Did I accidentally write a YA novel?

writing20

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.

pickle

Tell me, how do you differentiate between YA and adult?

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27 thoughts on “Did I accidentally write a YA novel?

  1. Ah, fear not! I’ve had the same happen (with a fantasy novel). – If a younger audience enjoys it, they claim it as their own.

    What it sounds like you’ve created is a novel that appeals to a broad spectrum of readers… What could be better than that?

    Oh and congrats on finishing it early; I’d diarised a fist-shaking session for July 1st if you weren’t done! 😛

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Haha, yeah I’m surprised I finished so early! Was closer than I thought. Too bad I missed out on your epic fist-shakage, I bet it would have been quite impressive. 😛

    I’m happy to appeal to broad audiences, that’s exactly how *I* would like to look at it. But publishers tend to look at it differently. They like putting books in boxes so they can better market them and know where to shelve them.

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  3. Hi Shannon, we were talking about this topic in my book group recently. We had read an excellent book called ‘The Book Thief’. Don’t know if you know it; think it has also been made into a film, which I haven’t seen. Anyway, we all rated it highly and said it was the best book we’d read in ages, but realised that it was listed as being a YA book, although not sure how strongly it was advertised as such. I have to admit that that did slightly put me off before reading but then I totally forgot about it once I got into the book. It was definitely a book that could be enjoyed by all. It has some very adult themes (ie. the holocaust), but we thought that at no point was it ever particularly graphic in the detail of those aspects. As an adult reader you would understand a lot more of what was going on than the young protagonist. The same could also be said of another book ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’, also set during the holocaust but the real horror is what isn’t explicitly stated, so I wonder if that is what marks it as YA?
    Maybe therefore your solution, is to put in some graphic detail (sex/violence/language etc!) that would exclude younger readers?! Otherwise, I don’t think any of the issues you mentioned marks it out to me as being a YA book. I quite like books with a young main character because of the innocence of their viewpoint.
    Sorry for the essay! Hope that is of some help.

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    • I had this exact same discussion about The Book Thief! I ADORED that book, and only realized afterward that it’s labeled YA, at least at my library… Aside from the protag’s age, it didn’t seem YA to me at all, and not just because of the content but because of the entire style of it. I don’t think content can really be a factor anymore in YA since so many have sex and violence and dark subject matter now – which they should, because teens need to learn about this stuff and stories are a great place to do so. Distinguishing YA seems more about tone and how readably approachable it is, now.

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  4. Either way, it sounds like an interesting novel. It’s sort of sad that adult novels are supposed to be so heavy—hard topics, something educational, or if anyone’s funny it’s a dry “I’m drinking the pain away” humor that seems pessimistic. Is that really how it’s divided—optimistic verses pessimistic or realistic?

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    • That’s a really good point! I hadn’t thought about it like that before. How dreary…

      My book has hard topics too though. It’s definitely not all silliness. And there are YA books out there with hard topics as well… So now I’m not sure?

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  5. Ooh, that is a dilemma. (Or dill-emma, to keep it in the pickle jar.) An editor I once spoke with emphasized the importance of being able to name successful, well-known titles that are similar to the book you wrote; are there novels for adults that are close to yours in genre, subject matter, tone, etc.?

    Side note: my book club recently read a good fantasy, Uprooted, that I believe was marketed as YA, but I think much of the audience was older. I think the division between audiences is largely based on subject matter and age of the protagonist, not on style. Anyway, I look forward to reading your novel when it comes out, regardless of which section they shelve it in at my local bookstore.

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    • I snortlaughed out loud at your dill pun. 😀

      Comparisons are my biggest problem when it comes to querying (it was/still is especially troublesome with my first book, which is a big ol’ weirdo). My books tend to combine a lot of elements and frolic gleefully over genre lines, so comparisons are always hard. This book in question has similarity to a couple others in terms of concept, but not tone.

      Aw, that’s nice of you to say about reading my book. Hopefully it’ll GET on a bookshelf someday!

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  6. I have the same problem with a short story I wrote recently. I read it yesterday for the first time in a while (still need to tweak it a bit), and thought, is this YA? I didn’t write it as YA. Every plot with a snarky teen isn’t automatically YA, right? Yet it kinda, sorta, maybe seemed YA. Ish. Fortunately, I only post my stories on my website, so I can just toss it out there and let others decide for themselves. In your case, though, I can imagine publishers insisting on a yes-it-is or no-it-isn’t. And I’m no help at all, am I? LOL

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    • That definitely seems to be the trend, with teen characters equaling teen readers… My protag’s not a teen, but with everything else seeming YA’ish, my worry is an agent/editor would advise I age them down. I verrrry much don’t want to!

      What’s your sort-of-YA-ish story about?

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  7. I’m so glad you’re ok. When you said you were in a pickle I assumed you’d somehow inadvertently burrowed inside a pickle and become disoriented and trapped. Kind of like Austin Powers in a nutshell.

    If all your guesses around what makes it YA are correct then I need to read more YA (which I had already decided upon after reading The Book Thief as you and Rebecca discussed). Fantasy is often dismissed as “childish” but I think it’s more often because of it being too formulaic. I love Game of Thrones but the last two books have been amazingly epic exercises in nothing whatsoever really happening. Give me a Steven Erikson novel or the original Chronicles of Thomas Covenant any day of the week.

    Come to think of it comedy is also dismissed as “childish” more often than not unless it’s so subtle and highbrow that you have to manufacture a special laugh in order to be be perceived to have appreciated it. I’m 43 and my sarcasm shows no signs of slowing. In fact it’s practically virulent in its growth.

    Bracket it however you want but anyone capable of producing lines such as “not a single hanky gets panky’ed” and “no diddle gets fiddled” and is prepared to put a same-sex friendship with strong female characters front and centre deserves to be read. Period.

    Death to all bracket-makers. A plague on all their restrictive houses. Etc.

    Liked by 1 person

    • NIK, YOU ARE THE BEST. I love your notes. Not only are they hilarious but also immensely supportive. I reiterate: you’re the best. Thank you. ❤

      Your "special laugh" comment had me visualizing someone looking down their nose and making a pompous "huh huh huh" kind of chuckle, then glancing around clandestinely to see if others are impressed by their sophisticated tastes. 😛

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  8. I worked in a bookstore for a long time and can honestly say I still have never figured out what makes some books YA and others Fiction/Fantasy. I have read so many Fiction/Fantasy books that felt juvenile to me and dozens of YA books that seemed not only appropriate for ‘older audiences’ but also waaaaaaaaaaaay too good to be in a genre that is often looked down upon. (Which I suppose is part of the problem. YA is a growing genre with a plethora (ha, word of the day!) of talented authors that are doing there thing and doing it well.)
    I think YA has become a bit of a catch all for books that don’t hit all of the fantasy tropes but are still too otherworldly for general fiction.

    This was probably not helpful, but what I am trying to say is don’t lose heart and keep advocating for the genre you believe your book to be 🙂

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    • Thanks for your support, Sarah! Yeah, I don’t really understand the YA market, but that’s because I don’t often read it. Which is part of why I don’t want my book marketed as YA! How could I possibly consider myself a YA author when I’ve barely even read it, you know? I don’t look down on YA, I’m glad there are great books for teens out there, it’s just not a market I’ve personally connected to.

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  9. Could try adding a a few f-bombs, that should it grow it up a bit.

    Seriously though i can relate, I think my own wip sometimes feels a bit YA, and I do honestly think that I actually do, exactly the above, aswell as a few darker bits, just to avoid the label when people come to read it.

    Terry Pratchett (RIP), is one of my very favourite authors, and it alway annoys me when people say he only wrote kids books, because they had colourful covers and were funny.

    I’m the end I think you should just consider yours to be whatever the f you want it to be.

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    • I thought about Terry Pratchett while I was writing this post but forgot to mention him. His books are a great argument against that statement that if the book’s too playful it won’t seem adult. His books are super playful! And they’re located in the adult section of my library. Douglas Adams is another good example too.

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  10. Shannon, I think your self-critique is great, this shows that you are able to step back and look critically at your own work. Some of the things you mention could definitely throw you into the YA camp and I totally understand not wanting to be branded as a certain kind of author (like JK Rowling, whose adult books haven’t been nearly as successful as the Harry Potter series.) I associate fantasy with video games, more teen/YA than adult. Overbearing moms become less so over time. Same sex friendships fade when you marry and have kids, then re-emerge at mid-life when the nest empties. At 47, I’m inclined to think a mid-twenties protagonist still has a lot to figure out about life and herself. Maybe she could be older? But it is harder to write about experiences you haven’t had yet (an assumption on my part, but you’re only 30). Definitely, keep your own voice, humor, and sarcasm. Not sure what you mean by juvenile style or tone—fart jokes? Not using big words? Newspapers aim for language on a 6th grade level, what most people can read easily, like not having to grab for the dictionary.

    I’ve been told that “real” poets don’t write the way I do. They focus on the universal rather than the self and write ethereal lines about how red roses sound??? (To me, red roses are largely silent, the same as any other color.) I say bullshit. I am a writer with my own style, using realism and humor to bring poetry within the reach of the masses. My followers usually dislike airy-fairy poems because they don’t understand what the poet is trying to say. But they like my poetry, because they get it. If writing is about making a connection, that’s a bullseye. Congrats and good luck! 🙂

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    • It really sticks in my craw when someone says that “real” writers do this, “real” writers do that. We’re all real writers and there’s a place for all of us – we shouldn’t all be the same. I’m not sure why so many poets aim for the obscure. I would think that reaching out to others is the point of any writing. Self-expression, certainly, but expression in order to be understood, and connect. Otherwise you’re just talking into the void. I’m glad you write the way you want!

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  11. Honestly, it sounds more to me like you have a new adult book, rather than a young adult book! New adult is slightly younger than “adult”, but it’s not primarily geared to teenagers like YA is. 😉 Maybe that’s something you could feel more comfortable writing??

    Your book sounds really interesting, though! I don’t know the plot, but just reading about the elements makes me think it’s the kind of thing I’d read. 🙂

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    • Ya know it’s odd… I’m aware of NA as a thing, but I’ve never actually come across any NA books in the flesh. (Er, in the paper? Not sure how to say that. 😛 ) I’ve never seen them at a bookstore or a library. I’ve never been scoping out a book on Amazon and seen “New Adult” in its description. Seems like it’s rather rare? I was also under the impression that NA books deal primarily with contemporary stories about what it’s like going to college for the first time, moving out for the first time… I didn’t know there could be NA fantasy.

      I think I’m going to try my dangdest to age up the book to adult, cuz I don’t like all these limiting sub-markets. If it absolutely can’t be anything but NA, that’s okay I suppose. But I’m going to try.

      Thanks for reading, Brianna! (And I will reveal the plot soon, when it’s closer to being queried. 🙂 )

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      • That might be because NA is kind of a new term. It isn’t so widely used yet as an official category, I guess. *shrugs* Anyway, do your thing! Although I will also add that, while you say it’s a limiting sub-market, it is probably true that more adults read YA fiction than young adults read adult fiction! 😉 It doesn’t have to be limiting.

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  12. Hmmm, I know a lot of people who try to put everything into YA because it’s not hard Lit. YA has ruled for so long that I think people just imagine everything fits it when they’re not sure what genre to place a book in. If it’s more of a mid 20s book, it’s more likely fit for the lesser known NEW Adult genre. This isn’t as juvenile as YA, but not super adultish. I hate genres. Honestly if it appeals to adults it should just be considered fantasy, but modern constraints will say otherwise. You’ll find a good fit

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