Wednesday, June 19, 2013

YA and Taboos

I've got a YA fantasy thriller knocking around out there and have pulled in about 12 publisher rejections. Yet, I've also yanked in four offers, but declined them all. I'm just looking for a better deal. I'm fairly new to the YA category (two years) and something just struck me last week after another rejection. This rejection pointed out that my manuscript was unsuitable because it contained pot, underage alcohol consumption, some dated slang and a stereotypical American Indian character. I was only interested in trying to decipher the reason for the pot and alcohol comments (actually had two different editors remark about this). I've got a 16, 18, 19 and 20 year-old cast. Now if these were Christian publishers I could well understand it. They were not, nor did they stipulate that such behavior would not be tolerated anywhere in their YA guidelines or mission statement.

I just couldn't understand it at all. The pot scene involves a blunt being passed around and they all take a couple of swigs of liquor from a flask. The scene is tiny and disappears in a flash, never to be repeated again. Now, as far as reality goes, this type of behavior was part of my teenage years and just about included everyone else around me. I don't think it's gone the way of the dodo today and might even be a bit more prevalent. I was just very surprised because it was highlighted in the rejections. It's seems that all the other Rs, and even the offers, paid no mind to it at all, or I certainly would have heard about it in some fashion. I'm all for more moral turpitude but I'm crafting realistic fiction here with some real teenagers who are not dyed in the wool, church-going WASPs. I could understand plenty of this type of consumption in urban or ghetto fiction--it's part of the whole essence.

So here's my question to you--was I really out of line in exploring these taboos? Are some publishers apt to run with these types of scenes without it bothering them? Is this an editorial preference and variable to the specific publishing house? It seems to me that many publishers will run with it and others are dead set against it.

I guess the way to interpret a publisher's moral stance is to read a few of their books in this category and genre and see what goes. I just haven't had the time to read all those books since I'm watching my wallet lately. I suppose one could read the mission statement of the publisher or even the tone of the book blurbs to get a hint. 

Anyway--short blog post here. You're welcome to chime in on this one and let this old bird know wass up with this type of subject matter. 

In a remote compound in Wyoming a geneticist created the first female human-wolf hybrid and adopted her as his daughter. When Melina Salinger discovers who and what she really is she escapes her father's domain and sets out into the wilderness—any other life would be better than the one that was forced upon her.

Seth Anson, a ranger stationed at the Wheeler Ridge watchtower, is trying to get over a bitter divorce—working in the majestic Shoshone forest is the only way he knows how to get on with his life. Consequently, he is unprepared for the strange and mysterious woman he accidentally shoots and then must nurse back to health. As Seth and Melina form a close bond that leads to something deeper—they have no idea that the geneticist’s other creation—the result of a DNA cloning experiment gone horribly wrong—is bent on finding Melina and committing a monstrous act.


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  2. Well, remember you are dealing with individuals representing the publishers and everyone has their own ideas of what's kosher. As a writer and a parent, I don't think the subject matter is out of line, especially if it's just one scene.

    Is this scene necessary to the plot line? If the manuscript reads just as well without it, I'd consider cutting it...especially since more than one rejection commented on it.

    I've read lots of YA books and there is underage drinking in some of them, drugs as well but not as prevalent.

    You're not the only one confused by editor comments. I received two rejections with invitation to revise and resubmit from different publishers. One commented that the voice in my YA fantasy was too mature for YA and the other said it was too young and read like MG. Needless to say, I was flummoxed.

    Once an issue is commented on by multiple editors though, that may indicate a potential problem. If you really feel that the drugs and alcohol are key to defining the characters and their story, then leave it. It's obvious not all publishers are put off by reality since there are quite a few books out there that mention alcohol.

    On a side note, the two rejections I got made no mention of the party scene in my manuscript where the MC gets drunk and passes out. It's a pretty long scene too, so I think they'd have commented if it bothered them.

    Good Luck!


  3. Thanks for your comments, Kimberly. I removed the scene because it really wasn't essential the plot. In fact, it never happens again so it's not indicative of these kid's normal behavior. If it was a drug kingpin, even a teenager, I might have left it since it's part of the plot and storyline.

    Mature voice and MG voice from different editors? Now that's a confusing situation. I'd get a lot more feedback and see which way it really goes. Perhaps none of them are right and you have it nailed, without knowing it.

  4. Just finished reading Burn for Burn, a YA novel published by Simon&Schuster and it contains drugs, underage drinking, name calling, suicide attempt... I believe that if you have several of these ''taboos'' in the book but show some consequences (like the passing out) it's okay because it is realistic.

    Maybe they are harder with debut authors :s

  5. Not a debut author here, but I see what you mean about it being relevant to the story in that case.