Age Inappropriate

Hello from the swampy banks of Brays Bayou! The humidity index is somewhere in the thousands today; I wouldn’t know, because I haven’t been outside yet. When I woke up early in the morning I realized it was raining and went promptly back to sleep; there could be no possibility of a walk that day. (See what I did there?)

One of you enterprising souls took me up on my call for questions! I would like AFN to be nominally and occasionally useful, so thank you to Anna for giving me the opportunity! Here’s Anna’s question:

I'm curious about protagonist ages in MG and YA. I'm revising a contemporary YA, and my protagonist was 15 years old, until I got feedback from an author critique that she either needs to be aged up or down, as 15 doesn't really work in terms of selling. I know that young readers often read up in age, and I understand the distinction between the problems/stakes of MG and the problems of YA (this book is tonally teenager, definitely not MG problems). I guess my question is, does the age number really matter? Is 16 more sellable than 15? This is "clean" YA, so that's why I initially aged her down to 15. Also, this same author suggested that "clean" YA should be billed as "middle grade friendly YA" in a query to appeal to a wider audience. Is that even a thing that needs to be shared in a query? Or should I just say it's clean? Or skip both and make sure my comps are in line with the book's tone? I think I'm overthinking this.

I’ll make a full confession - the “clean” market is not one I am familiar with. It exists, certainly, and some very good books are published in it, but as my taste runs more towards the sex/murder/death end of things, it’s not something I encounter too often. (Except in my middle grade list - “an epistolary novel about baseball” is not exactly Grand Guignol.) So while I can’t speak to the clean market side of things, I do think I know why 16 is more salable than 15: it has to do with transition.

At fifteen, you’re closer to childhood than adulthood; but at sixteen, you can start to see the threshold of that older space. This is, of course, a wild generalization based on mainstream cultural expectations, which are themselves heavily influenced and informed by white, largely Christian, ideas of American childhood. But there are some things that happen at sixteen that you’re not able to do at fifteen; driving, for one. Starting to think about college applications or future moves.

Stories, by and large, are about journeys - and for me, a fifteen year old’s journey is longer than a sixteen year old’s because they have farther to go before they reach that transitional state, and can therefore sometimes feel less compelling. The advice to age your protagonist to sixteen has merit on this front - however, it forgets the main thing about YA - you’re writing this for teens.

Aging your protagonist down to be 14 wouldn’t work, because 14 is largely too young for YA (and too old for middle-grade.) My advice here is: write the book at 15 and see how the feedback you get from agents goes. It’s entirely possible that an agent might say “this is great but they’re too young,” but it’s also possible that they’ll just say “this is great” without caveats. The book might not be great on some other front that has nothing to do with age. Think about the audience you’re trying to reach, and the message you’re trying to send first and foremost, and then pick the age that you think serves that message and audience best.


This Thursday, May 7 at 7pm, Bridget Smith and I will be doing an episode of Shipping & Handling live on Instagram. To participate, just follow me on instagram and wait for us to go live! We’ll be taking questions on-air but you can submit questions to be asked in advance via our ask box on Tumblr.

Any questions you’d like me to answer in this newsletter? Topics you’d like me to cover? Sports teams you’d like me to talk shit about? Simply leave a comment or reply to this email!

This Week In Hockey

Sports: Still cancelled! In America, that is, where we are all chumps who don’t know how to social distance. In South Korea they have their shit together, and so it is my pleasure to introduce you to the sport I have decided to get Extremely Into until hockey comes back: the KBO. The KBO, or Korean Baseball Organization, is South Korea’s professional baseball league, and their season starts today. Or it started last night - I have no idea how time zones work. There won’t be fans in the stands or professional cheerleading squads (did you know batters in the KBO have their own customized at-bat songs? This league rules!) but there will be running and hitting and throwing and oh my god I miss sports.

If you’d like to take this ride of lunacy with me, a good place to start is this two-part interview on Fangraphs with Dan Kurtz, who runs, an English-language website for fans of the KBO.

The New York Times also did a good rundown of the differences between the KBO and MLB in this article: Watching South Korean Baseball on TV? Let Us Help.

Here is the schedule for the games on ESPN:

And finally, here is a cool montage of bat-flipping videos, because they know how to have fun in the KBO!

The Art of Letting Go by Mina Kimes, illustrations by Mickey Duzyj (ESPN)
As Major League Baseball struggles to overcome its staid image and lure younger fans -- according to Nielsen, most of the sport's TV viewers are over 50 -- the simple bat flip has come to symbolize the culture war being waged within its ranks. It's a conflict between those who believe the game should embrace the traditions of other countries and flashier elements of other sports, and those who, as Bautista wrote in The Players' Tribune, are "old-school, my-way-or-the-highway type of people who never want the game to evolve."

And a hockey link, as a treat:

One NHL team’s plan for reopening arenas by Greg Wyshynski (ESPN)
"If you're a season-ticket holder or a suite holder, you have a contract for a certain number of games. If there less than those number of games, the question then becomes whether you take a refund or you take a credit into next year," said Becher. "Most people want to come back next year, so now there's a choice: I'll pay less for next year, or I'll get money back and pay the full price next year. The math is the same."


Alison Roman’s Self-Quarantine Dating Life Is One Long Quest For Phone Sex by Alison Roman (Bon Appetit)
Seven weeks from now, I will have finished a book proposal, decluttered my entire apartment, sent hand-written letters to my friends and family, become the most hydrated woman in New York, met all my deadlines, become a morning person, finally discovered a tricep muscle (on my own arm) and absolutely had phone sex at least once –Me to myself, when quarantine began

Miss Reading in Public? Bring the Sounds of the Library To Your Home (ElectricLit)
We’ve been particularly nostalgic for the quiet hum of a busy bookstore or library. And apparently the library’s been thinking of us, too. The New York Public Library has released an album of all the sounds you might miss—including the sound of the New York Public Library, which closed all its branches in mid-March.