Morally Complicated Y.A.

Nov 26, 2015 | The Publishing Industry


Behold, my friends, the latest storm of idiocy striking the heart of the traditional publishing industry. I present to you Exhibit A, the announcement of a new YA novel called The Cruelty bought for six figures and sold in umpteen territories and a movie deal and… yeah. Good times indeed. This book was self-published first, so this should be a feel-good success story, right? Normally this would pass without comment, and I’d be happy for the author. But this, this is more than just a book announcement. The interview with the author on Publishers Weekly is the stuff of drama llama hell.

Look, here’s a convenient summary. Go read it for more info. TL;DR – the author, Scott Bergstrom, decided that the best way of boosting his book was to take a shit all over the YA genre, implying that most YA books are simplistic and, I quote, ‘a metaphor for high school’. And he decided that HIS book was morally complicated YA, and not like those other YA books with heroines that are into pink and princesses.

Like… Dude. DUDE.


Your ass, okay? That one right there? You need to sit it down and stop pretending that you’re God’s gift to YA literature. Let’s be clear about this, man – your book, of which I have read a few excerpts, got you a six figure book deal because you’re a former ad executive who knows the right people, not because it’s going to light the YA genre on fire.

Newsflash: it’s only okay, as far as I can see. It’s about what you’d expect for a first novel. Not bad, but there’s room for improvement, and your fourth or fifth book will be pretty slick. The plot’s been done before and by better authors than you. ‘Morally complicated’ stories have been done before by nearly every author in YA, many of whom are better than you (and if you knew anything about YA works past and present, you’d know this). It is the height of absolute arrogance to barge into a space that was built and maintained by other authors, and throw shade on their work in order to talk up yours.

But that’s not the worst part. The real stupidity of this whole thing comes from the publishers’ side. They threw money at this guy, and one offer was based on nothing but a description of the book, for a work that is problematic on its face (really? the protagonist has to get thin to realize her destiny?!), that is not original nor groundbreaking, and that implicitly trashes the entire YA genre in its own pages.

Here’s a quote from the excerpt above that Diana Urban posted on Twitter, where the protagonist is reading while on the subway:

“It’s a novel with a teenage heroine set in a dystopian future. Which novel in particular doesn’t matter because they’re all the same. Poor teenage heroine, having to go to war when all you want to do is write in your diary about how you’re in love with two different guys and can’t decide between them. These novels are cheesy, I know, and I suck them down as easily as milk.”

I mean… I don’t read YA, okay? But I was a teenage girl, and I know teenage girls, and this right here was written by a dude pretending to be a teenage girl, and he’s decided that The Hunger Games is more like Sweet Valley High than Battle Royale. I’m not sure what exactly you can say to that.

Also relevant: the author is a white man. Don’t think for a minute that a black woman who handed the same manuscript to a publisher would be given the same consideration, even if she did have the same connections. The publishing industry – yes, even the large swathes of it run by white women – has a streak of racism and sexism a mile wide.

This is a white man come stomping into a genre that was built and made popular by books mostly written by women, for girls and women. He thinks it’s fine to throw shade on all that work and insult all those authors who’ve spent years growing the very audience whose money he’s chasing now. And the publishers read his book, read the paragraph above, and said ‘yep, let’s go with this! And let’s do an interview where he doubles down on that shade! No one could possibly have a problem with it!’

This is either the worst viral marketing campaign in history, or it’s weapons-grade stupidity. I’m leaning towards the latter if only because it increases the chance that the next big breakout YA novel will be self-published. Why try the traditional publishing lottery when it’s based on who you know and not the quality of your work, right? Why throw your YA novel at an industry that seems to be 100% okay with one of their authors trashing your genre for funsies?

Either way, I know this for sure – the next big novel isn’t going to be this book, and Scott Bergstrom has a lot of work to do to gain back the goodwill he tossed in the trash today.

(Usual disclaimer about this being my opinion etc etc.)