I’m in a pickle.
First I must clarify that I am not in an actual pickle, which is a confusion one could easily have given the kind of person I am. Maybe I have pickle costumes lying around, you don’t know. I’m unpredictable.
Now that we’ve got that de-mystifying out of the way, I’m in a pickle.
Twice now someone in my critique group has thought my second novel seems YA. (Young Adult – the category for teenage readers.) This threw me for a loop and has been bumming me out pretty hard, because while I have nothing against YA, it isn’t… me.
The authors I know who write YA do so because they LOVE young adult lit. It’s their jam. Such authors are noble and necessary – we need good books for teens!
But that’s not me. I don’t even really like teens as people. Hashtag misanthrope.
I’ve read some YA, but it’s not my main squeeze. A few books have been wonderful (Eleanor & Park, Every Day), but most have been just alright. There is a certain style and sensibility common to YA that would be hard for me to define, but I can feel it as I read, and it’s not one I respond to much.
So why did these critiquers think my book seemed YA? They weren’t able to give much explanation, so here are my guesses:
- It’s a fantasy novel, which some people may associate with younger audiences for… some… reason? And while there are some some dark bits, it’s not chock full of rape and torture like Game of Thrones, so it’s easier for people to shrug it off as not adult.
- The protag is in her mid-20s. I wanted her to be an adult but still in the “growing into her own” stage, not the “has a mortgage” stage. (But really, aren’t we always growing into our own, no matter how old we are?)
- She’s also a touch sarcastic. This is a teenager-y thing that us adults are supposed to mature out of, APPARENTLY… (Except I’m nearly 30 and just wrote a sassy “apparently,” so draw your own conclusions.)
- There’s a lot of humor laced through. Most of the story is serious, but the humor pops up. I was warned that if the book is too playful it will not seem adult enough, which is strange because there are adult comedies everywhere. Even the dreariest drama should have a moment of levity or two. I just happen to like more than two.
- She struggles against an overbearing mother. Parent/offspring conflicts are a staple of adolescence, but anyone who’s been birthed by anyone knows that even though you’ve moved out, those problems don’t just stop by magic. (Even in fantasy books!)
- A same-sex friendship is a crucial element of the story. Friendships are a hallmark of teenhood, while in adulthood we care more about marriage and raising a family. But does no one else find that a little sad? A job and a home should not stop us from caring about our friends – in fact, I imagine that is the reason for many unfulfilled lives out there. And what about all the bromances in our media, huh?
- Speaking of ‘ships, not a single hanky gets panky’ed in my book. No ugly gets bumped, no diddle gets fiddled, no boffs or boinks or bones. And not because I disapprove of such shenanigans (I heartily approve!) but because I wanted a book where two awesome women could go on an adventure and have an exciting and valuable journey despite the lack of dudes and their dude-parts.
- And lastly… The toughest one of all… Perhaps my writing style or all-around tone is more juvenile than I realized. This one saddens me the most. I don’t know how to change it. I just write the way my brain writes.
As I bemoaned this fate to my boyfriend Craig, he asked, “Why is it a problem if it’s marketed as YA?”
Other than the fact that it completely jars with my identity as a writer, the biggest problem is that it narrows my demographic. True, a lot of adults read YA, but there are a lot more who don’t, and despite the growing population of 18-and-older fans, YA is still by definition for teens. And even if I got a lot of teen readers, that’s not the market I set out to speak for. I’m also worried that if I release one book as YA, I’ll be branded as that and pressured to write only that.
So what I need to do is somehow make it seem less YA, while still maintaining my vision and style and all the story elements that are important to me. Oof.
Thus the pickle I’m in.
Tell me, how do you differentiate between YA and adult?