I wrote this last week for my group blog: FOR THE LOVE OF CONTEMPORARY and liked it so much that I thought I would repost it here. Also, I am curious as to what you all think of this (if you haven't read it yet). AND, I added a paragraph at the end that discusses something remotely related that I have been thinking about quite a bit this month.
So I've been to a few conferences lately and one of the things that has come up is the issue of "writing for a wider audience." I went to this excellent panel at RT2012 on "Pushing Boundaries in YA" and Aprilynne Pike discussed her more "mainstream" books. To paraphrase: She is a fierce advocate for boundary-pushing in YA, but also, when she wrote her books, she understood that to reach the widest audience, she needed to pull back more on some things. She made that choice not only for a wider readership, but because writing was a primary income for her family. So the question becomes, are we sacrificing our artistic integrity so that the books that we sell might be carried in more places, used in more schools, etc?
I think the answer to this comes down to how much boundary-pushing things are central to your plot. I could NOT alter TRAINWRECK to make it workable for a Scholastic Book Fair. Yes, I could take out all the f-words (there are a lot), but the premise hinges on a horrible rape and the emotional fall-out of the victim and her boyfriend. My Ani loses a part of herself in that rape and becomes incredibly promiscuous afterwards because she can't find an identity beyond that. The plot hinges on a premise that could not be sold at Scholastic Book Fairs.
However, this does not mean that all rape books or issue books won't work in schools. We KNOW that they do. 13 REASONS WHY is in many school curriculums. SPEAK is in school curriculums (although LHAnderson has had to defend it from censorship many times). When I was in school, we read THE BEST LITTLE GIRL IN THE WORLD for health class. My teen betas now read WASTED in health.
Which begs the question, is it smart for authors to self-censor to reach a wider audience? My gut instinct is to say yes, if you can, than you should. It will just make it EASIER for you and that's a good thing. You ultimately want people to read your books. So if you can make that work, why wouldn't you?
That being said, there are some of us (ahem, me) who CANNOT write books that don't end up horrible in one way or the other. We write for the fringes. Stephanie Kuehnert said on that same RT panel, "I love the letters I get from my readers talking about how my books helped them with addiction. It means more to me than anything. But they'll never use my books in high schools and my primary income comes from being a bartender. So there's that."
Sometimes we HAVE to make choices about our writing because of our lives and our histories. Sometimes we WANT to make choices because we have important things to say and damn the man if they try to ban us. But, if you can get your IMPORTANT THING out to a wider audience by toning down language or making the hot tub scene slightly less racy, why wouldn't you?
New added thought: I have been relatively quiet on my blog lately. Have you noticed? Partly it is because I'm busy, but also, honestly, it is because I am a bit paralyzed by blogging. I worry A LOT that I am going to say the wrong thing, piss my agent off, piss my editor off, piss my publisher off, etc. I worry that maybe one day after TRAINWRECK comes out, someone will read some of these old blog posts and make judgments about me and my life. I have always tried to be honest about the person that I am. What you see is really what you get. But I fear that maybe that person isn't what should be all out there in the world. If I talk about my life or tell you about how I embarrass myself, is this somehow later going to be used against me? I know that I am not for everyone and I never will be. But I don't want my blog to keep people from buying my books.
I think that this is a problem that a lot of published writers have. I'd like to think that there are some out there who really just say what they think and deal with it. But even those who are relatively vocal probably have an off button now that they are published/getting published that they didn't have before. I am blessed to have my agent and my editor. They have NEVER been anything but supportive of all my crazy. But what happens when my book is out in the world and not everyone who reads it is 100% in Camp Christa?
I don't know the answer to this. It's just something I've been thinking of. Maybe you all think and worry about it too. That's all.