Last week, we introduced you to YA novelist Alyssa Sheinmel. Known for her authentic storytelling and gripping plots, Alyssa’s latest book, The Lucky Kind, is garnering terrific reviews. I found myself savoring passages that on first glance were so simple yet when peeled back were incredibly deep. It takes a special writer to step back and allow the weight of characters and unadorned prose carry the story. Alyssa is one of them, and she makes it look so easy (want to experience her skilled storytelling yourself? Read a sample of The Lucky Kind HERE).
In part two of our two-part interview, Alyssa talks a little bit about the YA market and why writers should focus on the books and less about the market.
Please enjoy our interview with Alyssa Sheinmel.
Do you feel that the market has changed since you started writing YA?
Wow, that’s a tough question! I think the book market is a tricky one, because it has several sides. There’s the business side, in which publishers and authors are trying to work within the trends and create good products that consumers will want to buy. But there’s also the side on which books are considered art, and what makes good art isn’t necessarily affected by trends. Although, come to think of it, maybe the best art starts the trends to begin with. Could anyone have anticipated that a children’s book about a boy wizard would become something that adults scrambled to get their hands on, every bit as much as kids did? And when that happened, it caused a shift in the market, and led to a new set of trends; not just for fantasy literature, but also for books that could cross-over from the children’s to the adult market. The market keeps changing; but I think because of all that change, there’s always room for lots of different kinds of books – no one ever knows what the next trend will be.
Personally, I try not to think about the market when I’m writing. I give it a lot of thought for my day job, and it definitely can be hard to turn that part of my mind off. But when I’m writing, I try to focus only on telling a story.
The YA market seems to have exploded over the last few years, with many books crossing over to draw adult readers. Why do you think that is? Are YA writers taking risks that writers of adult genre fiction seem to avoid?
I think there are opportunities that are unique to the YA market, and I think that’s because, in some respects, it’s still relatively new. Sure, there are have been books for teens for decades, but their place in the market has grown so much in recent years. It wasn’t so long ago that the teen section of a bookstore consisted of a few shelves of teen romances, and not much more. But now it’s a place for such a variety of books – literary and commercial, fantastical and edgy, paranormal and romantic. I think maybe there’s so much room for growth because there simply aren’t as many YA books as there are adult because, in part, the genre just hasn’t been around as long.
In the post-crash publishing industry, writers today seem to have to shoulder much of the public relations and marketing of their books. What should writers focus on in terms of marketing their books, and what seems like a wasted time?
I think that anything you can do to put yourself out there as a writer can help your book. I personally love visiting blogs like this one; I love the chance to introduce myself to readers. But I’ve heard so many different success stories: people whose books took off because of their grass-roots campaigns; because they paired their books with music; because of they blogged about their writing process. At the same time, you hear success stories about authors who withheld information, who consciously chose not to be active in the community or with their fans. I think you just have to do what you’re most comfortable with; chances are, what comes naturally to you will fit your book best anyway.
What’s the best advice you’ve gotten about this industry? The worst?
I’ve been working in the publishing industry pretty much non-stop since I graduated college. You’d think I’d know it inside and out, but the truth is that it never stops surprising me. The best advice I could give an aspiring writer is the advice I give to myself: just tell the story that you have to tell, regardless of the industry, the trends, or the economy. Be true to your story – you can figure the other stuff out later.
What are you reading now?
I’m reading a book called The Love of My Youth by Mary Gordon; she’s one of my very favorite writers, and was actually a teacher of mine at Barnard College. (She’s the one who got me to love revising!) Even reading her novels now, I feel like she’s still teaching me.
What is next for you?
I just sold my third book, The Stone Girl – it will probably publish in August of 2012. It’s a very different book for me, and it was a difficult, but thrilling, book to write. I’m both excited and nervous for it to be out there in the world, to hear what people think of it, and to answer questions about it.
The Lucky Kind is available at all retail outlets.