Monday, March 25, 2013

Do We Really Need To Rebrand Books?

In MIND MELD: Rebranding Fiction as Young Adult  (SF Signal back in January) a number of writers give their suggestions for adult titles that could be rebranded as YA.

I think some of these people may not have a very good understanding of what YA is. There's lots of talk about things like "suitability," suggesting the people making the suggestions don't read much fiction for teenagers. "Suitability" of material and language is far less a concern in YA than that the book's themes, situations, and characters relate to YA experience. If raw language and ugly events relate to said themes, situations, and characters, than they are suitable for YA.

Additionally, I wonder if it is necessary to actually rebrand a book for a YA audience with a new cover and marketing campaign. Once you do that, the book shifts to YA, and while you pick up YA readers, you're going to lose adults. How many people believe that Ender's Game is a YA or even children's book, for instance? How many people believe that To Kill a Mockingbird is a YA book, in large part because it's taught in secondary schools?  In spite of all the talk about adults reading YA, many older people won't pick up a book they think is for kids.

And does labeling something as YA really make it YA? Julius Caesar is often taught in high schools. Has that become YA? Should some put a YA cover on it? Years ago I saw both Grendel by John Gardiner and The Awakening by Kate Chopin in the YA section of bookstores. Is there any kind of rebranding that could possibly make either of those books (particularly The Awakening) YA?

Maybe the adult world should simply be directing these adult books, just as they are, toward YA readers, which will then be helping them make the move to adult books, rather than telling them they should read them because "Look! We changed our minds! It's YA!  See? It has a YA cover!" One of my fondest early teen memories involves my Uncle Mickey's trunk. He was the only person in my immediate family to have been to college (He married into the family, obviously; he wasn't actually a Gauthier.), and his trunk was filled with paperback books. He handed me a couple of volumes of Ray Bradbury short stories one day. I did, indeed, read them.

This young person, at least, experienced a thrill moving on to adult books. I had a sense that I was doing something very different by reading these things. Okay, maybe that was in part due to the fact that Uncle Mickey had been to college, as I said, while my own father hadn't finished eighth grade. In my early adolescence, I may have been attracted to anything that my own parent was not. But, still, imagine being handed Ray Bradbury short stories with a YA cover. Wouldn't the magic go up in smoke?


Unknown said...

I really hate it when people who don't read YA or know much about it decide that they need to get involved. I don't necessarily mean the authors who responded; some of them gave good answers. But just asking the question in the first place shows a lack of understanding.

Gail Gauthier said...

Attitudes about YA are interesting. I think that in the past, it didn't get a lot of respect, certainly not from adult readers I've known. But then the YA bandwagon came roaring in, and now even if people don't necessarily want to jump on it, they can find themselves suddenly expected to know enough to run along side. (To extend that metaphor.)

It's almost as if we were all young adults once, so doesn't that make us all knowledgeable enough about YA to answer a question on the subject?