Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Oh, Grow Up Pt. 3

The March issue's focus on graphic novels has me thinking again about how we do/should/shouldn't define YA literature. Graphic novels, like comics before them, have done just fine outside the frame of traditional children's book publishing. Thrived, even. But now it seems like every children's publisher is adding graphic novels to its list, or creating a new imprint to handle them. I wonder if part of the success of graphic novels, though, is due to their not coming from the children's book establishment, not published for teens, or for children?

But maybe this will at least mean that publishers might start cutting back on their fiction lists, which have become completely out of control.

33 comments:

shewhousuallydoesn'tdothistypeofthing said...

Oh, honestly, this is what happens when She disappears from the scene and stops talking about food; they all leave you high and dry in the blogosphere, talking to yourself, don't they? Might I make a small suggestion, Roger dear? Try including a recipe. If this doesn't work, I'll come back and say something, which, as usual no one likes and you'll get two dozen consecutive responses from Andy.

Elizabeth Law, Simon and Schuster said...

I'd like to hear define what you mean when you say "out of control." Too many of the same kind of thing? A lot more than there used to be? Too many for the Horn Book to discriminate between when choosing what to review?

I'll admit that, at least for my publishing house, we are trying to be extremely choosy, and publish a few fewer novels per season. But bear in mind that novels--especially YA novels--can be profitable in ways we've never seen before--just the fact that hardcover YAs sell in bookstores (which they didn't do 8, 10 or 20 years ago) is responsible for part of the change. I'll also admit that we're all looking for big summer hits a la Eragon, Harry, Lemony Snicket (I'm too polite to mention any of our own bestsellers)which may have lead to getting more into the market than can possibly succeed--sure, there will be a few disappointments (for critics and for publishers) in the bunch. But your remark sounds awfully cranky, and I will reply thusly. Are you pining for the Horn Book's glory days of my youth, when publishers were much smaller, and the era was rich in the literature of William Mayne, Jill Paton Walsh and Philippa Pearce? Because I think we are living through a golden age in fiction right now--especially in YA. And I dare to believe kids are reading more by today's writers than they ever did of the wonderful authors (three of my favorites) named above. ...Hey, I wonder if William Mayne would hold up to some reissuing these days? I need to look into that.

shewhousuallydoesn'tdothistypeofthing said...

You see, the mere mention of the possiblity of recipes in the future is all it took. All the best papers have food sections.
There's too much everything these days, Roger, because there are too many people. There are certainly too many opinions. There are way too many awards. There's too much noise. I, who, as we know, live in the arctic, have seen a great and disturbing lemming proliferation.
There are certainly too many booksellers. (Now, you'll get to hear from you know who.)
There are too many review journals.
We should all be as quiet as mice. Except me.

shewhousuallydoesn'tdothistypeofthing said...

P.S. There can never be too much fiction - merde alors - only too much bad fiction.

shewhousuallydoesn'tdothistypeofthing said...

And, I'm sorry, Elizabeth, so much crankiness in one afternoon is, indeed, unfortunate, but thusly is a terrible word.

KT Horning said...

Interesting way to characterize it, Elizabeth -- the golden age of fiction. Certainly we are seeing many excellent new novels, particularly for the upper age range of the young adult audience. It seems that for every four or five books cited by the Printz Award committee each year, there could be just as easily be ten or twelve others named. And is it my imagination or is BBYA including fewer and fewer adult books on the list in recent years?

So fiction doesn't feel "out of control" for me, either, not in the way picture books did 10-15 years ago (so many beautifully made mediocre books) or celebrity books do today. I, too, would be curious to hear from Roger why he thinks it feels out of control.

shewhousuallydoesn'tdothistypeofthing said...

I suspect he feels it is out of control largely because his blogs were going unanswered but a little mention of food seems to have solved that.

Andy Laties said...

Well, since I'm in the picture-book heartland, and do not, in this store, sell YA novels, I find it fascinating to learn of this luxuriance in YA. However, I've been opining to lots of industry types who specialize in picture books that the current picture-book doldrums are due to demographics. The baby boomlet that peaked in 1987 fueled the corresponding Golden Age Of Picture Books. I regularly predict that 10 years from now there will be another great picture book era, as these kids produce another highly demographically concentrated generation (baby-boomlet redux). So -- since the kids born in 1987 are now 19 -- it would make sense that YA would have recently peaked as a category, and lots of publishers are chasing a phenom that's now just past its noon.

Andy Laties
Eric Carle Museum Shop

P.S. SHE, I'm glad you're back.

shewhousuallydoesn'tdothistypeofthing said...

Well, of course, you are.

rindambyers said...

I'm not sure what the difference between graphic novels and YA novels exactly is...all I know is that here in Kitsap County, Washington, the librarians tend to herd graphic novels into a holding shelf of sorts up by the main checkout desk...while our YA's sit on shelves in the "teen room" BECAUSE the graphic novels get taken out and never returned......

shewhousuallydoesn'tdothistypeofthing said...

Well, we can call Double Bubble after dinner elastic dessert chews and pretend we're not just embarrased by our own plebian tastes and therefor peddling madly to legitimize it by having Tavern on the Green serve it and have adult after dinner dessert chew tastings but it's still bubble gum.

Jane said...

I do want to talk a bit more about graphic novels--as literature. If you are looking at Neil Gaiman and Co., certain comix/gn are certainly on as high a level as anything being written today: lush prose, fascinating characters, startling stories. Do you know his MR PUNCH?

And I have just written an intro to a major graphic novel by Linda Medley that mixes fairy tale and mythological angst with feminist revisionist stuff.

And of course I have been trying to interest a publisher for the past fifteen years in my own graphic novels, which may finally be bearing fruit. (Or not. That's how publishing is going these days.)

Jane

pkbear said...

I'm not a library science dude, not a publisher, not a writer. I am, however, a long-time comic book reader and collector (perhaps to the annoyance of my brothers as I raided their collections), I have to take exception to including "graphic novels" with YA Literature. A graphic novel is nothing more - and nothing less - than a wicked long comic book. In fact, many of them started out as a series of comics that were then compiled into one volume. I am not disparaging comic books and graphic novels - but they are not in the same category as "literature". I think of literature being word-driven, with occasional illustrations and graphic novels and comic books are illustration/word driven. where would the line be between "picture books" and "graphic novels"? yeah, i have no clue. but as Mr Sutton points out - the best & mjority of the graphic novels and comic books are no longer written for young kids or even for the stereotype nerdy teen boy: they are written for adult geeks.

Anonymous said...

Okay, posting here when Shewho is at the top of her form is sort of akin to trying to ignore the beggar on the street corner as one walks by, but here goes--

I do think we are in a golden age of young adult literature, but I have heard other people say that publishers are publishing too many books, and for the simple fact that they are unable to market them very well.

KT Horning said...

Market them to whom? Booksellers? Sorry, but that's what happens when you put all your eggs in one big box. You can't expect the average B&N-droid to read a whole lot of y.a. novels, can you?

They seem to be doing fine with marketing them to libraries and independent booksellers.

Anonymous said...

I don't disagree with you, KT, but to continue to play devil's advocate here until Roger comes through with his own brilliant explanation . . . If you talk to many midlist authors they'll all complain that the marketing dollars have all been funneled into those chosen few books that could become the next Harry Potter. You'd think with that kind of mentality the publishers would shorten their lists, rather than lengthen them. Of course, it would be easier to do if so many good YA books were not being written nowadays.

shewhousuallydoesn'tdothistypeofthing said...

There is nothing wrong with comic books. If you love comic books, celebrate them for what they are, comic books. Ditto bubble gum. There's a word poets love, noumenon; the thing existing in its own light. Or, as William Least Heat-Moon said, tired of all the politically correct stumbling, "Oh, just call me an indian."

shewhousuallydoesn'tdothistypeofthing said...

Roger, you've been very quiet. Are you sulking?

Roger Sutton said...

There's a lot here to catch up with (and I'll give the recipe its own entry)but here are my initial thoughts: when I say too much fiction, I mean too much unneccesary fiction. Most of the "pink books," for example are perfectly adequate pieces of writing but most of 'em don't have a lot to add and I don't think the market will support their numbers(the adult fad for them has already peaked, yes?) As far as literary fiction goes, so much of it (as KT points out) is upper-upper YA, and I've queried the need for that sub-genre elsewhere.

One more whine and then a question: too much children's fiction these days feels very high concept (wasn't there something recently called "Babysitting and Broomsticks"?) or very high-falutin', with gorgeous prose brought to bear on not enough. The first kind of book has a premise; the second has talented writing, but neither--too often--has a beginning, middle, and end. I'll give you cranky.

Here's the question: Librarians have long complained about publishers not keeping their backlists in print, or keep them on the bearest life support. True? More true now? How long will publishers give these novels time and space and attention?

Elizabeth said...

I'd like to stay out of the rest of this conversation, at least until I return from my current scuba diving vacation. So I won't touch the issues of marketing, or graphic novels (a subject on which I am completely out of my league, anyway) except to say I think it's very interesting that Sea Dogs just won the Bluebonnet. Those of you much more educated on this subject than I, will this bode well for seeing more in this "younger" graphic/comic genre?

And I can't help but add, to anonymous' point, that for the last five years or so, I have noticed more fascinating YA manuscripts than ever before. Maybe it's a case of supply and demand, or maybe more writers are just discovering how fulfilling the genre can be. I'm sure supply and demand has something to do with it, but could great YA novels be inspiring others to try their hands at it? And on the subject of the satisfaction of writing for YAs, see Pete Hautman's National Book Award acceptance speech.

Ok, enough of a post for someone who said she wasn't going to! Gotta go get my wetsuit on.

Liz B said...

From a librarian perspective, I am quite happy that we are getting GNs for children. Because, up until the past six months, when the 8 & 10 year olds came in looking for GNs, the only place to send them was to YA, and this did lead to more than a few irate parents.

Anonymous said...

Roger said: "for example are perfectly adequate pieces of writing but most of 'em don't have a lot to add and I don't think the market will support their numbers(the adult fad for them has already peaked, yes?)

I know you're talking about the pink books here, but I want to thank you, Roger, for saying "but most of 'em don't have a lot to add". I think that much of YA literature fits under that umbrella right now. Lots of books. Lots of "high concept". Lots of really "compelling premises" that really don't have a lot to add.

Ok, someone throw tomatoes at me. I'm ready for them.

shewhousuallydoesn'tdothistypeofthing said...

No tomatoes, Anon, unless you have a lamb recipe they go into. See above.

Nina said...

Another librarian perspective about "out of control fiction"...I have to agree with Roger here. Quality aside, there's just too much: hardcover doesn't circulate, especially with boring covers, and I buy less and less hardcover fiction these days BECAUSE there is more and more of it. I can't read it all myself, reviews are too nicey about it...I just wait for the end of the year best lists and paperbacks. I only buy a new hardcover fiction title if I've read a galley and know I can "push" it, or if it has a fantastic cover. Sad but true...

KT Horning said...

I never found the belief that "kids won't read hardcovers" to be true back in my public library days. Whenever I'd ask teens if they preferred a hardcover or paperback edition of the book they were looking for, they'd look at me as if I were crazy. They just wanted the book.

I think it has more to do with display: our paperbacks were shelved face out and our hardcovers spine out. Kids naturally gravitated toward the face-out books. So I'd regularly select a dozen or so hardcover books at the beginning of my reference shift and display them face out. Most of them would be checked out by the end of the day.

pkbear said...

as a kid and teen, i always gravitated to the hardcover books. they not only seemed more "grown-up" but they seemed more of an event, a better experience as a whole. but i grew up to be a book geek.

Nina said...

"hardcovers don't circulate" is of course a generalization...display helps...some kids don't care...and yet, in a very general way, it is still very true in my experience at a large, high-circulating library. It's not an insurmountable problem, but exacerbated by the increase in publishing... It gets harder and is more time consuming to create a fiction collection that circulates.

JenniKSU said...

At my library, the older (grades 3-6) students will not check out novels for which they can't take a Reading Counts quiz. They do, however, check out nonfiction even if they can't test on it. I've ordered some graphic novels from Capstone that cover historic events, so I'm hopeful that they will go out. I showed the catalog to several students and they thought they would be interested even though (gasp!) they couldn't take quizzes over them, and the feedback was good. I wonder if the push in libraries for children's and YA graphic novels may be partly because of this, that kids will read them even though they are not on Reading Counts or Accelerated Reader.

Re hardcovers vs. paperbacks, different kids have strong preferences for each. I always preferred hardbacks, and still do, because I can more easily read them while eating, as they lie flat.

Anonymous said...

Oh, too much "unnecessary" fiction. So glad you cleared that up. I think Elizabeth is onto something when she suggests nostalgia may be behind your cranky complaints about all the "out of control" and "unnecessary" fiction.

What makes a book "necessary"?

Roger Sutton said...

I think I defined what I meant by "necessary" above in my original comments but am happy to amplify here. Unnecessary books are the ones neither the public nor the literature needs. Think, for example, of what we here at the HB call the "blah-blah" books--books in which a preteen first-person narrator yammers on in a breathless, Eloise-on-crack kind of way about her friends, family, school blah, blah, blah. There have been dozens if not hundreds of these published in the last five years alone. For those who like that sort of thing, there is plenty to choose from. Who needs more?

rindambyers said...

Thanks, very much, everyone....I will be now checking out some graphic novels and am looking forward to the novelty of perusing them as I have tradictionally been a word book sort of person myself..

I have to agree with Roger's comments. There are audiences for everything...but for some audiences, there's just too much stuff.....

Anonymous said...

Note to self:
Use the phrase "Eloise-on-crack" at least once each day.

XiaoMu said...

In total agreement, Roger.

"too much children's fiction these days feels very high concept (wasn't there something recently called "Babysitting and Broomsticks"?) or very high-falutin', with gorgeous prose brought to bear on not enough. The first kind of book has a premise; the second has talented writing, but neither--too often--has a beginning, middle, and end."

--begin rant--

It is really as if much of the fiction is written with a "concept" to fit a trend, a fad, a "demand" and very few written either from inside the Head or from the Heart. I have been highly disappointed over and over again of books recommended by reviewers or friends to find that the book is just so... ordinary.

And I am really sick of the bandwagon-syndrome: not just this budding GN fad (with very poor results since the editors are nowhere in the right "league" to edit and enhance such entries) but also the campaign for a FAT THICK PILE of Fantasy novels that even on the "concept" level is nigh laughable.

--end rant--