Monday, February 9, 2015

My Problem With the Young Adult (YA) Category

When I was growing up there was no Young Adult category for books. There were certainly books aimed at what we now call a YA audience, but they were simply categorized under their primary section, such as Fantasy or Mystery and so forth. I have to admit I kind of preferred it that way.

However, the only true issue I have with the new YA category is that everyone seems to insist that the protagonist in the book must be a young adult. I think this is wrong. To me if you want to have a YA category, the only real rule for inclusion should be that the story is intended for a YA audience. I've read plenty of books that were clearly aimed at a younger audience but didn't have teen protagonists.
Shane Tyree's artwork for The Shard
The reason this is hitting me right now is that I intend to publish my epic fantasy novel The Shard later this year, and to me it should fall in the YA category, yet only one of the three main protagonists is a teen (and he is the last one to be introduced, so you might say he isn't the primary protagonist).

I'm wavering over just categorizing it as Fantasy or insisting that it is YA. The YA buying audience these days is much larger than for standard Fantasy. My teenage sons would certainly agree that the book is aimed at them. My youngest keeps re-reading it over and over again, and both of them name all of their characters in both computer and role-playing games after characters from the story, so it clearly resonates with them more so than it does for adults.

What do you think, can a story with adult or even elderly protagonists fall within the YA category?

13 comments:

  1. I'm not a big fan over how they categorize it either, for the opposite reason. I have some books that I feel are more of adult interest, but have Young Adult MCs. It is a tricky mess of stuff. I would think fantasy might be a little less rigid on that front, but I know traditional publishers are stinkers on it. Kahlotus Disposal Site originally included a teacher PV and my agent nixed it before she'd sub it. Of course it didn't sell, but I know it needs to stay out unless I decide to self pub it.

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    1. Absolutely! Why should a book have to be considered YA just because a protagonist is young? I have a hard-core sci-fi planned that has a young teen protagonist, but I somehow doubt people would like seeing it in a YA section given what is going to happen in the story.

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  2. There wasn't young adult when I was a teen either. Seems silly the main character has to be a teen. I guess just go with your gut. Where will your target readers be mostly likely to find your book?

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    1. All I know is the difference in sales from adult fantasy to YA fantasy are astounding, so even if I wish it would be just regular fantasy, if I can peg it as YA it's probably a good idea.

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  3. I agree with you Ted. The novel I am currently working on formatting for publication is what I consider either YA or not. Certainly there can't be a story more rough than the Twilight series that has been so popular with teens and probably not really appropriate for them. So, I don't think we should worry and just let who wants to read have it with our blessing. :)

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    1. I only read the first Twilight, so I can't say for sure, but based on that, I think my poor teen protagonist is going to have a much rougher time!

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  4. I think publishers nowadays look for something that is easier to market, so they insist that YA books should have teenage characters. Your post reminded me of a HarperCollins review I read on Authonomy a while ago. It was about a YA fantasy book, Purple Eyes. It was a great read but there were a few characters there in their thirties and forties. Here's what the editor said:
    "While your prose is strong and mature, I’d like to talk about your character development and world building. Compelling characters are the foundation of any good novel, and you already have a terrific cast. However, a key characteristic of a young adult novel is that most of the characters are teenagers. Aside from Tesley, everyone else seems to be either in their twenties, thirties, or forties. Consider aging these characters down to a more relatable level to your reader. Rachel and Joel in particular should be around Tesley’s age."
    You can find the review here if interested: https://www.authonomy.com/book/21381/
    I think the categorization is the fault of the publishers who created a new fashion of books where in a YA book we should only have teens as characters.

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    1. I think that's just plain wrong. So teens aren't able to relate on any level with adults? I know when I was young I related more with adults than I did to kids my own age!

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  5. I absolutely agree with you, Ted. I have a book with teen characters, but I'm reluctant to label it YA because there are children as young as eleven who read that category, and my book definitely isn't suited to that age group. On the other end of the spectrum, labeling a book "YA" can be very limiting. Books with teen characters can definitely appeal to a wider age group.

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    1. I only wish the industry would listen to us!

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  6. What about the new adult category?

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    1. Honestly, I don't personally use these categories other than in a general sense. I definitely don't see the need for a New Adult category, and I'm not even convinced on a YA category. Most smart teens that I knew were just fine with adult books. It feels to me as if books that were clearly aimed at teens way back when, like A Wizard of Earthsea, never pulled their punches, while many such books today (not all) seem purposely toned down as if younger readers won't be able to handle smarter writing. If I were a teen today I think I'd feel insulted by what is going on.

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  7. My problem with the YA category (a category for which, I admit, I have have limited experience) is it's just adult situations being handled in adult ways by adult characters in teenage bodies.

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