Why have YA writers discovered enough courage to say something? | Mark Lawson

Publishers are well known for being terrified of new genres. Maybe this is because new genres are always well-funded in the start, and rarely fail. But the negative stories about professional writers, examples from…

Why have YA writers discovered enough courage to say something? | Mark Lawson

Publishers are well known for being terrified of new genres. Maybe this is because new genres are always well-funded in the start, and rarely fail. But the negative stories about professional writers, examples from other types of media and inside the book world about people writing things that hit a certain a niche are never, ever enough to terrify the casual reader, who does not read newspapers or magazines so they cannot describe what it means to have tens of thousands of letters to the editor denouncing an author as one of the absolute biggest Führers since Wolff-Petersen became Siegfried’s butcher shop. They will not believe that the genre of movie adaptation and series dramas is a remotely plausible possibility for a publisher.

When the book industry exists, it is able to be the pioneer of change

Since 2000, most novelists have become assistants to executives to meet that daunting publishing deadline. Recently, it has become fairly common for a significant chunk of the 100 or so new novels published each year to be written by young people for young people. “Young adult fiction” is a word that sounds vague and uplifting, or at least friendly and soothing. Adulthood works this way, too. It offers undistorted beauty and opportunity. When the book industry exists, it is able to be the pioneer of change. It gets money for many people to dream about publishing books, and people’s minds are receptive to things that are new and exciting. But when the publishing industry has too much to think about, everybody wants to change the subject. When it has too much to say, everybody runs away from saying something challenging. And when it seems like there are too many possibilities, everybody tries to cram them into one book.

More than that, though, the situation has been shaken to its foundations by being overtaken by cat videos on YouTube. When, in the past, publishers could hold off that inevitable future by working on a new intellectual property until that genre became overly flammable, nobody could worry about how many authors were signing up because of the improbability of it ever being turned into a TV series. It was great fun watching it through my fingers, you know, because that’s what has made the job of being a writer worthwhile.

Now, though, teenagers have a stronger right to complain because, for the first time, they are trying to make a living writing stories – jobs as ordinary as any other for a teenager. Lately, they’ve had the better part of a quarter of their income taken from them because they need the money in order to live. This is their right to have their creative work monetised. I don’t need to be rich and famous to write. This will always be my right, to write. Just as long as I can manage to cover my rent and my bills and my heating bills, I will continue to do what makes me happy.

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