I am so fortunate, and so grateful, to know Christine Fonseca. We met last year as she was promoting her two non-fiction books on gifted students, and I’m honored to call her a friend. (Full disclosure: I am one of the contributors to An Intense Life, Christine’s blog on all things gifted). She is also a gifted fiction writer, and her first two works hit the shelves (and e-readers) this winter and spring. The first, Dies Irae, is a novella available only as download, and is the focus of this blog tour. See the end for giveaway details for a download of the novella.
Today Christine is guest posting, and the topic is one that intrigues me: writing for gifted teens.
The Gifted Teen Reader
I want to thank Jen for participating in my blog tour for DIES IRAE. Jen has hosted many tours, as she and I have worked together with my nonfiction work. So it seemed only fitting that I write a post for her that relates my two loves—writing novels and gifted kids. In particular, I wanted to talk a little about what teen readers, especially GT teen readers really read.
This topic, and the need for honest conversations about this topic, is something that is near and dear to my heart. See, before I signed the series with Compass Press, I submitted to many, many small presses. And yes, it was rejected by the majority of them. Sometimes it was rejected for stylistic reasons, and sometimes content. Most of the time the rejections didn’t get to me; I mean, it is just part of the business. But, one rejection really upset me. It cited my characters as a reason for the rejection. In particular, the editor said that teen readers would/could never relate to a story with two supernatural beings as the main characters. The editor went on to say that at least one of the main characters had to be a human teen in order for teens to relate. The rejection letter also pointed out other “flaws”, suggesting things that would, in the editor’s opinion, significantly improve the storyline; things I felt were cliché and overdone in the current marketplace.
Wow! While I really appreciated the time the editor took to personally respond to a query and ten sample pages, as well as the nice email conversation that ensued, I will admit I was taken completely aback.
See, I work with teens all day, every day. And, as many of you know, I have a teen group that is my “focus” group when it comes to my fiction writing. I’ve talked this subject over with teens at length, and the opinions expressed to me did not match the information my teens had given me.
I had to stop and really process the feedback, trying to find out why there was such a disconnect. As I went through my thoughts on everything, I realized a few things:
- My teens are not necessarily representative of the majority of teens. They are all honor roll students, most of them identified as gifted.
- While they are not representative of the typical teen, they do represent a large percentage of the readers amongst teens.
- My stories are definitely geared to a cross-over audience.
- I truly believe the opinions of the editor represent the opinion of many houses.
- It is possible that many YA books DO NOT meet the “needs” of gifted teen readers.
Hmm…where to go from here? Well, when in doubt about things related to teen readers, I talk with my group. And what an enlightening conversation it was. Below is a brief summary of my teen group’s opinions on the types of books they like and don’t like.
- When asked what genre of book they read, the majority said they read adult mysteries and both adult and YA paranormal.
- When asked why, they said that many YA books are not “full” enough; there isn’t enough of a mystery to the mysteries, and the are not always as complex as they would like.
- When asked what, if anything, turns them off from the current YA trends, they listed the following things that will make them stop reading a book:
- Cliché love “mess”
- Predictable storyline – this is particularly true with the opening chapters.
- Cliché stereotypes in terms of the characters
- When asked to tell me their favorite YA books, they responded with this list:
- Across the Universe by Beth Revis – they loved the “science” and the premise of the series.
- Divergent by Veronica Roth – they loved the uniqueness of the storyline.
- Anything (mostly) by:
- Cassandra Clare
- Libba Bray
- Holly Black
All in all, my teen group (and the 20 or so other teens I talked to) all disagreed with the opinions shared with me by the editor regarding what teen readers like. They unanimously felt that they are often underestimated with regards to what types of story complexities they can relate to.
My take away from this—don’t assume because many YA readers are teens that you must “dumb” down content. Nothing is farther from the truth. Make it complex, make it original, make it experimental…if it is a good story, there will likely be a reader for it.
What do you think?
Christine has graciously offered a download of Dies Irae as a giveaway. So here’s what you need to do. Comment below with the title of your favorite Young Adult book, either growing up or now, and most importantly, why it was your favorite. I will randomly pick a winner on Sunday night (well, I’ll write out names and con a kid or the dog to pick a winner). Christine, thank you for your post, and for this novella that I couldn’t get out of my head for days.