In Defense of InstaLove

I know, you're probably looking at the title and thinking that there's no way Mindy is the author of this blog post. Mindy, who is so clearly acerbic and a downright instigator when it comes to the demise of the HEA. But, I think this makes me the perfect person to write in defense of insta-love in YA, because you can rest assured that I'm not being reactionary in regards to my own book.

I can honestly defend the presence of insta-love in YA. Because even though I'm an old, bitter, cautious woman now, I haven't always been. Yes, Mindy used to fall in love, often and easily, just like the vast majority of teens everywhere... which is who YA is being written for in the first place.

Yes, teens fall in love quickly. And there's plenty of evidence to show that they really can't help it. This article from National Geographic regarding the maturation of the teen brain goes into detail regarding their risk-taking, but the last section focuses on how their changing brains function socially:

The teen brain is similarly attuned to oxytocin, another neural hormone, which (among other things) makes social connections in particular more rewarding. The neural networks and dynamics associated with general reward and social interactions overlap heavily. Engage one, and you often engage the other. Engage them during adolescence, and you light a fire.

Yep, it's true. Love is just better when you're young. Their brains are chemically predisposed to fall in love, and anyone who spends more than the average amount of time around teens can attest to this. They enter into emotionally-drenched connections with someone they truly believe is their soul mate in December, then discover in February that it's actually the girl from English class they're into. And the truth is - they probably are. I don't think it diminishes the weight or value of their love to fall into it so easily and so quickly when they are biologically predisposed to behave in this manner.

What I don't like to see in any genre is insta-love that happens as an excuse for lazy writing, with zero spark between the characters and a simple forced-upon-the-reader: These two are in love now. Fact. Most of the time when I see people complaining about insta-love it's because the writer didn't sell the relationship, not because the relationship shouldn't exist in the first place.

My other beef has nothing to do with insta-love, it's insta-stability. I firmly believe teens do fall in insta-love, but they also fall out just as quickly. It's when I see teens portrayed as meeting their one-and-only and being-blind-to-all-others-for-an-extended-period-of-time-with-no-question-of-the-happiness-that-will-extend-into-eternity that I start to get a bit pissy.

Sorry, I don't buy that.

In fact, I don't care how old the characters are.

3 Things Real Teens Want, 7 Things They Hate, And How They Find Their Next Book

This past weekend I attended YA FEST PA, a book festival featuring YA authors in Easton, PA. I've been to a lot of festivals, and sat on many panels. But this time they did something different.

It was called a Teen Reverse Panel. The organizers asked the teens from the audience to switch places with the authors, putting us in the crowd and the teens in the spotlight. Then... we got to ask them questions.

It was fantastic.

I learned a lot, and I wanted to share a few of the things I picked up.

What They HATE

1) Limitless free time. "I'm in dance twelve hours a week," one panelist said. "I've got homework. I don't have time to just go to the beach and hang out, let alone take a road trip."

2) Absent parents. Real teens have to ask permission to go do stuff. Most of them can't just run out the door or disappear whenever they feel like it. Not without getting grounded, anyway.

3) Text speak. Smart phones have changed the way teens text, and adults need to catch up. "I text in full sentences," one teen said. "When I see something like when r u going 2 b here? I just roll my eyes."

4) Romance. It's true. Throwing in a romance is really starting to piss them off. "There's an area of the bookstore for that," one teen said. "I don't go there." There was a lot of head-nodding on the panel -which, I'd like to point out - was predominantly female.

5) Repackaging.
This isn't in control of the author, but publishers take note. Teens like to read series, and they want their covers to match. These are savvy kids - they said they don't like paperbacks that don't match hardcovers, and they want to have the whole series in matching covers.

6) Stylized Fonts. Something else that is out of your control if you're traditionally published, but self-pubs, listen up. A pretty title might look cool, but more than one panelist agreed that an overly stylized font for cover design can make the title hard to decipher, and quite a few of them will pass over that for something more straightforward.

7) Partying. Not all teens are doing it. Noted.

What They WANT

1) Honest Representation. A PoC panelist noted that she thinks white authors are capable of writing PoC characters, but that we must do research and above all - listen.

2) Boys. No, not romance (see above). They want more books written from a male POV.

3) Horror. Yep. While there were plenty of Potterheads up there, at least one said Stephen King was her favorite author, and heads nodded.

How They Find Books

In publishing this is called visibility or discoverability, and it was the question I put to the panel: "How do you find what you're going to read next?"

Guess what? It's not social media.

Nope. They all shook their heads when I mentioned it. Not Twitter. Not Tumblr. Not Instagram. Definitely not Facebook. All those tweets and posts and pics and we've been pumping out into the universe have been finding readers... just not necessarily our target audience.

All of the teens emphatically agreed that they find what they're going to read next through word of mouth. Here's the rundown.

1) Friends. Teens talk. Readers talk. Teen readers talk to each other, and are unapologetically enthusiastic about things that they like.

2) Librarians & Teachers. These are the adults that are suggesting books to kids. And they're listening.

3) Bookstores. It's true. Teens browse shelves. Some are scanning for author names they already know and like, some are targeting genre sections they prefer, and some are just looking for whatever grabs their eye.

Know what doesn't weigh into their decisions?

Reviews.

So stop worrying about those :)

Gwen C. Katz On Illustrated YA Covers

I love talking to authors. Our experiences are so similar, yet so very different, that every one of us has a new story to share. Everyone says that the moment you get your cover it really hits you - you're an author. The cover is your story - and you - packaged for the world. So the process of the cover reveal can be slightly panic inducing. Does it fit your story? Is it what you hoped? Will it sell? With this in mind I put together the CRAP (Cover Reveal Anxiety Phase) Interview.

Today's guest for the CRAP is Gwen Kacz, writer, artist, game designer, part-time mad scientist (retired). Her debut novel, AMONG THE RED STARS, releases October 3rd from HarperTeen.

Did you have any pre-conceived notions about what you wanted your cover to look like?

I'm an artist myself, so I actually made a couple of mock covers just for fun while I was writing AMONG THE RED STARS.

Not totally amateurish, but it clearly needs work. It's too low-contrast, and it's obvious that I'm working with preexisting artwork that wasn't designed to fit the space. Also, artwork that looked great on my DeviantArt account was not necessarily cover quality. Later on I made a second one.

This one is nice and clean, but it doesn't communicate the basic information that this is a YA book about girls. No one would be able to tell what this book is about or who it's for based on this cover. Clearly I needed a professional designer.

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How far in advance from your pub date did you start talking covers with your house?

About a year in advance, I think.

Did you have any input on your cover?

I was amazed at how much input I got! The designer actually emailed me to ask for photos of the planes and uniforms, so not only does it look amazing, it's all historically accurate, too.

One of my requests was that if Valka was on the cover, she should be facing forward. A lot of YA covers feature girls looking back over their shoulders, a pose that looks vulnerable and powerless. I wanted Valka to look like she was in control. I love the assertive pose she has on my cover!

How was your cover revealed to you?

I just got it in an email. There was some back and forth with tweaks, but the final cover is still very close to the original draft.

Was there an official "cover reveal" date for your art?

Yeah, I did a cover reveal on YA Books Central and it went great!

How far in advance of the reveal date were you aware of what your cover would look like?

It was a process, but I think we'd gotten the final draft nailed down about a month ahead.

Was it hard to keep it to yourself before the official release?

Of course! The cover reveal is really your first big book news after the deal announcement, so it's a very exciting moment. It was hard to be patient!

What surprised you most about the process?

I was completely surprised that they went with an illustrated cover. I love illustrated covers, but you really only see them in middle grade these days; YA usually goes for photo covers instead. So I didn't even ask for an illustrated cover. I was thrilled when that was what I got!

Any advice to other debut authors about how to handle cover art anxiety?

Remember that everyone involved wants to give your book the most amazing cover possible!