The Query Tracker Blog team recently opened the floor to questions pertaining to writing and the publishing industry. Since I’m a huge fan of edgy YA, I naturally jumped at the chance to answer those ones. (Okay, I screamed, “Mine, mine, mine,” at the computer, but what the hey!)
1. I have written a YA novel that doesn't stop at a kiss. I have noticed all the young adult novels people keep telling me to check out don't seem to go as far as mine. So my question is: do you know of a YA published novel that take the characters further than just a kiss and actually write about it?
My bookshelf’s exploding with YA novels that fit what you’re looking for. The question you have to decide is how far you want to take things. If you’re writing younger YA (readers 12-15 years), the kissing tends be tamer. French kissing falls into this category (just don’t get too graphic with it). In older YA (readers 14 years and older), anything can happen, within reason. Remember, you’re not writing erotica, and each imprint has different guidelines as to what’s allowed. You might write the scene one way, and your editor may ask you to change it to fit the guidelines.
If sex happens in the book, make sure it’s organic to the story. Don’t write it because you’re hoping it’ll skyrocket your novel onto the bestselling list. In the examples listed below, the protagonists had their reasons for taking the relationship further than a kiss. For some it was the right thing to do; for others it was a mistake. The great thing about YA is that we can show both sides. The first kiss isn’t always perfect, neither is the first sexual experience. When I was a teen, I devoured historical romances. Talk about setting me up for unrealistic expectations.
Here’re some suggested books to study so you can see the different ways authors deal with kissing and sex.
Forever by Judy Blume
Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler
The Duff by Kody Keplinger
Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles
Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr
Swoon by Nina Malkin
Handcuffs by Bethany Griffin
Forget You by Jennifer Echols
The Luxe by Anna Godbersen
Fade by Lisa McMann (sequel to Wake)
Shadow Kiss and Spirit Bound by Richelle Mead (these are books three and six of the Vampire Academy series)
2. My question is: is there a viable market for edgy YA fiction, and if so, why does it seem that most agents won't touch it?
First, what is edgy YA? It isn’t as easy to define like a romance or thriller. Nor is it considered a genre. Your novel might be YA paranormal, but it could have edgy elements to it (like sex, drugs, and swearing). These books deal with issues most relevant to teens, and are done with brutal honesty, which is why teens appreciate them. Wise editors know this. And like everything else in publishing, the term is highly subjective. What one person might consider edgy, another doesn’t.
Elements that might make a story edgy include drugs, abuse, sex, cutting, rape, bullying, etc. But remember, it’s not necessarily the issue that makes the book edgy, but the way it’s written. Ellen Hopkins, Jay Asher, Laurie Halse Anderson, Elizabeth Scott (Living Dead Girl), Courtney Summers (and some of the above authors) are just a few individuals who write edgy YA. Read their books. It’s the best way to understand the concept. And don’t worry. It’s still very much in demand.
Every agent has a preference as to what they want to represent. The trick is figuring out which ones are dying to receive your query. Check out the acknowledgment page of the edgy YA novels you enjoyed, read agent blogs and agency websites,
stalk follow agents on Twitter to find out what YA books they’re gushing about. And if this still doesn’t give you the answers you’re looking for, then query them anyway. What’s the worst they can say? No? Seriously, no one has ever died from receiving a rejection.
3. I have substituted euphemisms for four letter words in dialogue, when the four letter word would have been more accurate. I just don't know what is acceptable in YA.
Mary Kole has also blogged about this topic here and here. Basically, swearing is allowed in YA, especially since it adds to characterization. But make sure it’s organic to the character. In The Naughty List and So Many Boys, Suzanne Young’s protagonist doesn’t swear. She uses phrases like strawberry smoothie instead. A complete contrast to Break by Hannah Moskowitz. Her main character uses the f-word, but it feels right coming from him.
If you are going to include swearing, a few carefully placed swear words will take you much further than dousing your manuscript with them. Use too many and your reader will stop noticing them, and you’ll lose the effect you were going for.
Please let me know if you have any more questions regarding YA novels. Otherwise, make sure you read some of the above books. Consider them your homework assignment if you’re planning to write this genre. Trust me. It’s the best homework, ever.
Stina Lindenblatt writes contemporary and romantic suspense for young adults. In her spare time (LOL), she’s a photographer and blogging addict, and can be found hanging out on her blog, Seeing Creative.