Publishers tell me they aren’t sending very many authors on tour these days — it’s just too expensive. That’s why we’re seeing a lot more of our local writers, who are hitting regional bookstores and libraries in driving-distance tours (often at their own expense) instead. It’s a boon for outstate readers; suddenly more writers are coming to them. But your favorite national authors aren’t getting out much — with one exception.
Writers who work for the young-adult (YA) audience are still touring. Call it the “Twilight Effect,” in which readers of the popular vampire series look for their next literary fix, but sales of young-adult books are actually up in an otherwise dismal publishing market.
In April, the Association of American Publishing reported that February 2009 sales were off 12 percent — no surprise there — but sales in the children’s/young adult category were up a stunning 62.1 percent. That’s part of the reason white-hot YA author Laurie Halse Anderson is coming to town. Plus, children’s authors often have nonreading opportunities.
“YA authors have two types of appearances on tour,” says Anderson, a New York-based writer who is touring in support of her new book, “Wintergirls.”
“Generally, I’ll visit two or three schools in the morning and afternoon, then do bookstore and/or library appearances in the late afternoon and evening. The ability to go directly to my audience is wonderful.”
Dark topics, this time anorexia
But there’s a dark side to this success, and for Anderson, it’s in the writing. Her enormously popular novels deal with topics such as rape, epidemics, slavery, depression, and now anorexia. You know, just regular kid stuff.
“I think most teens are doing fine, but have moments of deep pain and confusion. I get a lot of mail from teens who are grateful they don’t have the hard-core issues that my characters have, but they identify with my characters’ feelings of isolation and alienation,” says Anderson. “I think readers are looking for someone who feels like they do, or seeking to understand the issues facing their peers.”
The new book is especially touchy, as numerous anorexics claim to have used a previous generation’s books, like Steven Levonkron’s “The Best Little Girl in the World,” as “manuals,” and as some online support communities for anorexics encourage the illness rather than help its victims recover. This is spookier and more twisted than anything the fantasy world can produce, meaning teen authors have to tread carefully, considering their readers’ psychology as well as that of their characters.
“There is nothing in my book that romanticizes or glamorizes eating disorders. Quite the opposite,” says Anderson. “It tells the unvarnished truth about the pain and destruction that eating disorders cause and shows how difficult it is for the anorexic and her family to break free of the bonds that the disorder traps them in.”
Closely connected to her audience
Anderson has guided four children of her own through the minefields of adolescence, and understands her audience deeply. They let her know exactly how they feel about her work, and how it connects to their own lives. That could make for a very grueling book tour, but Anderson welcomes it.
“The mail and face-to-face interaction I’ve had with readers has been the most unexpected and blessed part of the last decade. Countless readers have told me that they gain strength from my books; strength that led them to get help because they were feeling suicidal, or because they had been sexually assaulted, or — now — because they are struggling with an eating disorder. It is an honor to know that my stories can play a small part in helping another person become stronger and happier.”
Monday, May 4, 7 p.m. at the Loft Literary Center, 1011 Washington Ave. S., Mpls., 612-215-2575.