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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

This YA Book Is Not Yet Rated

Feels like every time you turn around someone is trying to censor YA novels. If they’re not banning them from school libraries, they’re protesting them for being too edgy, or now they’re trying to slap them with arbitrary ratings.

US News and World Report recently ran article detailing a study that looked at a couple dozen YA novels and determined that a ratings system is needed.
Now, at first thought, you may think, how bad could a ratings system be? Maybe a little tag on the back cover stating that a book has “profanity” or “violence” or “drugs” could be useful. And I can understand why some parents might think that; after all, movies and TV shows are rated.

However, think long and hard about who’s doing the ratings.
Wait. You can’t think hard about them because you don’t know who these people are, which means you don’t know what words they consider “profane” or what acts they consider “violence.”
For example, the study in question mentions profanity as including the numerous f-bombs dropped in Gossip Girl. Fine, that’s a no brainer. F-word = curse word. But then they also include, “Diary of a Wimpy Kid's occasional reference of bodily functions.” Seriously. So when doing this study, educated researchers decided to include words like fart, poop, burb, pee, etc.? To them, those are profane words. Well, what about penis? Is that a bad word? How about stupid, or boobs, or ugly, or homosexual?
Who gets to make these decisions?
This also applies to violence, which could include anything from machine gun fight to a slap in the cafeteria.
The point is, these decisions are arbitrary, they’re subjective, and they reflect the views of a morality board (and think of the type of people who would want to work on a morality board) without including any context. What if the machine gun fight depicted has to do with Pearl Harbor, does that change your view of the violence in the novel? Will it change the morality board’s?
The biggest danger, though, is not just a ratings system that would usurp the entire back cover just to include all the details necessary in making it in any way useful, it’s the idea that in order to get a “better” rating a writer might be asked to censor their work.
Imagine an author writing a book for middle graders who gets slapped with an R-rating because their adolescent character is comically obsessed with his penis. That writer might be asked to water down their work in order to get a PG-13 rating that would lead to more book sales. And does that really mean that their initial vision isn’t funny or appropriate for 13 year olds? Because most 13-year-old boys have quite a healthy fascination with what’s going on down below, but a parent who sees a big red “R” on the cover isn’t going to understand how it got there. They could be misled to believe that the book must include a crack-deal during a gunfight where the assailants are having graphic sex while simultaneously screaming the F-word. Because the ratings for those two books could be the same if the penis is called a “cock” or a “prick” or anything else the board considers inappropriate.
Ultimately, a ratings system would force authors to bend to the will of mysterious censors in order to make their publishers happy, earn money, and keep writing. I know that’s not how I want to write. And I doubt that’s what teens want to read.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Get Patriotic With GCC Member Jessi Kirby’s New Book

For all those who lost someone in Iraq and all those who don’t even know someone who fought it in, get a glimpse inside military family with GCC Member Jessi Kirby’s new book, IN HONOR, out this month through Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers.

As always, here’s a little bit about her book to get you hooked:

Honor receives her brother’s last letter from Iraq three days after learning that he died, and opens it the day his fellow Marines lay the flag over his casket. Its contents are a complete shock: concert tickets to see Kyra Kelly, her favorite pop star and Finn's celebrity crush. In his letter, he jokingly charged Honor with the task of telling Kyra Kelly that he was in love with her.

 Grief-stricken and determined to grant Finn's last request, she rushes to leave immediately. But she only gets as far as the driveway before running into Rusty, Finn's best friend since third grade and his polar opposite. She hasn't seen him in ages, thanks to a falling out between the two guys, but Rusty is much the same as Honor remembers him: arrogant, stubborn. . . and ruggedly good looking. Neither one is what the other would ever look for in a road trip partner, but the two of them set off together, on a voyage that makes sense only because it doesn’t.

Along the way, they find small and sometimes surprising ways to ease their shared loss and honor Finn--but when shocking truths are revealed at the end of the road, will either of them be able to cope with the consequences?

Here’s what Jessi had to say:

Q: In ADIOS TO ALL THE DRAMA, Mariana is a bridesmaid in her cousin's wedding. How many times have you been a bridesmaid and what's the worst dress you ever wore? 

Jessi: I’ve only been a bridesmaid twice, and both dresses were cute! I lucked out, I guess!

Q: I've used some of my personal background in each of my novels. Did you take any snippets from your real life when writing your latest book? Base any characters on real people?

Jessi: In IN HONOR, I based a minor character named Bru on an actual jeep tour guide I had on my research trip to Sedona, Arizona.

Q: Let's talk publishing. What was harder for you, finding an agent or an editor? 

Jessi: Finding an agent was harder. I queried many agents and got many rejections, but once I had representation, things went very smoothly.

Q: Where did the idea for you latest novel come from?

Jessi: I wanted to write a story about the relationship between a brother and sister, and I wanted it to include a road trip. The idea of the letter and Honor's ensuing trip evolved from there.

Thank you, Jessi! Now, everyone go out and buy books, lots and lots of books!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Authors Sounding Off On 1-Star Reviews

So I’m a little behind on my Publishers Weekly newsletters—like say four months or so. Oops. But because I really do enjoy reading the Children’s Bookshelf emails, I’ve been perusing my backlist the past few days and I came across a YA hullabaloo I'd missed. I love a good hullabaloo.

Turns out, a couple months ago, a YA author—well, really her agent—got ticked off that someone on GoodReads gave a 1-star review to the author's novel, THE SELECTION. For some very misguided reason, the author and agent had a public conversation about this review on Twitter where the reviewer, Wendy Darling, was a compared to a female dog. Ouch.
You can read the review here. Then read all the craziness that occurs in the comments, including a transcript of the author and agent’s infamous Twitter conversation here
Just to prepare you, the Twitter transcript is in comment #268, and the comments go up to more than 1,500. Wow. People were MAD.
Anyway, the controversy got me thinking. As an author, it’s so tempting to want to defend your work, and the Internet now (unfortunately) gives you the avenue to do so. Someone trashed your book? Just hit ‘reply.’ It’s that simple. There’s no Letter to the Editor, no stamps, no post office, no days to cool-off. It’s immediate.

Same thing applies to the reviewer. Anyone with a book and an Internet connection is now a reviewer read by hundreds, if not thousands, of people. That book didn’t hold your interest when you half paid attention while watching you kids fight at the pool? Give it one-star. You didn’t enjoy that fantasy novel, the first one you ever read because you usually prefer historical romances? Well, you give that book one star as well.
I think sometimes reviewers forget that authors are just people, with feelings, who spent years working on a manuscript, were beyond THRILLED to finally get it published after even more years of struggling, and then were heartbroken to see someone say, “I didn't find a single aspect of this story that I enjoyed.”
But, authors, you know how you solve this problem? Don’t read your GoodReads reviews! Or your Amazon reviews! Ever. Not even the good ones. It will only drive you insane, and it will only make your fingers itch to hit that ‘reply’ button. Nothing can be done about your book now. It is out in the word. Printed. Bound. Distributed. You can’t change a word. Literally. 
Let. It. Go.
However, I will say that in this instance, I give the reviewer a lot of credit for writing a very in-depth analysis explaining why she gave the book 1-star. She didn’t just slap up a rating up and call it a day. You can tell she spent time thinking about it.
This is more than I can say for the person who gave one of my books a 1-star review. After reading the controversy, I gave in and checked my own GoodReads status—I know, ignoring my own advice. And I saw that two people had given Amor and Summer Secrets a 1-star rating, neither offered an actual review or explanation.
Being curious, I decided to click-through to one reader’s profile and see what her other ratings looked like. You know what I found? She gave DIARY OF A YOUNG GIRL by Anne Frank 2-stars. Seriously. Two stars to one of the most respected books in the history of the world.
And that, my friends, is why you don’t get upset by online reviewers.

Copyright © 2008 Diana Rodriguez Wallach, All Rights Reserved