Sex? Violence? YA readers & authors say, BRING IT ON!!!


The YA Twitter community was up in arms this morning, after the Wall Street Journal published an article entitled “Sex? Violence? An Author Tests the Boundaries of YA Fiction.”

The basic premise of the article is this: writer of article says he wanted to transition from writing adult fiction to YA, therefore he had to weed out the sex, violence and swear words to make it work. He stated that writing for teens would require a “softer touch,” but that no way would he write anything supernatural because it had “been done to death over the past few years, and too often [used] as an escape clause.”

He also then made a case for his own debut book, a self-published novel, as being okay for teens despite its “darker” material because he “wanted a story that a kid would read and want to know more about.”

There are SO many problems with this article, I don’t even know where to start. I wasn’t even going to post anything here on Novel Novice, though I did vent some of my frustrations to my friends on my private Facebook page. It was at the urging of a friend — and fellow NN staffer — that I did decide to post something here. Partly because this article still makes my blood boil, and partly because, well, people need to speak out against both the author of this article AND against the WSJ for deeming to publish it.

Let me start by trying to break down my issues with this piece:

1. The author of this piece has NEVER had a book published — not once — but talks about transitioning from writing for adults to writing for teens. He expresses a need to adjust his writing for YA, avoid things such as sex, swearing and violence. (Um, why? Does he thinks teens don’t do these things? They do. Anyone who has ever been a teenager can assure you, they do.)

This very notion endorses the misconception that one must “write down” to teens.

YA authors and readers are constantly fighting this sadly mistaken notion.

YA books are GOOD BOOKS. They are extremely well-written. And teens are not idiots. Any author who thinks they can “pander” to teen readers is fooling themselves. If anything, teens are harsher critics than adults — and good YA authors know it.

Also, there are PLENTY of fantastic YA books out there with sex, swearing and violence. And you don’t even necessarily need to look for “obscure” or “less popular” titles to find these.

Just look at Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows. Violence galore! And swearing? How about the best-line-ever from Mrs. Weasley, when she declares, “Not my daughter, you bitch!”

Even the last Twilight book has sex (okay, we don’t have explicit sex scenes — but the subject is prominently part of Breaking Dawn) and once again, plenty of violence. (Hellooooo, biting into the womb scene).

And the entire premise of The Hunger Games is based on violence — kids killing kids for televised entertainment!

And then there are the books that the media isn’t always blathering on about that have sex, violence & swearing — and are also still hugely popular with readers. Let’s look at any of Maggie Stiefvater’s books. Or how about Cassandra Clare, Holly Black, Meg Cabot and any other number of hugely successful YA authors. And I’m not even mentioning the scores of other outstanding YA books by lesser-known authors.

I could go on all day with the YA books I adore featuring sex, violence¬† & swearing, not to mention books about the supernatural, which — news flash! — may be prolific, but NOT overdone. I am constantly amazed, surprised and impressed by the originality in ALL YA fiction, including supernatural/paranormal.

2. As I mentioned before, the author of this article has never had a published book, and his upcoming “debut YA novel” is actually self-published. Which means either (a) no self-respecting publisher actually wanted to put it on the market in the first place, or (b) this guy was just too lazy or stupid to go through the traditional publishing route in the first place.

3. And this is my biggest qualm of all: What the HELL was the WSJ thinking when they published this sorely misguided article about YA books, written by an arrogant idiot who has NO IDEA what he’s talking about?!?!?!

There are plenty of smart,¬† intelligent YA writers out there who are eagerly defending their genre against critics who write off their work as “just for kids.” WSJ, why not approach someone with actual knowledge about the YA genre — someone who has clearly read YA and been legitimately published in both adult & YA fiction — write an article? Why this guy? Who did he sleep with at the WSJ to get this published?!

As fellow staffer Stephanie said, “By putting it [the article] in such a well-known publication, it does nothing but perpetuate the stereotype.”

This is just plain irresponsibility, and a major hit to WSJ’s credibility. Aren’t you supposed to be a leading newspaper in this country? WSJ, you give new meaning to the phrase “EPIC FAIL” with this article.

For the comments: Your turn to rant & rave — we just ask that you keep it PG-13 and fairly polite for public discussion.

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10 responses to “Sex? Violence? YA readers & authors say, BRING IT ON!!!

  1. (b) this guy was just too lazy or stupid to go through the traditional publishing route in the first place.

    Can I just raise a fuss about that. Going self pub doesn’t mean a writer is too stupid or lazy. Remember Amanda Hocking? She’s been stressing lately how tough self-publishing can be. I know you’re irked by the article but I think that was a harsh hit at self-pub that isn’t true.

    That said, yeah, that guy forgot what it was like being a teen. Teens aren’t idiots and I think instead of raising a stink over teens reading about sex, we use it as a way to educate without the risks of pregnancy or STDs.

    • You’re right — and there are some self-pubbed authors who do sometimes get published. BUT, still, he doesn’t have a good perspective on the subject having never previously been published in *either* adult or YA fiction.

    • Though it should also be noted that I was NOT making a blanket statement about self publishing, either. My comments were directed specifically towards this guy in particular!

  2. Well put Sara! I can’t believe that this article made it through editors eyes. Did they not think anyone would call this author out on his BS!

    I use to read so-called “adult” novels. I didn’t read my first MG/YA book until I bought the first Harry Potter book in the airport on the way home from my honeymoon when I was almost 26!!! I now, for the most part only read YA and MG. The authors in the genre are amazing and talented writer and storytellers. Anyone who thinks that YA authors have to “write down” need to actually read the genre before they should speak.

    AND as an aspiring YA author I understand the importance of loving/reading my genre. Clearly this person does not LOVE or READ the genre. So my question is why the ___ is he writing in this genre?

    Looking forward to other rants. Thanks for posting this article Sara.

    Natalie C. Markey

  3. Can’t remember where I read/heard this, but it is SO. TRUE. – “YA isn’t a genre, it’s a point of view.”

    There aren’t certain elements that don’t belong in a book, but there are elements that don’t belong to SPECIFIC CHARACTERS (who happen to be teens).

    Would Clary Fray be worried about menopause? No. Would Scarlet O’Hara be worried about getting a tattoo? No, because it’s not in their scope of reality at the moment, i.e., point of view.

  4. All I feel I have to say on this is conciser the source. Anymore the WSJ just panders to men in business suits. They’re all flaming idiots and they’re losing their place in the news world as actually being someone who understands what they’re talking about.

  5. Well said. The writer of that article obviously thinks teens are all about fluffiness and rainbows and never think about sex and never get in fights. (Sarcasm.)

  6. Just want to say thanks. You’re like YA’s knight in shining armour and unlike some, as an editor, I agree with the self pub thing. There’s credibility in the editorial process. It just makes things better. You don’t get that with self pub.

  7. Well said.

    I would also like to point out the fail on his part for insulting the audience he’s planning to write to. Understanding your audience… that’s kind of important when writing. Kind of.

  8. I agree, this is ridiculous! Great rant! I think once he does publish, there will be no, “Amanda Hocking” sucess for him, no, only people turning theie cheeks in disgust. Maybe he doesn’t realize it, but, he just insulted A LOT of people. HAHAHAHA, and he calls himself an author?!

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