I unearthed a sf novel I had been working on a while back with main characters who are younger. The MC is like 18 (more or less), and then with him are a couple others whom he takes care of that are younger teenagers, like 14 or 16. When I was writing it I never really gave much thought as to what age group would be reading it (and back then, I just don't remember there even being a real "teen" section in the book store...). Some weird stuff happens in it, some mature-ish content; i was basically writing what I thought would be a fun book, and being an adult, there are adult themes in it. Now that I am looking at it with fresh eyes, I just have no idea what the target audience would be. I know teen fiction basically has no limits as far as content goes, but how weird can it get? SAy one of the characters is a prostitute? Or that another character is raped (in a strange way...mentally and physically)? Is this OK for teens? I have read quite a bit of teen fiction, but not the most recent stuff, so I know the first step would be to explore what is out there, but i was wondering what you guys' insights were.
Also--is there an adult audience for younger characters? Or would a book with teen characters be put in the teen category almost automatically? I'm remembering Ender's Game, I always found shelved in the grown-up's section. THere are quite a few other stories with younger characters, like Sword of Shannara, that I think are still only found in the grown up section. But why? What's the difference? I read Terry Brooks when I was a teen...
MG still has taboos. I don't think there's much truly off limits in YA anymore. It's all in how you handle it, but that can be tricky.
And, of course, there's the other issue. With YA more than "adult" fantasy, you have to deal with the gate keepers--librarians, teachers, parents. I can point to at least one successful YA author who attempts to deal with the hard topics who has had their books banned from school libraries, etc. and even been disinvited to events.
Yes, there are plenty of fantasy stories I can think of with young protagonists that are shelved in the main section, not as YA. YA is more than just the age of the characters.
Meredith--You brought up many points I was wondering about. A few years ago I wrote a YA novel because I had something to say to YAs, if that makes sense. Like, it couldn't be an adult book (though an adult might enjoy reading it as well), because it dealt with issues that teens go through, it was a book set in the teen world, if you will.
This one that I am looking at now (which only exists so far as a mess of notes and scenes) has a very different feel to it. The characters are young because that's what they need to be for the story to work, but it's a more universal story. I haven't written or explored it enough to know for sure what it is, but I wanted to make sure that there was more to YA than just the age of the characters. It might be a tricky thing to work with.
Look at Patrick Rothfuss' CHRONICLES OF THE KING KILLER. I'm finally almost finished with THE WISE MAN'S FEAR. Approximately 1700 pages into this story (It's not really a trilogy. More like LotR, one novel in three volumes--very long volumes.) Kvothe is still only 17 (well, unless he spent more time in the Fae than he thought.) But nobody would call this a YA novel.
In this case, that's not so much because of mature themes. It's the voice, the pacing, the way the story is told.
There is space in the adult market for older characters, and space in the YA market for mature themes.
While typically one hears that the editors decide on details such as where a book would be shelved (e.g. subgenre choices or the like - is this fantasy or "paranormal romance" or...?) perhaps influenced heavily by sales, as it's based on where they think they can best sell a title) - when deciding to go YA vs. adult, I think you have to make the call because the people who work in the children's divisions of book publishers are just simply different from the people who work in the adult fiction divisions of book publishers.
Now that I've said it, though, if this fits into any current trends like paranormal romance, be sure to say that when you're querying out the book.
But you do probably need to decide whether the book is meant to appeal to teens, while dealing with mature themes, or if the MCs' ages are somewhat accidental and the book is really an "adult" book. Then base your decision on where to try to sell it accordingly.
You are correct, though, that YA books have very few limitations these days. Yes, some gatekeepers exist but you should read some of what's selling currently to see that there are few subjects that are off limits for truly YA readers. MG is still limited in theme, certain subjects, and maturity factors, but not so for YA.
I agree with KayTi. Read some more in the YA market, compare it to your book and see how it feels. There are Adult books that have young characters but are definitely not YA. The teen/MG market is very specific and unique from the adult world of books. Very different all games.
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