I am who I am: fiction writer. Why I chose not to use a pen name for my young adult work
By Isabelle Drake
Before signing the contract for Best Friends Never, the first in Cherry Grove, my young adult suspense series, the question of a pen name came up. Since I also write erotic romance, should I use a pen name for my young adult books? Would that be the better? The more I stewed on my eventual answer, the more complex the question became. Here’s how it went.
I started by…um…thinking about myself.
If I create a new name, I’ll need to create a whole new online identity and wow… time? Creativity? Rather use those for writing more stories. Besides, the online identity that I do have is not all *that* steamy. I post mostly vintage pics, talk about movies I’ve seen, all “nicer side of naughty” stuff. No worries that YA readers or the YA community will be scandalized by what I post.
Next I thought about YA readers themselves. Will publishing a YA series under the same name as my erotic work be confusing or inappropriate?
Nah. Many YA readers have read 50 Shades, seen the movie and talked to their moms, friends and boyfriends about it. They aren’t shocked by the sex and they’re very thoughtful about the content and the relationship. Also, there is a long tradition of edgy in young adult books. There are, and have been for decades, many books and movies for the YA audience that have “adult” content. My point, YA readers are already exposed to intense situations, violence, sex, drugs, abuse, in stories. Most importantly, YA readers are savvy, intelligent and sensitive to the complexity of what it is to be human.
Sexuality and the acceptance of non-traditional sexuality is the new wave of human rights. Young people are a big part of this movement. High schools have GLBT student organizations, students are “allowed” to be openly transgender in school, wearing clothes that aren’t traditionally aligned with their physical sexuality (guys wearing dresses, girls wearing boys’ style clothing). This is world we live in, one that is open discussing sex, sexual relationships, and non-traditional roles. Given this reality, most young people, especially those who are likely readers of my YA work, will not be bothered, confused or offended by anything I post or write. In fact, my sincere and open approach to sexual topics would be appreciated.
What about parents?
I asked around, talking to parents, booksellers and librarians. I found out parents are happy to support reading of all types and most don’t place limitations on what their teen reads. Parents are not actively trying to prevent their teenager from being exposed to “adult” books. Teens are “allowed” to read whatever draws their attention, this include adult books of all types. The benefit to a teen being exposed to adult material is that it starts or maintains a dialogue that both the teen and parent are comfortable with. Parents find this extremely beneficial. The parent and teen can discuss what to read and why. When the teen does read something, either a YA book or an adult book, the questions asked by the teen are not, “If I want to drink, have sex or quit school, what would you think of that?” Instead, the questions are “I was reading this book and the character did___. What do you think of that?” These conversations come from the content of books themselves, not from the author who has written them. If a parent is concerned about the content of a book, the concern is applied to a specific book, not to an author.
Me being me, I did some research. Here’s what I found. Teens typically select their own books. Based on numbers from a 2012 Bowker study, only 12 percent of 28 percent–roughly 3%–of YA books are purchased by adults for YA readers. And, as mentioned above, in instances where an adult does have input on selection, the focus is on the content of the book in question. If the author has written something the parent does not want to teen to read, that conversation is just as welcome and beneficial as the more common ones about the contents of books.
Lastly, I considered the publishing world in general and the YA market in particular.
The line between YA and adult readership is blurring. YA and new adult books sales are rising and not only because teens are reading more. More adults are reading YA books. Consider The Hunger Games, Divergent, Twilight and the Harry Potter series.
According to the Bowker study:
“More than half the consumers of books classified for young adults aren’t all that young. Fully 55% of buyers of works that publishers designate for kids aged 12 to 17 – nicknamed YA books — are 18 or older, with the largest segment aged 30 to 44. Accounting for 28 percent of sales, these adults aren’t just purchasing for others — when asked about the intended recipient, they report that 78 percent of the time they are purchasing books for their own reading. The insights are courtesy of Understanding the Children’s Book Consumer in the Digital Age, an ongoing biannual study from Bowker Market Research that explores the changing nature of publishing for kids.”
Even more compelling, and, I imagine, of interest to everyone in the YA book market is this analysis from the same study:
- The trend is good news for publishers as these adult consumers of YA books are among the most coveted demographic of book consumers overall. Additional insights from the Bowker study show these readers are:
- Early adopters. More than 40 percent read e-books, equivalent to the highest adoption rates of adult genres of mystery and romance
- Committed: 71 percent say that if an e-book of their desired title was unavailable, they would buy the print book instead
- Loyal: Enjoying the author’s previous books has a moderate or major influence over the book choice for more than two-thirds of the respondents
- Socially active: Although more than half of respondents reported having “no interest” in participating in a reading group, these readers are very active in social networks and often get recommendations from friends.
Consider also, Megan Abbott’s Dare Me and The Fever. These books reflect the trend of blurring the line between YA and adult fiction in both content and marketing. Her books feature YA characters in typical teen settings but are marketed in a way that appeals to both adult and YA readers. This strategy is beneficial to the readers, who get the books the desire and publishers, who enjoy business success.
And so that’s how it went. In the end, I decided that potential readers won’t think, “I don’t want to buy/read that book because Isabelle Drake also writes Fifty Shades type stuff.” In fact, I think it’s the opposite. I think potential readers will think, “Cool, she wrote something for us.”
Isabelle Drake writes erotica, erotic romance, urban fantasy–and young adult thrillers. Best Friends Never, is available now, direct from Finch Books. The general release, including paperback, will be April 19.
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