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"You Asked!" #35: Reader Age

whereistheluv asked: When writing your books, did you actually think about the intended age of your readers and write specifically for an age range, (if so how did that influence you original idea) or did you just write a story and then realize it was a YA novel?

2K9 authors answered:

Donna St. Cyr: My book is midgrade and in the beginning I just wrote what was in my head without evaluating readership. Later, when it became clear that the story’s interest level and complexity pointed toward upper elementary and middle school, I was more cognizant about scenes and whether I needed to tweak them for the age group who would be reading my story.

Rosanne Parry: I tend not to think in terms of reader age specifically, but I usually do have one reader in mind, a child I know fairly well. If I can write a story that will delight this one child, then I have an idea of what age the book will be suited for. 

I do know a fair amount about reading levels as my degree is in education, so I know that the reading level for Heart of a Shepherd is on the easy side for a middle grade novel. What has come as a pleasant surprise is the number of older readers I've heard from. One of my school visits this fall was to the Adult English Language Learner Program at a local community college. The average age in that class was 45, but they loved the book, in part because it had such a positive portrayal of the Spanish-speaking hired man on the ranch. 

Kudos to the team at Random House for making a book cover that looks grown up enough for an adult to read it on the city bus with pride!  My editor, Jim Thomas worked with art director, Jan Gerardi and artist, Jonathan Barkat on the jacket. If there is something about that lovely image of a soulful young cowboy with lots of open land around him that seems vaguely familiar, it's because Jonathan Barkat is also the cover artist for Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson. Look at those two books together, and you'll see what I mean. Different images, but very evocative of the American west and the spirit of people who live here.

Suzanne Morgan Williams: I definitely wrote for the age range. And I wrote for three of them! The Bull Rider manuscript started out as a younger middle grade, had a stint as an older YA, and turned out to be kind of tween. Each revision of the novel was different, depending on what I thought the readers were interested in and more than that, what they could understand. Suzy

J.T. Dutton: My territory as a writer at least at this phase of my career, seems to be adolescence. I like wrestling with how human beings psychologically turn themselves into free thinking individuals. I am attracted to the idea of rebellion and I admire and respect the courage it takes for teens to find themselves as people.

My readers may sometimes be younger than me, but they are not less complex. In fact, it seems to me that "coming of age" represents one of the hardest of human experiences, so describing how people cross the threshold into adulthood demands the fullest and deepest measure of my skills and a no-holds barred honesty about the challenges involved.

I try to be entertaining because if f I employed only adult forms of distance and irony to my subject matter, few kids would want to make the journey with me. I try to "be" my audience, in snarkiness, rebelliousness, passion, intensity, humor, and attraction to all that causes snickering. I'm senstive to the difference between how kids are and how we (adlults) want them to be. I work at the "are" level on the theory that this acknowledgement and approval is a more enduring gift than a wishing away of true and hard realities.

Cheryl Renee Herbsman: I knew that my book was YA when I was writing it. I think the teen years are such an intense part of life, an era that stays with you always in some way or another. It’s a time that’s so tumultuous. It never ceases to draw me in. So I write with a mind to my inner teen. And I still love reading YA. So I don’t think of it as writing only for teens, just the teen within all of us.

Kathryn Fitzmaurice: I wrote The Year the Swallows Came Early with 9-12 years old in mind right from the beginning. I remember I had to drop out of my adult book club because the adult books we were reading were messing up my "child" voice! These days, I try to fit in adult books when I can but typically read mostly middle grade novels.

Sydney Salter: I do write with an age group in mind--I think it's important to get
the character's voice right even in a first draft.

Joy Preble: I always knew that Dreaming Anastasia was a YA novel since Anne is sixteen and in high school. But beyond that, high school is the period of time I associate with some of my more intense experiences and emotions so I guess that's why YA just seemed a good fit for me.

Edith M. Hemingway: I don't write with a specific age in mind, but I do try to write the type of story I would have been drawn into at the age I fell in love with reading. My editor has never told me I need to simplify or complicate the voice, so I guess I'm hitting the right median.

Ann Haywood Leal: I don't think I ever start with the audience in mind--I always start with a story, and the audience hopefully follows!  I naturally gravitate toward higher MG and lower YA--maybe because the books that continue to be my favorites, the ones I read over and over again were from when I was that age.  (ARE YOU THERE, GOD? IT'S ME. MARGARET., THE WOLVES OF WILLOUGHBY CHASE, FROM THE MIXED-UP FILES OF MRS. BASIL E. FRANKWEILER....)  It sounds sort of cliche, but I think I may actually be writing for the 12 or 13-year-old me!

Comments

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
mrs_vs_reviews
Dec. 29th, 2009 05:26 am (UTC)
Since I often try to decide if authors intended books to be for my age of students or if they are better suited for high school, it was fun to see your insights! Cheryl, I loved your comment about the teen within us since I am definitely not in the teen range anymore but still love YA.
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