Ask an Editor: Profanity and Slang in YA

I want to use swear words in my novel. Will this help or hurt my chances of getting published?


If you’re around teenagers, you know they swear. A lot. They also use slang and shorthand, or for the purposes of this post, “teenspeak.” So many authors believe that cursing and/or teenspeak need to be part of a novel if they are to reach teens and have the narrative feel authentic. There are pros to this approach, and there are definite cons.


  Cursing sounds authentic in dialogue. Many teens and adults reading YA fiction will appreciate this if it fits with the characters who are speaking it.

  Cursing can express tension/excitement in ways that bolster a scene or a character’s response to action.

  Teenspeak can be hilarious when done well, and when a character’s voice calls for it.


  Swear words can sound forced. Ask yourself: Is this how my character really expresses herself?

  Teenspeak can sound forced. And it dates your narrative very quickly (remember “my peeps”? – that sticks out like a sore thumb now…).

 If “gatekeepers” – adults who are involved in choosing books for teens – object to cursing, it can keep a book from reaching a wider audience.

If you’re on the fence about either cursing or teenspeak, try writing the passage without them. See if you can express what you want in a different way. It’s a great writing exercise, and will help you make the choices that are right for your book.

As you can see, there is no set rule for this, and you have to determine what you think is right for the story you are trying to tell.

Author spotlight

Liz S.

Hi, I'm the Editor-in-Chief at Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan. I've worked in the book biz for over 30 years (let's just …

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