I have always found essays that discuss the publishing industry to be extremely fascinating, whether written from the perspective of the writer, agent or editor. The essays by writers, however, are the most interesting. Unlike agents and editors who work with several novels in a week, writers will spend years on one. The success of their published stories, therefore, is intimately connected with their identity and self-worth, which makes for a compelling perspective of the industry.
Margo Rabb’s essay in the New York Times, published on July 20, 2008, “I’m Y.A., and I’m O.K.” addresses the stigma that many authors face in their careers when they become identified as young adult authors. Writers can spend a year to their whole lives working on a book, then must query dozens of agents until they find one that bites and then that agent has to query dozens of editors until they find one willing to publish. The process is exhausting and as Rabb explains in her essay, she had spent eight years writing an adult book, two editors had come close to publishing it, but ultimately backed out, and then an editor in the children’s department at Random House made an offer to publish her novel, Cures for Heartbreak, as a Young Adult work. However, she was not disappointed: “For me, the thrill of my book’s having been sold outlasted my confusion over its classification.”
For Rabb, her novel’s publication marked the end of a decade of hard work, regardless of the categorization. Her happiness, apparently, was all her own. When Rabb told a colleague that she was going to be published by Random House Children’s, she was overwhelmed by the negative response: “’Oh, God,’ [the colleague] said. ‘That’s such a shame.’ I couldn’t get her words out of my head. I spent a lot of time worrying about whether my book would be taken seriously. I noticed the averted gazes and unabashed disinterest of literary acquaintances whenever I mentioned my novel was young adult.”
Rabb points out that even Sherman Rushdie, who won the National Book Award for The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, has experienced this unfair criticism: “I thought I’d been condescended to as an Indian — that was nothing compared to the condescension for writing Y.A… One person asked me, ‘Wouldn’t you have rather won the National Book Award for an adult, serious work?’” Despite this criticism, Rushdie qualifies: “I obviously should’ve been writing Y.A. all along… This book sold like crazy in a way my books never have before, and I’ve had a great career.”
So why’s this essay so good? Young adult publishing is a burgeoning market and Rabb accurately describes the feelings of so many Y.A. authors, who may have been marginalized by their Adult-focused colleagues in the past, but she also validates the genre as a legitimate artistic pursuit. Successful is successful, impactful is impactful, no matter your target market.