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.
Eep!! Thanks Jen. I am thrilled that you enjoyed the book – and that it stayed with you. And thank you for hosting a leg of the tour.
When I set out to write a novel, my original goal was to appeal to “smarter teens”. What I had found was I wrote a novel targeting gifted teens and that there was a sharp dividing line between “gifted teens” and “smart teens”. The early readings of the novel was a real eye opener. Gifted teens really desire many of the traditional publishing conventions to be broken. They want a story where the back story of the characters are well developed, where how the character think is revealed, lots of threads (they can keep them all straight easily). Rapid shifts in time, points of view,….no problem. When I tried testing nongifted teens, they cared what clothes the characters wore (because that is how they knew who they where as a person). Did they say catchy things? Were they “cool”. It is a very different reader audience. I came to the conclusion fast that I had to write to one or the other audience. Maybe a more skillful writer could find a way to span the gap. But I sure couldn’t.
Really nice and interesting post !
Never read teen fiction books when I was a teen. I was in history’s books or adult fiction books…when not trying to catch the so elusive teen girls 😉
Christine, write good books and the readers will follow…young or old.
I didn’t read YA books as a teen either (except some “romances” I’ll never admit to), but I can’t resist a book question. I’m not sure which books might qualify, but I did read Madeleine L’Engle YA novels as an adult, along with Anne McCaffrey’s Harper Hall Trilogy.
Thanks for the great guest post! I am interested to hear about someone taking this group into consideration when writing. My son, who is 10, is an avid (and early)reader and is looking to find some novels (how I hate the term ‘chapter book’) that are appropriate for kids and at the same time challenging to his reading level.
I read (and still do read) voraciously. When I was younger mostly classics as they had the depth I was looking for. When I was ten I read Tolkien and remember distinctly the comments that adults made about me reading such big books. I did not understand why it was a big deal. I loved those books for the imagery. I could picture everything that happened.
My son really liked Harry Potter when he was in grade one-I think he was the only one dressed as Harry that Halloween at school (k-4) who had read all the books. The Inheritance Trilogy by Christopher Paolini is his current favourite. (Did you know he was fifteen when he started writing those books? And homeschooled!)
I must add that I loved Susan Cooper, though I don’t remember exactly why.
My husband turned me on to Tamora Pierce. As an adult, I really like her Alanna series, but there is some sexuality in there that makes me question giving it to preteens that might otherwise enjoy it. When I give books, I give her Circle of Magic series, which is just as magical as it sounds, and empowering, too. Kids with issues, and foibles, and STRENGTH that they just need to be told they are free to use.
I read LOTR fan, Narnia… well I forced my self through it. And loved Shakespere. Also read the Odyssey several times (as well as other myths from various cultures).
Now that I am grown, and have very special children of my own…. I read…. (I’m ashamed to admit….) Twilight.
Okay, okay. Before all the rotten tomatoes fly. It gives me a break. I can succumb to something ridiculous and NOT think about Autism, or 2e, or gifted, or anything. It’s something so absurd but my brain doesn’t have to work to read it… and my brain works too damn hard many days.
You guys are awesome! Some other great books for GT boys – Michael Grant’s series (GONE, PLAGUE, to name a few), Michael Scott’s series (Secrets of the immortal Nicholas Flammel, etc) –> these are fabulous and well suited for preteens and teens.
Well said. Editors guess as to what readers want and what will sell. More often than not, they don’t know. No one does. What matters is a strong story that people want to read. Many publishers lose sight of that in looking for the next big thing, in my opinion. And Dies Irae, as well as the entire Requiem series, is something I strongly feel people are really going to enjoy reading.
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