Sunday, March 6, 2011

Six Ways to Sell your YA paranormal!

What’s the hottest thing on the YA block right now? Paranormal young adult books, that’s what! Everybody’s jumping on the PNR bandwagon, but not too many are willing to rock the boat, if you’ll forgive the mixed metaphor. This is a genre that has the potential to be mysterious, romantic, fantastic and thrilling, but what do we get nine times out of ten? LAMESAUCE! So the Book Lantern bloggers, in our collective awesomeness, decided the writers in this genre could use some tips on what not to do if you’re planning to write a young adult paranormal book. As a group, we are diverse both geographically and ideologically, but we all agree that YA PNRs need a breath of fresh air, and so, we put our heads together and this is what we came up with!


Lucy balks at the ongoing YA PNR trend of older immortal-paired-with-young teenager. “There are too many books like Hush, Hush where you have a pretty much eternal angel and a teenage girl. In Twilight, it’s the 100+ vampire and the teenage girl. Ugh. Which leads me to think that while I don't like Mortal Instruments series an awful lot at least the paranormal and the YA meld in a non-creepy way. (Honestly, the faux incest never bothered me. I'm okay with reading about something like that as long as it's intentional and not just poor execution of a relationship that ought to be platonic). 


Vinaya thinks that YA writers are generally a little too simplistic in their views of right and wrong. “The good guys are portrayed as good, good, goooood no matter how badly they behave, and the bad guys are pure, undiluted evil. There are no shades of grey in these books, and that’s not realistic. In real life, it’s a lot harder to distinguish good and evil; people who do bad things may be misguided and think they’re doing what they’re doing for all the right reasons. Good people may do bad things in pursuit of what they believe to be justice.

The reason I’m such a big fan of books like Nevermore is because they handle these issues with flair and sophistication. Stop dumbing things down, I think teenagers are smart enough to appreciate and understand the complexities of life!”


For Ceilidh, the sticking point is badly-handled world building and the glamorization of the teenage “bad boy”. She says, “If it's a paranormal story, regardless of the romantic content, I have to be grabbed by the mythos. It doesn't have to be wholly unique but if it's handled well and in an interesting manner then it can mean the difference between a good read and a mediocre one. Strong world-building is a must have in a paranormal story, even if your setting is small or 'real life' like a school; the foundations of your creature, be they vampire, werewolf or pink bandaged mummies, needs to be strong.

In terms of the romance, I am admittedly quite fussy about how romance is handled. I am not a fan of the instant love trope, especially if it revolves around a supposedly mysterious 'bad boy.' Actually, why are bad boys suddenly the paranormal hero archetype? Why is a bad boy a good thing? Look at the way the media are currently obsessing over Charlie Sheen, a 'bad boy' with domestic abuse charges against his name.

Using the bad boy label seems to give a lot of stories a free pass on questionable content, the most infamous example in YA right now of course being Patch from Hush Hush (Edward Cullen is a strange contrast since his douchey actions are portrayed as those of a perfect gentleman, but in both cases they're seen as somehow acceptable and 'sexy'.) The fact that the heroines in these books fall hook, line and sinker for this BS act annoys me too - why are so many paranormal YA heroines apparently in possession of a brain the size of a pea? If you're such a strong, independent heroine then why are you so single-mindedly focused on a guy instead of kicking arse?”

On this issue, Jillian concurs. “Do the love interests need to be borderline abusive?  How is that attractive, let alone romantic?  Do the girls need to be useless, stupid, and/or just plain shallow?  How are they good role models for impressionable teenage girls?  What with the brushed-up photos of super thin models and movie starlets gracing magazine covers and making girls' self-esteem plummet more each day, why don't young adult authors (especially the females) have heroines that actually take charge and don't let themselves be ruled by their 'true loves'? What girl truly wants to be defined by her man?  What's the point if the girl is always standing in the boy's shadow?  What's the message authors are sending to teenage girls with that tendency?”


Cory wants something fresh, something that doesn't adhere to the age-old boring clichés that publishers love. “Paranormal YA has been slowly declining since the advent of Twilight. I'm sick of the formula that writers have been following.

Girl meets Boy
Boy is dark and dangerous but Girl is intrigued
Boy is Vampire/Angel/Fairy
Boy and Girl fall in love
Boy and Girl face enemy from the past
Boy and Girl triumph

My biggest problem is the lack of chemistry between the girl and the boy. Nora and Patch have no chemistry. Bella and Edward have no chemistry. Ever and Damon have no chemistry. Rose and Dimitri have no chemistry. Luce and Daniel have no chemistry. Is it so hard to create a believable romance? I'm willing to forgive the flaws in your world building if I like your characters. You have to have something going for your story. If your world isn't developed, at least take the time to develop your characters. I've picked up too many books this year that I've had to put down on the first page simply because I knew the story wasn't going to go anywhere.

Don't sacrifice plot for romance, but if you must, at least make the romance seem like romance, not date-rape. And adding a love-triangle makes your protagonist look like an indecisive idiot. It doesn't further their character development in the least." 

The Duck adds, “Since when are controlling, abusive and stuck up boyfriends ideal? And what's with all the cheese? Can't these writers create a more realistic romance without all the 'Omg I'm gonna die without you' bs? Not to mention the 'heroine' is a complete pushover who pretty much behaves like her boyfriend's dog. Plus the two characters don't actually do anything in their relationship except whine about how much they love each other. Don’t tell me, show me!

Even though I am not a fan of romance, I have seen romance done perfectly well. Let me give you a few examples: Eli and Oskar in Let the Right One in, Yuna and Tidus in Final Fantasy X, Rosette and Chrono from Chrono Crusade. These couples are all realistic, without cheesy 'Zomg I love you's, who grow together, who are complete equals, who care for and respect each other. I mean seriously, every paranormal romance writer should take a page out of those guys' book.

The plot of paranormal romance just seems to be two people crying and wailing about how much they love each other, doing stupid things due to said love, and getting together and not having sex because sex is baaaaaaad. And unfortunately this so called romance takes up the whole book. Everything else is just shoved in to create drama for the two main characters, but after a while they just get over it and live happily ever after.”


The Duck believes that in paranormal romance, love is too simple. “Especially when it comes to love between a human and a monster. All the real difficulties just seem to be ignored and replaced with some dumb cheesy reason as to why the two can't be together. A reason which makes the couple look like they're only in it for the sex. 

That is mostly due to the lack of research on the creatures used as love interests. A vampire can't be with a human for thousands of reasons. It is pretty much impossible. There cannot be a happy ending. But that can be made interesting if some authors were brave enough. And turning your human lover into a vampire is not a good thing either. There will be even more complications there. Heck, this has been done extremely well in the Korean movie Thirst, which is about a vampire who falls in love with a human, and eventually turns her into a vampire. As a vampire she becomes a completely different person and eventually abandons her boyfriend. This has also happened in Anne Rice's books, when Armand turns Daniel. Come on people, go the distance!

Unfortunately all of these once great creatures just get watered down into uninteresting, boring clichés. It's so obvious these creatures are not picked to tell a story, they are just picked to add excitement and eroticism in these 'romances'.  These stories could be made sooo much better if the authors actually TRIED.” 


Jillian: “What really bothers me about recent paranormal books for young adults is the wasted potential.  Paranormal books should have everything going for them since they can do what most other books can't:  they can blend fantasy and realism, magic and normalcy, sweetness and darkness.  It's too bad that most young adult paranormal books forget the possibilities and just scream ROMANCE, ROMANCE, ROMANCE as if that's all that could make a paranormal book tick.  While I get the allure of the forbidden romance aspect present in so many paranormal books these days, young adult authors somehow manage to tackle it all wrong most of the time.  

Don't forget that paranormal YA always manages to rehash itself:  vampires, werewolves, fairies, fallen angels, or even a mixture of all the above.  There are thousands of years of lore and myth for writers to look through for ideas, so why aren't they expanding themselves beyond these boundaries?  Where's the vibrancy if all we readers have is just a handful of interchangeable ideas that rarely ever resound with great heart or deep emotion?  It's sad that I sometimes have to wonder if an author wrote a novel to satisfy an idea or just in the hopes of a large advance.

Paranormal YA should be every teenage reader's literary pleasure — but, as the genre is right now, it's just shallow and empty.  We don't want Gossip Girl with vampires/werewolves/etc.; we want something much more fulfilling and lasting.  Don't just give us eternal love.  Give us an eternal story that will dig itself a place in our hearts for the rest of our lives.”

So there you have it: six ways to ensure that your YA PNR does not suck! Thinking out of the box always pays off, in terms of book contracts, public success and literary satisfaction. In fact, the sparklepires managed to prove that, even if they did it in a very disturbing way! Let’s hope all you YA authors out there are paying attention!

And on a side note, welcome to The Book Lantern, your guiding light for great literature! Tomorrow we’ll be talking about the supposed suckiness of teen writers, so don’t miss that!


  1. All of this is true about 80% of YA paranormals that come out today. I mean, it's come to the point whereas I see "Paranormal Romance" and I turn the other way, automatically expecting the idiotic drivel that the 80% mentioned exhibits. And that's just sad.

    It's great to see a group of people interested in INTELLIGENT young adult novels, instead of the tripe that the publishing industry is trying to throw at younger readers.

  2. Great first post! I'm an instant follower.

  3. *walks in with brownies and sits down*

  4. I really hope you're right. It seems like maybe publishers don't agree with what will sell, though. Not sure how else to explain the trends.

  5. Another HUGE problem I have with the YA paranormals is that they forget friendships. Most of the main characters are "outcasts" I call bullshit and stop reading almost instantly after the character is introduced as such.