I'm excited to share Roseanne Cheng's new book THE TAKE BACK OF LINCOLN JUNIOR HIGH. When we discussed the possibility of sharing the book with all of you at The Writer's Block, Roseanne told me her feelings about clean reads for YA audiences. I love people with passion, and I love that Roseanne is strong enough to stand up for what she believes. Below is what she had to say.
Writing Clean when Dirty Sells
I read Fifty Shades of Grey just as it was beginning its worldwide whirlwind. I knew the premise and wasn’t all that excited about it, but just as a foodie wants to eat all the food everyone is talking about, a book nerd like me needs to be in the “know” about the books making headlines.
I got through it, and let’s just say it was not my cup of English Breakfast Tea (ah, Anastasia…) Sure, I had my opinions about sexism and feminism and all the other “isms” associated with a story like that, but what it boiled down to was this: I found it totally boring. I had no desire to read the next book when I finally got to the end.
Despite not liking the story, I had no problem with it. That is, until I started seeing it everywhere. All over the morning news, which I watch with my kids. On proud display at Target, just one aisle over from the coloring books. On the beach. Everywhere.
This was while I was in the final editing stages of my YA novel, The Take Back of Lincoln Junior High, when I was deciding whether traditionally or independently publishing the book would make the most sense. I started seeing my rejections from the traditional world from the “Fifty Shades” perspective. “We love the story, we love the characters, but we’re not sure we can sell it,” I heard in various iterations, and it finally dawned on me why.
My book is “clean”. No vampires, no violence, no sex. As a parent and teacher, I think this is one of its strongest selling points. As an agent, or as a traditional publisher, it is its weakest.
In light of this reality of selling books (go ahead and take a look at just how much erotica dominates your “bestselling” list at Barnes and Noble), I didn’t change the story. In fact, this newfound understanding helped me add to the book. Where does a book like mine belong? Possibly in a classroom, possibly in a book club. Possibly with a group of parents who really want to read with their kids, and don’t want to have to worry about the story being “appropriate”. I added a study guide to the back and realized that I could sell my book better than anyone in New York could.
The Take Back of Lincoln Junior High will be released March 23, 2014, along with almost 300,000 more titles this same year. Do I have any expectations for EL James’s fortune and fame? No.
But as writers, we are more than the number of copies we sell. We write what is true for us, what we feel can resonate with others. I’m proud of the story I wrote, and will be proud to show it to my kids someday. That is fortune enough for me.
Roseanne Cheng is a high school English teacher and author of The Take-Back of Lincoln Junior High (Wise Ink, March 2014). Visit her website at www.teachablelit.com.