What differentiates YA fantasy from regular fantasy?
Supposing the story is epic fantasy, so there is no high school or anything like that, does a 16 year old MC make the book YA? When I wrote my novel, I didn't try to "make it young" at all. Of course, there is only mild swearing and light sexuality. Does this make it YA?
I am working on my query letter, and suddenly not sure whether to pitch my novel as a YA fantasy, or just regular fantasy.
I think what differentiates a book as YA is what the target audience is. In the case of The Golden Compass, it was both young adults and adults--hence the double packaging.
I'm not sure about how to present it to the agent. One part of me thinks that the more precise you can be, the more it shows the agent you've done your homework. On the other hand, it is something an agent can help you with... I guess either way you should make sure that the agent is willing to represent YA, or adult, whichever way you go.
I'll go out on a limb and say YA is likely to be rite of passage. Doesn't have to be in a school, Diana Wynne Jones and Tamora Peirce wrote about all sorts of people in all sorts of situations, but generally there was some sort of rite of passage involved. Also would have to have a teen appropriate rating. I have the opposite, I headed out to write a YA book and included too much sex, killing and adult themes, the current draft is much darker than the original.
Well, which way you look at it should influence/educate your choice of agents and potential publishers, because as I learned at a literary conference last fall in my area, often the publishers who publish YA even if associated with the same house, are located in different buildings or in different cities than the adult publishers. YA falls into a different category for most publishers. You'll want an agent who knows how to market YA if you go that direction.
Also at that conference, I learned that (and have somewhat validated it here and with other writer audiences) the YA genre is one of the hotter (as it goes in book circles these days, long sigh) markets. It's seeing some growth, due I'm sure partly to the success of titles such as the Twilight series and Harry Potters.
So, I'd suggest you'd probably have good luck marketing a YA fantasy novel featuring a 16 y.o. protag.
One other definition of YA I have heard is the age of the protag at the outset of the story. Often "flashback" stories are done where the protag is in his/her 40s and is retelling a story about his/her youth to someone. In that case that type of story would not generally be considered YA. If, however, the protag starts and ends the story as an adolescent (I think there's some leeway here, but under 18 seems a good guideline) then most would consider that story to be YA.
Something else to be aware of is that kids generally read "up" in age. 13 year olds read about 16 year olds. 16 year olds don't generally read about 13 year olds (obvious exceptions with Harry Potter given it's huge success - all kinds of people were reading about an 11 year old protag.) So just be aware that potential publishers will be talking about that. I think 16 with mild forays into swearing and sexuality/sexual awareness is probably just about right. If you featured more mature themes with a 16 year old protag you might have more difficulty finding a market/representation for it because the readers would generally be under 16.
Insert standard "this is how I understand it to be" disclaimers here, and "your mileage may vary"
Good luck. I'm excited for you!! (be sure to tell us how it goes, as one of these days I will polish my YA sci-fi book and be looking to market it...)
Absolutely when you are pitching a work to an agent, you are expected to know what genre it is.
There is some overlap in agents who handle YA and those who handle fantasy, and I would suggest that if you don't intend your next work to necessarily be YA, that I'd look for an agent with a track record in both.
If your protag is 16 that doesn't nessesarily mean your book is YA. I think that really boils down to the voice and the content. If you planed on writing YA then say it's YA. If not then say it's fantasy with a possible "crossover" into YA. See how agents respond and then make a new plan.
Most agents who deal in YA only deal in YA. Some--like Jeanne said--do both fantasy adult and YA but they are few and far between. YA is a world unto itself.
You can find out a lot about writing for teens and youth on the SCBWI website.
There are more who handle both than you might think although to some extent BOTH YA and Fantasy are worlds unto themselves. If an agent doesn't have contacts at Tor or Baen, good luck selling fantasy there. A reader at a publisher recently told me that there is a SLUSH (a separate one from the one for authors) for agents who they aren't acquainted with!
Another thing is no one wants an agent to handle only one book--nor does an agent want a client who will produce genre they aren't prepared to handle. So... this is an important issue.
Kristin Nelson certainly handles both. I think I could come up with a more if I put my mind to it.
[This message has been edited by JeanneT (edited May 27, 2008).]
You know, I called it YA as I was writing it, and so it is. I guess I just started having doubts, largely due to the fact that YA fantasy trends these days lean towards urban and contemporary. Mine is solidly epic fantasy.
It seems like in the regular, adult fantasy genre there is still a decent market for epic fantasy. So, I started wondering if I should pitch it as just epic fantasy.
But, my book is what it is, and that's YA. I guess I'm just going to have to take my chances.
Nelson agency, Maass agency, and Rachel Vater (but she does mostly urban stuff) are the ones I can come up with off the top of my head that do both. I guess there are a handful, but that narrows your choices down a bit. I'd aim for a YA agent and then let her know you may want to write adult in the furture. From what I've seen most agents are very flexable once you win them to your work. And when you sit down to have the talk about goals that's when all the extra stuff comes out.
It sounds like you know pretty much what you're aiming at. And really you can't worry about trends. That's what's selling now, but it'll all change again soon.
The agent being flexible isn't the same as their being successful. This is something I would both look into and discuss with an agent BEFORE signing on with them. Not all agents are equally successful in all genre. So if you do want to do both, I'd certainly take that into consideration in choosing.
I'm pretty sure that Christi Cardenas over at Lazear does both. And Rachel Dowen at Talcott Notch. Oh and you might take a look Katie Menick at Howard Morhaim.
Edit: I agree with not worrying too much about trends. Who says the trend will still be around two years from now? These things come and go. Still it doesn't hurt to have something that fits into today's trend when hooking that agent you're luring to the bait.
[This message has been edited by JeanneT (edited May 28, 2008).]
The difference between YA fantasy and general fantasy with a 16 year old protagonist is that general fantasy is written about a 16 year old and YA fantasy is written specifically for teenagers readers.
I suggest you go to a book store, pick up a couple of YA fantasies and read the first page--you'll quickly know which category you should choose when querying.
YA has changed a great deal in the last five year, so check out new novels.
You'll want to find an agent that likes epic fantasy--many only like novels with modern settings. Check out Agent Query's website http://www.agentquery.com/ and do their extended search. Pick agents who have sold books similar to yours.
[This message has been edited by PatEsden (edited May 28, 2008).]
Right now there do seem to be more agents who like urban fantasy than epic. And some of the ones who are agents for the epic writers are a tough sell. Russell Galen or Joshua Bilmes aren't exactly lacking in clients.
[This message has been edited by JeanneT (edited May 29, 2008).]