Reading pitch critiques over at the BookEnds Agency blog, Jessica voiced concern about a story set in 1974. "It’s not a time period that’s considered historical and not one I’m sure would be of interest to [the YA] age group."
My MS is also set in the recent past, because to me that's just when the story takes place. Perhaps I'm just waxing nostalgic.
Does time period really matter? Does something have to be either contemporary or historical? Would it make sense to try and justify setting this story in 1989, or should I just give all of my characters cell phones and iPods and forget about it?
You're writing for teens. They live in the NOW. They want to imagine themselves as the main character. Do you know any teens who want to imagine themselves as their parents??
The easy sale is going to be something that is clearly historical or clearly contemporary. When you're writing within the past 50 years, the line between the two gets fuzzy. Fuzzy lines means it's going to be hard to sell your story to an agent or publisher, and even harder to sell it to the reader. There are notable exceptions that deal with the recent past, such as The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton about teens in the 50s, first published in 1967, and Stephen King's The Body/Stand by Me set in 1960, published in 1982.
The setting is determined by the story. Ask yourself why you've picked this particular time period. Would/could your story be just as strong if it was happening today? If the answer is yes, hand out the cell phones and make it an easier sale.