Blurred lines: Stuck in limbo between Young Adult and General Fiction

When you are preparing to release a new novel to the public, it’s easy to become plagued by doubts.

Is the action exciting enough? Is there enough action? Is the dialogue compelling? Are the characters well-developed? Are they relatable? Will anybody care what happens to them?

This list goes on . . .

These transient type worries tend to replace each other day by day until you resign yourself to the fact that there is no ironclad way to dispel them. You will only get your answers once the book is in the hands of readers. Until then, you have to work largely on faith.

If you are extra fortunate, your book will also give you one good underlying concern that haunts the back of your mind throughout the process, even as your transient worries jockey for position at the front of your mind.

With A Housefly in Autumn, my super-duper awesome underlying concern has been hitting the right target audience.

I always envisioned A Housefly in Autumn as a Young Adult novel. It’s themes and tone were tailored to younger readers from the beginning, and from the beginning this categorization had the potential to be problematic.

There is a large cohort of literary-minded people who adhere to a rule about Young Adult fiction, mandating that the main character in such works must be no older than 18 throughout the story. I broke this law half way through the first draft. My main character ages out of this statute at about the 60% mark. Then, he does something even more illegal: he continues to age.

Accidents of youth

My main character, before he joined AARP and applied for a reverse mortgage. (Art by Jessie O’Brien)

I decided early on I would have to take my chances by breaking this popular maxim. I sailed full speed ahead.

Then, something else began to happen. As I started getting feedback on the manuscript, I realized that the things I was attempting with the narrative style and word choices were distracting readers from the story. I needed to adjust the tone.

In making the tone more conventional, I have sacrificed what to me is some of the youthful flavor of the narrative. This change was necessary but it was not done without some regret. The novel reads more like General Fiction than I intended.

Still, I could not see marketing it as General Fiction. The themes are too youth-oriented for that. Hence, my nagging concern: is this novel stuck in limbo between youth and adult fiction?

Maybe. But in this age of crossover and overlap, maybe limbo isn’t a land of the lost anymore. Maybe “youthful flavor” is a relic of a simpler time. Maybe youthful theme, coupled with a not overly youthful tone, is a budding sweet spot.

Pigeon-holing is still a useful concept in marketing, and leaning toward Young Adult is not exactly a clear-cut niche. Yet, it is just the spot where this book rests.

In the end, this dilemma will be resolved in the same way the “Will people like my characters?” question is. Readers will decide.

I’ll live with that.

Addition by subtraction: ditching the unhelpful words

I’m working my way through the third proof copy of A Housefly in Autumn and it’s making me remember why it took me four or five proof copies to get my other books ready.

I’m always searching for a tweak to make it a little better.

I haven’t noticed any embarrassing mistakes so far on this copy. I haven’t even come across anything that I feel is definitely an error. In spite of this, I have plenty of red pen marks on this third copy already, and I’m not half way through.

What am I marking up then?

Mostly, I’m striking words that seemed necessary at one time, but now just seem like extra words. They are not extra words of the James Fenimore Cooper magnitude. They don’t lead down dead end paths into inescapable thickets. At least in my opinion, they don’t. But they don’t add anything to the potential reader’s understanding of the story either.

An extra wordsmith

James Fenimore Cooper, a man of abundant imagination and even more abundant verbiage.

It’s amazing how many of these words pop up in a novel. And it’s amazing how many edits it takes to get most of them out.

I added a very short scene to beginning of the story prior to this proof. It didn’t change the themes of the tale, but it did slightly alter the tone in which it is narrated. This is the other major category of cross-outs this time around. There are some residual statements sprinkled throughout the book that reflect the previous tone too much. These need to be changed or removed. They are pretty easy to spot, but not always simple to fix.

At the end of this proof, I hope to have an efficient story with a smooth, consistent narrative tone from start to finish. Then I can move on to the really nit-picky stuff on proof number four. Maybe I’ll even have the luxury of revisiting issues I previously vacillated over before deciding. You have to flip a lot of coins in self-publishing. Sometimes you want to go back and flip them over again, not because that gives you a better decision, but it might make you feel like you put enough thought into it.

Meanwhile, I’m not giving up on finding errors. By now, I am the least qualified person to find any errors that remain. My jaded eyes have skipped them before, and they’ll skip them again. I’m counting on other pairs of eyes to bring me errors. I hope they do better than I could do right now, because the consequences of hard decisions I can live with; glaring mistakes are harder to stomach.

The saga goes on. It pains me that it takes so long. I’m disappointed to have missed a Christmas release. But if it makes the book a cleaner, better reading experience it will have been worth every dragged-out day of it.