How being reviewed as a young adult writer made me a better young adult reader.

One of the things I never really thought about until being published was the process of being reviewed until it happened. And I imagine it’s a fact of writing life a lot of writers wish they’d never had to learn about it. But social media reviewing sites like Goodreads mean that even the smallest books from emerging publishers will probably get a little reviewing attention from someone somewhere,

And I don’t know about other first-time writers, but for me it’s so terrifying it’s tempting to never read them. But then, of course, curiosity prevails. And even though I have been lucky enough to have a pretty good reception for my first attempts at writing actual books, it’s still a scary, confronting thing when you get up the courage to read reviews.

Because I like to try my best learn from everything, and I by no means thinks I’m Shakespeare either, I do try and approach the process of being reviewed with the dual mentality of ‘not everybody is going to like what you write’ (obviously) and ‘you still have a lot to learn as a writer’ (even more obviously). I try to treat all criticism as constructive, even when it makes me want to bury my head under the pillow for a week.

But I have also realised something very special and specific that happens to young adult fiction writers in the reviewing process.

See, I once received a review from an adult reader that, among other sharp and I’m very sure valid criticisms, complained that the first half of the story read like the diary of a bored, depressed teenager. And I couldn’t quite understand what to do with that because the story is about a bored depressed teenager. The criticism is neither here nor there, really (I’ve had plenty worse), but I’ve seen similar things on other reviews of other YA books.. It was the realisation that a book aimed at teens was being criticised for sounding teenaged which made me blink. And then I realised the disjuncture. Young adult fiction is written for young people, but is reviewed by adults. Yeah, I know, completely obvious, right? I’d just never thought about it until now.

I was talking to a reasonable well-known YA writer in Australia recently, and she was saying this was one of the issues of marketing YA books. Especially small press book that don’t get reviews in publications. She pointed out that most teen readers don’t leave reviews in places like Amazon and Goodreads.  Because that’s not what they do when they read a book they like, or where they hang. They’re letting their book feels out on Tumblr. Meanwhile, out there, adults reviewers (of course, YA is known to have large adult readerships, too, including myself) are the ones communicating whether it’s worthy of being read. It’s such a strange thing when you think about it, right?

Thinking about this has definitely made me examine and then re-approach the way I read and review YA books myself. I have been reading a lot of YA LGBT stories right now (sometimes I feel like I’ve read all of them. Write more books, people). And sometimes I can be quite dismissive of elements of stories that seem juvenile or overly emo, or that feature characters doing silly, immature things. And now I realise these stories are supposed to be that way. Would a teen reader find these things juvenile? Possibly not. So now, instead, I ask myself, ‘Would sixteen-year-old me have acted/sounded like this when? Would I have liked this? Believed in this?’ And I let that inform me of its value as YA before I recommend it to anyone. Because I’ve been reminded that these stories are, first and foremost, for the reader I used to be, not the one I am now.

So being reviewed will probably continue to be a fraught and terrifying affair, but it was interesting to learn something not just as a writer but as a reader from the process.

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BookcoversEmily O’Beirne is the author of the A Story of Now series, published by Ylva Publishing. 

You can also find Emily at:

Gmail: http://www.emilyobeirnewrites@gmail.com

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