Wednesday, November 10, 2010

How much of human life is lost in waiting?

I had a conversation with my daughter yesterday about book series. She's 13, soon to be 14, and she was lamenting how that by the time the next book in a new series would come out, she might have outgrown it.

She was talking in particular about Rick Riordan's new Lost Hero series, a sort of sequel to the Percy Jackson series. The Lost Hero just came out last month, and it seems she'll have to wait a year until the next one is released, since the second in his Red Pyramid series will probably be out first. But because these books are leaning more toward middle grade readers, she sees that while she loves the characters and the stories, they could soon be "too young" for her.

It's something that as a writer who has published two adult mystery series, I just never had thought about. I don't have to worry about my audience growing too old for my series. They were adults when they started, or maybe teens, in the case of my tattoo shop mysteries, and they will be adults when the series are over.

But as someone who's recently written a young adult novel, my conversation with my daughter struck a chord.

I tried to envision who my readers would be if this book is ever published. My main characters are three teenagers who are sixteen years old. I've investigated the middle grade vs. young adult thing: it seems that most of those books are categorized based on the ages of the protagonist(s). But I do know that while mine are in high school—and late high school—the book might be better suited for ages 12 to 15.

Now, with that in mind, I will reveal that I'd planned a trilogy when I wrote the first book. Granted, it can't be a trilogy if no one buys the first one, but if someone does, then I would like to pursue two more books. But I then face the dilemma of my audience outgrowing them before the next ones are released.

It might be a good idea if middle grade and young adult authors wrote faster. In fact, my daughter is really on board that bandwagon. She thinks there should only be six months between books, and, in lieu of conversation, she's right. As a parent, I'd like her to enjoy a series as long as she can, and as a writer, I'd like her to read all my books without abandoning them halfway because she feels too "old."

As a mystery writer who has written four books in one series in the last two years, I know that this is possible. I know that I could definitely write two more books in my YA series in the next year, maybe less. But in the case of Rick Riordan, who's got two series he's balancing, it might not be so easy. He's just going to have to rely on even younger readers growing old enough to read his series all the way through.

Do you think writers of middle grade and young adult books should try to push the envelope and get their series books out to their young readers more quickly? Do you think adult series writers should step it up a little, too?


Anonymous said...

Much like you, I never even thought about this "problem". My first thought is that you have a very bright and thoughtful daughter. You already know that however. My second thoughts .... Imagine the difficulty some writers might have in producing 2-3 books per year - yes many do but others could have problems maintaining the quality of content and the like or even making the transition between genres. I believe Rick Riordan is an exception but then again there are others who write for both adults and younger audiences. Then consider this... could an author produce a series that grew/changed as their readers matured? They would be writing for the "current" generation but leaving a legacy for later generations to pick up on and follow. As a writer how difficult would it be for you to start with a book for young readers and then transition gradually to middle school readers, high school readers and then young adult to adult readers? I think that presents a significant challenge to an author and I'd like to see it in action.

Anonymous said...

I'm seventeen and I also recently read The Lost Hero, after being introduced to Percy Jackson in Septemmber, and I'm definetly going to read the 2nd Hero book, even though by next fall I'll be eighteen. So, in my opinon age doesn't matter as long as I still enjoy reading the books. On the other hand, I'm all for book installments in a series coming out twice a year!

Lou said...

It is a tough balance, Karen. I would love to see YOUR new book come out sooner than it is, but in many ways, it keeps me wanting the book and will make me go back and reread your others down the road.
If they have the time and resources, I would like to see authors put out book a bit faster, but those are two things that people in general seem to have less and less of, and these are human beings with other demands on their time.

Karen Olson said...

Anonymous No. 1: I think the only series that comes to mind when presented with your idea of taking a young reader through adulthood is Harry Potter. JK Rowling did that brilliantly. The first and second books are perfect for elementary school kids, then she moves into much darker territory. As Harry grows older, so do the readers.

I know it's difficult for writers to write more quickly and keep the quality intact. But at the same time, we writers do not have to agonize over a paragraph or a sentence, either. Maybe it's my career as a journalist that makes me able to get through a first draft in two or three months. I know many will hate me for this, but I don't get writers block because of those years of having to just write on demand and to a certain length in a short period of time. Maybe all writers should spend at least a year working on a newspaper staff as a reporter. It certainly takes the ego out of you!

Markin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Markin said...

17-year-old Anonymous is right -- if the book is good, it's worth reading, regardless of one's age. The first Harry Potter came out when I was 47; I was 55 when the first Percy Jackson appeared. Not as though my age stopped me from devouring the books as they were published, even pre-ordering them.

What you might mention to your daughter is that she might be too young when the next book comes out -- as she grows older, she will no longer feel she needs to read at "age level", and with any luck she will come to enjoy young adult and even kidlit again.

As for speeding up the writing ... not if it comes at the expense of quality. Don't you just hate it when a series goes downhill because the author is churning out volume after volume?

Anonymous said...

I am all for authors writing faster--but not at the expense of quality. I would rather wait a bit longer for a good book than get a subpar effort. Of course, I'm 28 (really?!) and I still enjoy YA novels...