Now I’m often overly cautious who I swap with or offer my eyes to. If you genuinely know you need to see if your character is realistic or maybe too annoying or etc, sure, reach out, but offer the same for us, and make it very clear what you’re offering. Is it line edits or a quick read through? CPs are joint processes of giving each other new opinions on our novels. Sometimes I may be a match helping you, but you might not exactly be able to always help me. Which, happens all the time between adult YA authors, just be aware teen authors are in the same boat. Worst comes to worst, if you’re super good with synopses or queries, swap those instead.
I hope this post helps. I hope you’ll stand beside teen authors as much as your other writer friends. I hope you’ll fight to make YA a safer place for its real readers. And I hope you’ll share this or at least reach out to your own circles to bring more awareness to this issue.
If the voices of teens matter, let’s make it that way.
Thank you, Bethany, for sharing with us! Here’s how to connect with Bethany on social media: