So, I finished reading the final Harry Potter book yesterday. I know, I'm behind on the times. Everyone and their grandma and their dog read Harry Potter before me. But that's not the point.
I wanted to point out something that annoys me about YA books. Don't get me wrong––I love YA. I read it, I write it. It's wonderful. What bugs me is the popularity contest.
High school never ends, eh? It's like how one day, the most popular girl in school walks in wearing a green hat, and everyone says, "Oh, she's wearing a green hat and she's popular. Maybe if I wear a green hat, I'll be popular too!" And before you know it, everyone is wearing a green hat, so it's not new or exciting anymore.
With books, it's the same way. After the success of Twilight, everyone started writing vampire books and other such paranormal romances. After the success of The Hunger Games, everyone started writing dystopia books. And in both cases, the trends got terribly old. (I wasn't old enough to be reading YA when Harry Potter first came out, but I'm sure there were a lot of wizard rip-off stories as well.)
I read a Wall Street Journal article about James Frey that really pissed me off, in which he said something along the lines of, "Someone has to write the next Harry Potter. Maybe it will be me." Okay, okay. Just stop there. There are so many things wrong with this picture.
First off, James Frey doesn't even write his own books. He uses (and abuses) ghostwriters. "His" YA book, I Am Number Four, is part of a plot to make unknown writers crank out books for him, so he can then market them to movie producers––which is why the book and movie versions of I Am Number Four came out at practically the exact same time. (I didn't see the movie, but I read the book. And yes, it was terrible.) Did he make a lot of money? Oh, sure. But to compare himself to J.K. Rowling ... ? Ugh. I just want to throw up. (If you don't know this already, Frey is also the author of A Million Little Pieces, a notorious memoir which turned out to be fictional. And he lied to Oprah. So, shows what a great guy he is.)
Has Harry Potter made a lot of money? Oh, heck yes. Tons and tons. Have Twilight and Hunger Games made a lot of money? Yes and yes.
I'm not talking about the quality of any of these books, or my personal enjoyment or opinion of them, but regarding the authors ... None of them were trying to set up an enormous money-making scheme. They were all authors who just wanted to write and share their stories––and, beyond their control, they became wildly popular.
But being popular and making money definitely don't automatically put you on the same level as Harry Potter. It ticks me off when people say Twilight and/or The Hunger Games are "the next Harry Potter", because the three series really aren't comparable. And not just because Harry Potter is evidently the most popular of the three. It's also that Harry Potter is a much more beloved series––and I suspect it will remain that way, while the craze over Twilight and The Hunger Games will probably fade over time. J.K. Rowling put a lot of time and effort into her series, which involved very careful planning, world-building, and detailing. It's rare that a YA book series is so critically acclaimed and reaches such a wide audience of people––and that its popularity can remain just as strong for more than a decade. If any YA author hopes to achieve such success, he/she will have to work just as hard. But more than that, he/she will have to be just as original.
What's sad is that so many YA authors seem to sit down and think, "Okay, what can I write that will make me more popular?" And when they struggle to be more popular, it shows. (Like how, when all the girls at school start wearing green hats, they don't look cool ... They look like copy cats.) As I said before, authors like J.K. Rowling, Stephenie Meyer, and Suzanne Collins did not intend to be trendsetters. It just worked out that way. They wrote stories because they wanted to, not because they were trying to imitate someone else, which is what made their books appealing to so many people.
So what I'm saying is, don't write something just because you think people will like it. Write your own story. Write what you love. Write about characters you care about. You have to be new and daring. You have to be the first girl to walk into school wearing a green hat.
Or else, well ... You're just going to look stupid.