Jim Murphy, Susan Cambell and I are on a panel today about YA Nonfiction
It will be interesting to see how each of us see the field. The questions they sent us are about how to reach and engage teenagers. Lurking in those questions, I assume, is a sense that teenagers are swamped with cool media options, and overwhelmed with schoolwork — in other words, trade nonfiction has to compete against the entire digital world, and fight for time against textbooks. I plan to argue that this adversity is a blessing — in two ways. First, it challenges us as authors — we have to refine our writing, we have to take risks in our subjects, we have — as I have argued here — show our personal stake in what we write about. In other words, our books have to prove to kids that they are different from websites and textbooks — that they have a reason to exist. That is terrific — we are challenged to try harder, to experiment, to go past the known and familiar. That is wonderful news for an author.
The second way in which the media threat is actually good for us gets back to some of my first posts here. Whether it is by having teachers guides on websites, or a slideshow like that Times one, or using Blackboards so that authors can work with classes, or through virtual spaces — the digital world allows us to write conventional books, then build new forms of contact with teachers and students. Previously the author of hardcover nonfiction was trapped — no school could buy enough copies to allow them to use a book in class. But now we can find ways to link up with teachers using digital contacts, while continuing to write books.
So I see this is a good time. I’ll let you know what the others say.
And still now word from artists, photographers, designers, or editors for an illustrated Work In Progress.