introducing readers to writers since 1995

March 27, 2005

Author2Author: Megan Crane & E. Lockhart, Conclusion

by Ron Hogan

megancrane.jpgMegan Crane:In The Boyfriend List, one of the lessons the protagonist learns is about perspective. The world, she discovers eventually, is so much bigger than her high school and the things that happen therein. This is a lesson I certainly could have benefited from when I was in high school! It got me thinking about the kinds of teen novels I read when I actually was a teen--and as I think back, I don't think there were many. I remember Paula Danziger and Judy Blume books, but beyond that, I think I mostly read either fantasy novels (the Anne McCaffrey Pern books, for example) or the teen romances that were everywhere at the time. What sort of teen reading did you do? Do you see your book as part of a continuum? You said the field was exploding--could you talk more about that?

lockhart.jpgE. Lockhart:I read all the dirty bits of Forever. S.E. Hinton, Lois Duncan, Paul Zindel and books about ballerinas. Piers Anthony. Louisa May Alcott. Mark Twain.

Young Adult fiction, as a category, took off in the 1960s. There was a lot of federal funding for libraries at just the time baby boomers were teenagers. You suddenly had a definable youth culture: sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll. Librarians started shelving together Carlos Castaneda and J.D. Salinger and anyone else teenagers wanted to read--and soon after, publishers began doing books for that audience deliberately. Many of those I read in the early '80s were already more than a decade old. So it's a new field, comparatively--and it was chugging along but not exactly flourishing; no big money changing hands. Then (and this is just my analysis, of course), a number of things happened:

  • Harry Potter made everyone realize enormous sales were possible in children's publishing.
  • A rush of teen magazines came out: Teen Vogue, Teen People, Cosmo-Girl, etc. More venues for promoting books, and more proof that teens will spend their money on reading matter.
  • Bridget Jones's Diary, along with books like The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing, made "chick lit" into a publishing category. Publishers quickly figured out teenage girls would probably respond to a "chicklet lit" of their own.
  • Possibly due to the successful repackaging of Francesca Lia Block's Weetzie Bat books, which put decade-old titles on the LA Times bestseller list--publishers realized the need for teenage books to look cool. Tempest and Push led the way with slick cover designs.
  • Barnes & Noble, et al, took the teen books section out of the kiddie area, finally realizing that no self-respecting fourteen year-old wants to browse next to snotty toddlers. Publishers also started placing books in other places where teenagers shop, like Target and Urban Outfitters.

So suddenly, there's a viable field, with viable sales figures.

Why do I write for teenagers? Reading was an incredibly powerful experience for me when I was young; the books I read before age sixteen have stuck in my memory and shaped the person I have become. High school (like grad school, actually) is a festering microcosm of anxious, slightly-out-of-control people--a wonderful setting for both comedy and social commentary. The community of writers and editors in YA is more supportive, less pretentious and generally less snarky than adult publishing, at least as I've experienced it. And the money is very good. I couldn't have afforded to write for teenagers on the advances publishers used to pay. Now, I can.

Last question: English as a Second Language has a classic and adorable "pink lady" cover. Your next book, Everyone Else's Girl, has a cover that reads to me as both more whimsical and more adult. The Boyfriend List has a deliberately modern type face and an iconic image that's meant to give the book crossover potential with adult readers--but I know my publisher also felt very strongly that there be pink on there somewhere, to indicate the genre. How have you felt about the packaging of your books, and by extension, do you have any thoughts about the packaging of books in your field--what it says to (and about) readers?

Megan Crane: Both of my books went through several covers before settling on a final one, and I was as delighted with the first one as I am now with the second. I'm especially thrilled that the new one reflects the story of Everyone Else's Girl. I know that people tend to sniff dismissively about "all the pink covers," but I like them. I think they're fun, like the books themselves. I was surprised that Everyone Else's Girl stepped away from the classic pink of English as a Second Language, actually, but I still like what they came up with. As a reader, I like to know where to find the books I want to read. Chick lit covers serve the same purpose as a designated genre section, it seems to me. As a reader, I find it annoying if I can't find the sort of genre I want easily; as an author, I definitely don't want readers annoyed!
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