Thursday, March 22, 2018

News, Updates, & Links for March 22, 2018

Below are the links & information from today's newsletter. To hear the news first, SUBSCRIBE.


WHEN: Wednesday, March 28, from 11:00 AM - 12:30 PM (MDT)

WHAT: Join the authors of the collection: interact, ask questions, and win prizes!

WHO: Annette Lyon, Nancy Campbell Allen, and Elizabeth Johns, the three authors included with Victorian romances in the collection.




Olivia Wallington is firmly established as a spinster, but that doesn’t stop her from dreaming about the perfect man. Ever since her father’s death, Olivia has been forced into seclusion by her mother. When her brother and his wife come for a visit, they discover the extent to which she lives under their mother’s thumb. 

With their help, Olivia sneaks out to attend a local ball, where she meets Edward Blakemoore. For a few divine moments, all of her dreams seem possible. But even someone like Mr. Blakemoore would be hard pressed to get past Mrs. Wallington’s fortress of protection—or past Olivia’s pride.



I'm regularly writing over at Medium now!

Anyone can access up to three articles for free each month, and subscribers get to read an unlimited amount. I recently subscribed (a whopping $5/month) and think it's so worth it.

Some recent posts:



The latest Timeless Regency Collection is now available!

This is the first in the Regency line to include only the three founders of the Timeless Romance Anthology series, Annette Lyon, Sarah M. Eden, and Heather B. Moore.




Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to chat with Tennery, co-host of Top of Mind, a show on BYU Radio, about Celeste Ng's latest best-selling novel, Little Fires Everywhere.

Such a great book! We had a fabulous conversation without any big spoilers.

Check out Little Fires Everywhere here.

Listen to our discussion here.


This novella will be released soon.

Keep an eye out for the link.

(The plot features a ghost!)



Don't miss Sarah M. Eden's latest, a Victorian romance called Ashes on the Moor,

or Julie Coulter Bellon's newest contemporary romance, Love's Journey Home.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Going There: Mansplaining and Real Men

I touched on this recently on Facebook, but because the horse isn't fully dead yet, here's a more thorough another beating: The term "mansplaining" exists for a very good reason.

No, not all men do it. That doesn't mean it's not a real occurrence, on a regular basis, for many women. I'd wager that nearly all women can point to a time when they've been mansplained.

Probably in the last week.

 It's not the same thing as "womensplained," an alternative I've had two men suggest lately to show how "mansplaining" is an insulting term them. (First off, if that were true, which it is not, welcome to the club. English has dozens of words to denigrate women and precious few to insult men with.)

A lot of women may have an insulting way of interacting with men; I'm not saying they don't. However it may be happening, it's different from mansplaining. The truth this, I don't have a heck of a lot of pity for men who are mansplaining all over the place and then whine that a woman might have spoken to them in a way they didn't like.

For anyone up in arms about the term, please go read Deborah Tannen's NY Times bestselling book about conversational styles, You Just Don't Understand. The book does not use the term "mansplaining" (the term didn't exist when the book came out), but it does go into the differences between how women and men speak—real differences backed by science.

The author is a sociolinguist with a specialty is in conversational styles across gender, nationalities, in the workplace, between various groups, and even wrote has a book about mother-daughter conversations. Tannen's work isn't all stuff about gender interactions.

The fact is that the way women and men speak, and the motivation behind their speech is different. And yes, it's on a continuum. For example, my speaking style is not nearly as "female" as that of many women I know, and I know some men whose speaking style leans toward the female side of the spectrum. But in general, the gender differences shed light on the phenomenon of mansplaining.

Go read the book. Seriously. But back to mansplaining itself.

No, not all men do it. 

My father and my brother are great examples. They both (spoiler alert) deeply respect and admire the women in their lives. My dad's a retired professor. He made a living teaching people. He could easily have been patronizing when I was a kid and, indeed, asking him dumb questions. But he never once made me feel that way, no matter what dumb thing I asked. Dad was a safe, respectful place. 

He also didn't jump in to answer an unspoken question, assuming I was inept, a very common way mansplaining shows up. 

My brother doesn't mansplain either. At times I get the sense that he's so proud of his wife that he thinks she's smarter than he is (which may or may not be true—they're both pretty dang smart and both have advanced degrees), but he never lets his wife's Ph.D. (and her knowledge in a field that isn't his specialty) get in the way of his masculinity.

Guess what? That makes him more of a man

In my experience, it's the insecure men who get up in arms about hearing women mention mansplaining. Insecure men are most definitely the ones who do not understand the concept. They don't believe women when they say it happens, and that it happens often. They're the ones who insist that the term is sexist.

Oh, and those also are the men who insist on explaining to women what mansplaining means. (They're mansplaining mansplaining. Let that sink in a bit.) I've seen this many, many times. 

Real Men, on the Other Hand

Real men respect women in word and deed, and that's counting times when no one is watching. Real character shows up in private moments, in small numbers. It's much easier to be gallant and inclusive and outwardly respectful in front of dozens or hundreds, when you can plan your words and then open your arms to receive public adulation. 

Which brings me back to my dad. He does what he believes in his core is the right thing to do, no matter who will or will not ever know about it. And I can guarantee that much of the good he's done is known by no one but him and Lord. He does it anyway. I know this because I've inadvertently learned of some of the things he's quietly done, things I shouldn't have found out about. 

For every one of those I discovered, how many others has he done that I don't know about? Hundreds of thousands, I have no doubt. 

Real men don't need to announce their awesomeness to the crowds. 

Real men don't need to demand that women stop using a term that precisely describes a regular frustration and source of pain. 

Real men don't want women to be in pain. 

Real men listen to women and intentionally change their behavior, if needed, to avoid causing women pain, especially those in their personal sphere. 

Real men stand up for women who are being put down, patronized, or demeaned. 

Real men hear terms like mansplaining, and instead of being offended, they listen and try to understand. 

Real men take a close look at their own behavior to see if they've been guilty of mansplaining, even unawares. 

Real men make a determination to do better, if needed. 

Real men defend those who need protection, and yes, that's often women. 

A Real Man with a Hat 

An awesome is example was a Facebook post from a couple of years ago, one the author surely thought was just a funny situation he'd share. To me it was so much more: Dan Wells* told a story of how his young son (maybe 11 at the time?) mansplained to his own mother something that the son was obviously wrong about. The story was hilarious. That's why Dan shared it. 

But I saw something much deeper in the account. Guess what, men? Dan gets mansplaining. 

He sees it. He understands it and why it's a bad thing.

Even better, I'm quite sure that his son will be taught by word and by example that you don't behave like that. 

His daughters are lucky to have a father who is so open to trying to understand other points of view, who has compassion for women. Who feels protective toward them. Who expects his daughters to do great things, just as much as he'd expect it from a son.

That story wasn't the only time I've seen that side of Dan (I could list several other examples), but it's fitting for this post because he himself used the term "mansplain" in the story. He gets it. 

 I should really give a shout out to his parents, because their other son, Robison Wells** (one of my dearest friends), is just as awesome in this regard. He's never mansplained to me or anyone around me.

Small things, people. They say so much.

Warning: The first person who tries to defend mansplaining, say it doesn't exist, or insist that women do it too (or anything like unto those things) gets their comment deleted and may be blocked. I do not have emotional room in my life right now for jerks.

*Dan is known for his trademark Indiana Jones-style hat. I've known him for years, but if he's not wearing it, I'll probably (and have) walked right past him, not realizing it. 

**The Wells brothers are both writers, and they're both excellent writers. Go buy their books by clicking their names above. You'll thank me later, so you're welcome.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Why Suomi 100 Means So Much to Me

(TL;DR: scroll to the end to snag Song Breaker for free. Today only.)

One hundred years ago, on December 6, 1917, Finland declared independence from Russia.

For centuries before that, going back at least to the twelfth century, the Finnish people were governed by other nations.

Finns had their own language, culture, and identity. They even had their own mythology, one that in many respects is similar to Norse mythology, but is truly its own.

Those stories, passed along through the oral tradition, as was the Iliad and other folk hero stories through the ages, were collected and published as the Kalevala, a book that has influenced modern culture and literature in ways most people don't realize, from inspiring Longfellow's Hiawatha to several of Tolkien's languages and the wizard Gandalf himself.

Finland is very much like Scandinavia in culture, climate, state religion, and many other respects, yet a lot of people don't consider it part of Scandinavia, instead referring to it as a "Nordic" country. (Never mind that the other Nordic countries are all considered to be Scandinavia.)

A big reason for that is likely the distinct language, which is part of a teeny tiny linguistic group, the Finno-Urgric languages, which is basically made up of Finnish, a few small ones like Estonian, and Hungarian.

But there's more to Finland that makes it unique and special and deserving of independence.

The Finnish people have endured things that most of us can't imagine. They've fought Russia multiple times (sometimes when it was part of the great Soviet Union).

The most recent was during World War II, when Stalin decided to invade Finland, using as his excuse the need to have more land between Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) and Hitler. In reality, he wanted more land for his empire.

Soviet forces crossed the border on November 30, 1939 in what Stalin believed would be a few days of minor skirmishes, a week at most, until the mighty Soviet army got the tiny Finnish one to surrender. Indeed, more Soviet troops crossed the border on the first day of the war than the Finnish army had total.

But the Finns would not be dissuaded. The United States, United Kingdom, and many other Allies promised help. The Finns hung on using brilliant tactics born of necessity, waiting for help that never arrived.

On March 13, 1940, when a ceasefire was finally in effect, Stalin made the Finns pay for making him a fool on the world's stage by putting heavy reparations on them and taking some of their land.

But Finland remained free.

And during the course of the Soviet Union's rein, Finland was the only country bordering Russia to never fall to Soviet or Communist rule.

Finns have a word that describes a national characteristic, one that has no good English equivalent.

The word is SISU, pronounced SEE-soo, and the best descriptions I've seen blend courage, guts, endurance, determination, stubbornness, and more.

The best approximation I've found in GRIT.

Whatever you call it, SISU is why the Finnish people finally, after centuries, finally got to have their own homeland and finally got to govern themselves.

SISU is what has kept them free.

I'm half Finnish. I've lived there. I've learned the language. Finland is my second home.

And I attribute much of who I am, and the things I've accomplished, to inheriting a bit of Finnish Sisu.

Today I celebrate 100 years of Finnish independence by putting candles in my windows and flying the Finnish flag.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Happy 143rd, Maud!

On this day 143 years ago, Lucy Maud Montgomery was born.

She was (and is) best-known for Anne of Green Gables, but she wrote so much more: hundreds of short stories and poems and dozens of books.

A few bits of trivia regarding the Anne books: 

Note that the last two (Windy Poplars and Anne of Ingleside) are the ones that are out of order. When readers clamored for more, she wrote those two in natural gaps in the timeline.

But that's why, after reading the emotional and romantic Anne of Island, reading Windy Poplars next is a total let-down. Her fans didn't read them in that order. She just found a 3-year gap during Anne and Gilbert's engagement that she could come up with more material for.

After House of Dreams, which is about Anne and Gilbert's early married years, she skipped ahead to when they have a bunch of kids (Rainbow Valley).

She followed that up with Rilla, which is about Anne's youngest child as a teen during World War I.

RANT: Don't both watching the supposed Anne movie set during WWI. It literally has nothing to do with anything LMM ever wrote and violates the timeline by jumping ahead almost 20 years. Remember, Anne's youngest child (she has six, after one stillborn) was a teen during the Great War. Anne wasn't childless chasing after Gilbert in Europe. Someone had a story, slapped on familiar character names, and figured it would make money. GRRRR.

I've written about her several times at the posts linked to below. 


Friday, November 24, 2017

Black Friday Flash Sale!

This volume is a collection of (PG-rated!) contemporary romances, all with a Christmas theme, from bestselling and SIX award-winning authors: 
  • Cindy Roland Anderson
  • Annette Lyon
  • Julie Coulter Bellon
  • Sarah M. Eden
  • Heather B. Moore
  • Jennifer Griffith


Saturday, April 01, 2017

Coming Soon: Firsts and Lasts

UPDATE: Firsts and Lasts is now live as an e-book, and as a short, booklet-sized paperback that's perfect for gifts.

For the e-book of Firsts and Lasts, click here.
For the paperback of Firsts and Lasts, click here.

Also, watch for the audio, coming soon!

⸺ ⸺ ⸺ ⸺ ⸺ ⸺

I've got several things coming down the pike over the next few months, and I'm excited to share them all with my readers!

I'll be announcing more soon through my newsletter (subscribe at the tab above!). For today, as promised, here is the cover for the the novella that will be out later this week. 

Firsts and Lasts

Dani has failed in her dreams to catch a break as a dancer in New York, but before she heads home to the Midwest, she decides to visit the places still on her to-see list. Then she meets Mark, another transplant to the Big Apple with big dreams of his own. Except Mark hasn’t given up on his. As they spend the day together, Dani realizes that even though she hasn’t hit the big time, she may be able to live her dreams after all. Only one problem: she's broke and has a one-way ticket home.

Get your copy HERE

~ ~ ~

Firsts and Lasts first appeared a couple of years ago in the Timeless Romance Anthology: Summer in New York Collection

Now readers will be able to get the story as a standalone for only 99 cents.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Story Grid: Shawn Doesn't Know Youth Fiction

I've heard a lot about Shawn Coyne and  The Story Grid over the last year or so, and I've been aware of Shawn for longer thanks to his occasional appearances on Steven Pressfield's blog and their collaborations. I watched the video series where Shawn goes through Silence of the Lambs and uses it to explain the Story Grid. Impressive stuff all.

So when I finally got around to listening to The Story Grid podcast, I expected great things. And it really is a great podcast, particularly for newer writers who don't know the craft or the business and who are trying to find their writing legs in the first place.

But (you could hear that coming, right?) a couple of things Shawn insists on are flat-out wrong. Not about editing or story structure in and of themselves. The problem is that he's trying to teach someone to write youth fiction when he has zero experience in the youth fiction market. In fact, he took Tim's idea for a story and practically shoved it into being middle-grade.

Shawn has a ton of experience in thriller, suspense, mystery, and nonfiction. And you can tell. Much of what he knows can be applied to a ton of stories and genres. I listened to over a year's worth of weekly episodes in just over a month, and when I reached the point where Shawn's giving advice on the supposed youth fiction genre, I found myself yelling at Shawn in my car because he was getting some things wrong.

That's where this post came from. I'll probably do other posts about some other beefs I have, but let's start with this one:

How Shawn Coyne Is Wrong about Youth Fiction

This may seem odd coming from a professed women's fiction and romance writer, and at first glance, you might think I'm utterly unqualified to talk about youth fiction.

You'd be wrong.

Here's the deal: I live in the youth fiction capital of the planet. Seriously. Some of the biggest youth fiction authors of our time live near enough to me that we could do lunch. (And in many cases, we have!) We attend the same conferences, rub shoulders at other events, and more. I call many of them friends.

To make my point, below are a few of the bigger names of local writers. I could have gone on and on with other youth fiction writers I'm friends with who aren't quite as big as these ones (all but a couple of these are New York Times bestsellers, for starters), but the list isn't the point of this post:
  • James Dashner (The first chapters of The Maze Runner were read at a critique meeting around my kitchen table. We first met at a book signing in 2004.)
  • Jessica Day George (We've hung out in hotel rooms at conferences late into the night. I've dropped by her house and chatted for hours. We started a Scandinavian book club. She's a ginger, just like my three daughters, so she automatically rocks.)
  • Ally Condie (We shared a book signing, and a few years later were later on the same panel at a conference. Love her.)
  • Shannon Hale (I spoke at a conference she arranged.)
  • Brandon Sanderson (I got to be part of the anthology he edited and published to raise money for a family in need. We have tons of mutual friends, and we live minutes apart. Pretty sure he knows who I am but probably wouldn't consider me a friend.) (He's one of the massive superstars who doesn't primarily write youth fiction. He's an epic fantasy novelist, but yes, he does have some middle-grade fiction too.)
  • Chad Morris (He's won national awards for middle-grade science fiction. We've been part of the same events. And oh, I edited his first book.)
  • Dan Wells and Robison Wells (Brothers who are successful writers, and they're both friends.)
  • Sara B. Larson (We've been at the same write-ins late at night at a mutual friend's house and other writing events, including a big launch, where we both performed.)
  • Jennifer A. Nielsen (We've taught back-to-back at workshops and been part of the same promotional events. One of the sweetest people.)
  • Brandon Mull (We've been at many of the same events, even sitting at the same table at an awards gala, but he never remembers who I am. That's fine. I can go hang out with Jessica and talk about Vikings!)
Many theories float around as to why the Wasatch Front in Utah has such a huge concentration of rock-star-level youth fiction writers. I'm sure a big part of it is the fact that Utah has a lot of Mormons, Mormons have a lot of children, and Mormons read TO their children a lot. Ergo, many parents (and therefore prospective writers) here are more exposed to youth fiction than anywhere else.

The writing community here is also massive, with conferences and organizations everywhere. And writing community has become very much focused on youth fiction and speculative fiction (meaning science fiction, fantasy, etc.), to the point that if you don't write youth fiction, then you'd better write spec, or you aren't really part of the "in" club. (See Sanderson, above.)

I've lived and breathed so much about the youth fiction market from picture books to early chapter books to middle grade to young adult that I know a lot more than others in the industry. I've seen friends snag big-name agents. I've seen them sell. I've seen them not sell. I've celebrated with them at launch parties. I've heard them teach at conferences. I've heard them discuss issues about their market on panels.

And on and on and on.

Hopefully you see what I mean. I am surrounded by youth fiction on all sides, to the point that it's easy to feel like the weirdo who writes for grown-ups.

OKAY. All of that said, here's the biggest thing Shawn doesn't get:


That may not seem like a big deal to someone who isn't deep in the industry, but trust me; it's a huge distinction.

A genre refers to the type of story you're telling. Here are a couple of massively oversimplified descriptions two common genres:
  • Romance: A couple gets together, falls apart, and somehow get back together. 
  • Mystery: A detective (or some other individual, such as a PI, journalist, or doctor) solves a murder, figures out who did it, and the bad guy gets captured.
Both of those genres have a lot more to them than that, but essentially, that's what those genres are about, right? Other genres include adventures, quests, thrillers, suspense, love stories (which differ from romance), and so forth.

One classic story type/genre is the coming-of-age story, where the main character's growth arc moves from innocence to maturity, to having their eyes opened to the realities of life. That often means realizing that not everyone is good or trustworthy, having to grow up faster than expected, and so on, so they become a bit jaded.

Coming-of-age is a legitimate genre. Absolutely. Many classics fall into this category, including Great Expectations, Catcher in the Rye, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and more. 

Now, notice that the books I just listed were never intended to be read by ten-year-olds. In fact, many high schools today still require parent permission for a student to read Rye because of content and profanity concerns. I'm quite sure that J. D. Salinger didn't imagine his audience as a bunch of 16-year-olds. 

Yet Shawn says that any story with a young protagonist must, by its very nature, have a coming-of-age story as its global genre. 


Plenty of youth fiction has nothing do with coming-of-age as the core arc. Some level of growing up and losing innocence might happen along the way (as, frankly, happens in almost any novel, even for adults). 

But I can guarantee that developing a coming-of-age arc was the thing farthest from James Dashner's mind when he wrote The Maze Runner. I've talked to him about how he wrote the book and what his inspiration was. His focus was on making the coolest, most exciting story he could come up with. 

He wrote a thriller. 

Any other story type that happened to show up is secondary (it can arguably be called dystopian). Or tirtiary (science fiction, maybe). Or even farther down the list.

If you go by Shawn's statements, then all publishers of youth fiction put out one coming-of-age story after another, and that's all they do. The books may look a little different, but at their core, ALL of their books are coming-of-age stories. Again, if you go by Shawn's definition.

But that's not true at all. Remember, youth fiction is a MARKET, not a genre. 

Market vs. Genre

Plenty of publishers specialize in a specific genre. Harlequin is probably the best-known romance publisher, for example. No matter the content (language, amount of sex, etc.), no matter the age of the protagonists, all of their books are romances. They have specific imprints for various types of romance, but the publisher is, at its core, a publisher of the romance genre.

Similarly, St. Martin's Press is one of the most famous publishers of mysteries. 

Both of those publishers serve the adult MARKET while publishing in a specific GENRE. 

Youth fiction is the same in that it specializes in a variety of genres for a youth audience, or market

They know what younger readers enjoy reading. They know how to sell to those readers (and to their parents, who are often the ones buying the books). 

Within a youth publisher, specific imprints (and even more often, specific editors) focus on different GENRES. One may focus on science fiction (such as Dan Wells' Bluescreen), while others focus fantasy (including popular fairy tale re-tellings, like Jessica Day George's Princess of the Midnight Ball), and still others are currently booming with the resurgence of contemporary youth fiction, like Amy Finnegan's Not in the Script.

Youth Readers Read UP

Industry experts know that kids read UP in age, meaning that a 12-year-old doesn't want to read stories about a fellow 12-year-old. They'd prefer to read about characters who are older, say 14 or so. Kids wants to be older, more grown up, and reading puts readers into a position of putting on the persona of the main character. Kids don't want to escape into their same situation. They want to experience being older vicariously.

So middle-grade books tend to have main characters who are a bit older than the target readership of 9 to 12 years. 

Likewise, a 14-year-old protagonist won't appeal to 14-year-old readers, who are instead looking for stories about 16- or 17-year-old characters. So novels targeted at the YA market tend to be about older high schoolers, even though the majority of kids reading them are finishing junior high or just starting high school.

I can confirm this after watching my own kids reading. My four children range from age 14 to 21. I've been watching them read, reading to them, and tracking youth fiction trends along with my colleagues for a LONG time. Frankly, about as long as Shawn's been an editor, I've been a writer. And did I mention I'm also an editor with about 15 years of experience? Yeah.

Trends in Youth Fiction

Industry trends are incredibly influential. Insiders know that the stuff flying off shelves now is not what will be flying off shelves two years from now. In fact, youth publishers in New York have already pegged the next big thing, and alas, dystopian fiction has already had its heyday. 

For a few years now, I've been hearing many agents (and editors) say as much, that no matter how good the story is, they just can't sell a dystopian because that ship has sailed. (That ship may also return at some point; trends often resurface eventually. But for the moment, any dystopian attempt will be dead in the water.)

Other trends: Five years ago, contemporary youth fiction was almost nonexistent. Now it's flourishing. Middle-grade fiction has exploded too. The effects are clear in the Whitney Awards, where I've been a committee member several times and recently served as president: contemporary YA used to be a very small category, but it's been growing bigger every year, and so has middle-grade. YA spec is still huge, but it's not quite as big as it used to be.

Note that the Whitney Awards are split into two market segments (adult fiction and youth fiction), which are then split into eight genre categories (five for adult fiction and three for youth fiction). Market and genre are not the same thing.

If I had to peg the coming-of-age global genre, I'd probably put it into the adult market, where it shows up primarily in literary, upmarket, and book-club titles. Not usually ones aimed at youth.

Targeting Your Audience

It should go without saying that industry insiders are very aware that adults also read youth fiction, but that's a relatively new phenomenon, and it's almost entirely thanks to the crossover readership of Harry Potter, which was then followed by the crossover readership of Twilight, and then The Hunger Games.

But the point stands: 

***Adults are not the primary audience of youth fiction.*** 

Just as Shawn wisely told Tim to remember that more than half of adult readers are women, he should also remember the demographics of who primarily reads youth fiction.

That would be YOUTH. 

And remember how young readers read UP in age? 

Let's talk about the book Tim's writing that Shawn is mentoring him with. The 12-year-old protagonist is simply too young for teen readers to care about. She's too young even for many middle-grade readers. The typical age of a reader picking up a book with a twelve-year-old protagonist will be around ten. 

Content is another big issue here. Tim's story so far (based on the discussion on the podcast; I haven't read any of it) is far too mature for a kid that age. It's a way cool story but NOT something kids who are ten or so will enjoy, fully understand, or appreciate. Yet that's the age he's writing to by picking a twelve-year-old protagonist.

That's aside from whether the story would be appropriate for that age, which I can guarantee it won't be. Tim's said outright that he wants to write the kind of book he enjoys reading (wise decision, of course!), and that includes having pretty intense violence, gore, swearing, etc. All well and good, but NOT in a middle-grade novel, which is the kind of book tucked into students' backpacks on book orders.

The age the publisher decides to market the book toward determines the content that can be in the book. 

One of my rock-star writer friends (listed above, but I won't name them directly) had their first book deemed MG instead of YA by the publisher, and therefore some content had to be changed. Nothing like violence, language, or gore, however. Oh, no. The author had to remove references to alcohol and a buxom woman's chest because those things don't belong in a MG book, only in a YA. I'm not kidding.

Other things that make a book YA: if a character faces a possible marriage situation, it's automatically YA. I've had this told to me directly by agents. It often applies to stories like fairy tales, where a marriage on the horizon is very common. Graphic violence automatically makes a book YA rather than MG. So does language. So does romance of any kind beyond maybe a boy or girl having a tiny minor beginning of a crush in a MG book. Any actual kissing (or more), and it's not MG.

The Harry Potter series began as MG. The fact that he was only eleven in the first book could very well be a big reason why it was rejected out of hand by many publishers at first. (And no, don't think you're the Rowling exception to the rule.) 

As Harry aged, so did the thematic content, moving the series from MG into YA territory. The Dumbledore we see in book one, making silly puns on the first gathering at Hogwarts, isn't the same strong, serious wizard battling evil that we see in the later books.

Kids Want Many Genres

Then there's the very obvious fact that kids and teens don't want to read coming-of-age stories and nothing else. They want thrillers, adventures, mysteries, and (for YA readers) romance. Occasionally, a book may have a coming-of-age theme in the background, but most youth fiction doesn't. 


And that's because youth fiction isn't a genre. It's a market.

Publishers of youth fiction aren't filling their lines with one type of story. Their readers would get ridiculously sick and tired of it if that were the case. That would be like every publisher of adult fiction putting out one genre only.

(I mentioned the idea of all YA books being coming-of-age stories to my 14-year-old, and she about gagged.)

Industry Shifts in the Definition of YA and MG

The way the industry views and defines youth fiction has changed dramatically over the last twenty or thirty years. There was a time when a young protagonist could show up in a book intended for adults, and no one thought anything of it. Case in point: Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card. 

Fast forward to today, in a post-Harry, post-Bella, post-Katniss publishing world, and publishers eager to buy and market youth fiction now see any story with a younger cast as automatically being youth fiction. 

One of my closest friends has several good friends of her own who work at the top of New York publishing. When she asked for suggestions on who to submit her adult paranormal thriller to, they all shrugged and gave her the bad news: even though her novel wasn't written for teenagers, the main characters were older teens, and in the current publishing climate, the book would automatically be seen as a YA title. 

Yet it read like an adult book. Which it was. Except for the ages of the main characters. 

Rock. Hard place.

The pendulum will likely swing the other direction at some point, but for now, here's the prevailing belief: 
  • Young characters = youth fiction
  • The dystopian ship has sailed (So sorry, Tim!) 
  • The only place you'll find a twelve-year-old protagonist is in middle-grade fiction (Not gonna work, Tim.)
  • Middle-grade fiction cannot have intense violence (Sorry again!)
  • Middle-grade fiction needs a protagonist who is older than the target audience (Twelve is just too young . . .)
If Tim were writing his story in the mid-80s, right around the time Ender's Game came out, it would be a totally different situation. 

As I'm sure you know, Ender's Game is not intended for eight-year-old readers, even if Ender is a little kid for a good chunk of the book. He's what, only six or so when it opens? By today's industry standards, that would make Ender's Game an early reader book for kindergartners. 

Yeah, no.

Differences in Markets by Country

An interesting thing to note is that the industry shift in viewing age as defining the market is largely an American one. Take Dan Wells' I Am Not a Serial Killer series. It's horror, and the protagonist is sixteen. But it's not intended to be a kids' book. 

See the challenge? 


In the U.S. it's largely marketed as a YA series.

But in the UK and elsewhere, it's marketed as an adult novel, which Dan always intended it to be. No surprise, it sells like hotcakes in markets outside the U.S. For whatever reason, American publishers and readers have a narrower view of what youth fiction is.

I'd still caution Tim away from having a twelve-year-old protagonist even if he's counting on international markets to eat up the story as one intended for adults. Dan Wells wouldn't have had his sociopathic protagonist, John, be as young as twelve. That wouldn't have worked even outside the U.S.

Why? A character on the cusp of adulthood is much easier to sell to a broader scope of readers. That's one of several reasons why Twilight and The Hunger Games had such a big crossover readership. Remember that Harry Potter didn't explode in crossover readership until the the fourth book, when Harry was fifteen and closer to adulthood.

(Side note: Contrary to what Shawn said in one episode of the podcast, Twilight isn't horror. It's YA paranormal romance.)

All of this supports the main point of this whole post, which I'll repeat: 

Youth fiction is a market, not a genre.

So What's My  Advice for Tim?

In Tim's shoes, I'd age the protagonist so she's more of a Katniss figure in her upper teens. Or make her an adult and have the story be a full-blown adult novel as he originally imagined.

That would make the most sense, seeing as Tim is clearly more familiar with the adult market anyway, and Shawn is completely unfamiliar with the youth market. I think Shawn would do a better job mentoring Tim's project as an adult book. 

Tim may well be self-publishing this novel when it's ready. If so, he won't need an agent or a New York editor currently working in the youth fiction market, so some of the industry expectations won't necessarily apply. 

Except that reader expectations have largely formed industry expectations, and that will make marketing and selling the book trickier if we have a twelve-year-old main character in an adult-themed book. And in the self-publishing e-book world, adults do most of the buying. Kids don't have as many e-readers (yet), so selling youth fiction in e-book format is harder than adult fiction.

In addition, readers tire of trends, and currently, they're dystopian-ed out. I'd suggest that Tim make sure the story feels more futuristic so it reads like science fiction rather than dystopian.

Most of all, I'd insist he learn that youth fiction with a primary/global genre of coming-of-age is in the minority. Youth fiction readers expect so much more than coming-of-age stories. I'd tell him to read lots of speculative youth fiction to get a feel for what's out there and especially what's new in the market so he's aware of what the current trends are. Heck, I could suggest a bunch.

I can guarantee that if you do read a lot of youth speculative fiction, you won't find a ton of global coming-of-age stories. Look for the other GENRES within the youth fiction MARKET!

(Am I beating a dead horse yet?)

More Advice for Tim: Content Issues

Readers of youth fiction (and their parents) expect a certain kind of content to NOT be in youth fiction. On one hand, YA has more flexibility on content than the younger markets. You'll find YA novels dealing with sex, drugs, and many other more mature issues, and YA books can also have some language, etc. Middle-grade, though, is still pretty conservative, and a twelve-year-old protagonist screams MG or even early chapter reader. Not YA or adult. 

A book with content not in line with a MG market will be really tough to sell to readers who typically pick up a book with that age of a protagonist. And older readers probably won't pick it up because they'll think it's a little kid book. That is, unless the marketing power of the podcast gets an adult readership behind him from the get go, which I suppose is possible. But in his shoes, I wouldn't bank on it.

Why Tim Should Listen to Me
I've laid out some strong opinions and beliefs about youth fiction from a women's fiction and romance writer who happens to be intimately connected with a ton of youth fiction industry insiders. Not just writers, either. Did I mention I know several editors of youth fiction and agents who rep it? And that I've edited many novels of youth fiction? I've also read more youth fiction than most fellow middle-aged people, and I've been in the writing industry for twenty-two years.

And I've been an editor for about for about half that time. 

Oh, and here's a fun post with Dan Wells and James Dashner from a little over a year ago. Because they're hilarious and awesome. 

(And because in case you're wondering, yes, I really do know them both personally.) 

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