Okay, so the kerfluffle over the phantom-boogie-man YA Mafia seems to have quieted down and certainly people who are far more famous, intelligent & good-looking have said it better than me, but perhaps you'd like to consider the word of a relative newbie to the YA community when I say that not only am I certain that is there *no* YA Mafia, but I'd venture to say that the opposite is true: in my experience, there is no more helpful, generous, hand-me-up community that I've ever had the pleasure of meeting (online and off) in my personal and professional careers than the Young Adult writing community.
Instead, let me offer up a better image: that we have YA Red Rover. Imagine a line of kids playing in a giant field and you are wandering over, the new kid in town, a little shy and unsure and everyone grasping hands seems to already know one another, chatting and laughing in a long line that stretches across the whole playground. As you step closer, you can overhear their conversations to one another (Twitter), follow a few of their questions and comments (Verla Kay), learn about some of their passionate interests (blogs), and even figure out who some of the Big Names are on the field (pro websites and interviews) and then--now this is key--you put yourself out there. And you know what happens? Someone answers you, someone comments, someone smiles and laughs back. There isn't a person-limit in this game, anyone can play, and the line grows stronger.
♬ Red Rover, Red Rover, let the new kid come over! ♬
And you can join the chain, grasp a hand, say hello. People "Friend" and "Add" and "Follow" but in the real world, the one about learning and connection and acceptance, what really matters is that someone you've never known before is willing to say "Hi" and give you a hand, welcoming you into a world that is foreign and big and exciting and scary and built almost entirely on dreams and stories and the want to share.
Of course it's also built on a foundation of business and marketing and making money as per capitalist credo; it's not all Kumbaya by any means, but the *people* in the writing community are the ones who talk amongst themselves, try to help one another out, make the secrets less secret and the mysteries less mysterious. And I'm not just talking about the pros like Janet Reid, Cheryl Klein, Kristin Nelson, Nathan Bransford and Editorial Anonymous (some of my favorite folks in the field), but people who we connect with and meet online and at conferences and in social networking sites like Verla Kay, SCBWI, RWA, or TweetChats like #kidlitchat or #yalitchat. Our best resources are one another and when one of us succeeds, YA as a whole is seen in a better light -- not lesser or simpler or "dumbing down" ((shudder)) -- and that makes the playing field better for everyone!
A few examples from my own, limited experience:
- When I went to my first conference, I signed up to share a room and split the cost. I met people who introduced me to more people (and more people and more people, including RAs, agents, editors, and marketing professionals), some of whom became crit partners, close friends, and certainly cheerleading fans as I continued on my journey to publication. That in and of itself is a lifeline that EVERY writer can appreciate!
- Charged with the assignment of "go get a web presence", I stumbled onto places like LiveJournal and Twitter. There I started following intelligent, funny writers and joined in conversations or commented on their brilliance, often laughing happily at the keys at the things we had in common or the opinions we shared. From those simple "Hey, me too!" interactions, I was invited to meet up in New York, go to dinner at a conference, talk business with an agent, come along on a writer's retreat, submit to an anthology, join as a moderator...I became who I am as a YA writer because other YA writers invited me to be one, too.
- Taking the train home from SCBWI NY, I happened to sit next to another attendee and we spent the ride talking about what we'd just experienced and sharing the highlights and our stories. When I mentioned that I was working on a book using Mexican mythology, it turned out that she was a professor whose expertise was Mexican folklore! I whipped out my notebook and took notes on everything she had to share for the next hour, giving me the resources, books, personal contacts and ideas that fueled what would become Consuela's foundation in LUMINOUS.
- Just before my website launched, I was having difficulties with one of the things I wanted to do in WordPress and it was affecting everything else surrounding the book and writing and I felt completely helpless. Deflated, I went toodling around Twitter for distraction and saw that someone had asked for help with a query. (I loved helping folks with blurbs on the Blueboards.) So I clicked the link, went to the site, made some suggestions and felt better about myself. I was pinged on Twitter with a "Thank you" and an invitation to see if the next draft had improved. We exchanged a bit, I was able to help, and the writer thanked me profusely with "and if there's anything I can do..." I admitted that I was having a tough time with WordPress. Turns out that's what they did for a living!
- I was completely flummoxed about what to do about bookmarks, having no design degree or software of my own and strapped for cash. I looked over the bookmarks I'd collected over the years and decided to contact the authors of some of the best ones to ask for who did their bookmarks and what they thought should always/never go on them. Every one answered me. Every one was helpful and willing to share. And one went so far as to design my bookmarks for me as a surprise, for which I will be forever grateful.
I could go on and on and on but let me just reiterate that this is less "Mafia" and more "Love In" in my opinion. I am not so naive as to claim that there are no cliques, no angry souls, no bitter writers who covet the careers of others or lord their successes over anyone else; there are such people in the world and I've even met a few. But it is *far* more likely that you will meet a friendly, helpful, welcoming, willing-to-share human being on the other end of the YA blog than a mean, tyrannical Boss's Boss who is trying to crush the opposition like a Coke can. I think we've got more Good Samaritans than Scrooges and far more teammates than competition.
Go to a conference, join a writer's community, leave a question or comment online and see what I mean: in this game, there's always room for more! (And we're all in this game of Calvinball together!)