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YA or not to YA

AnyaKimlin

Confuddled
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For me, as a writer and a reader, it has always felt like a frustrating distinction. A good story is a good story and a good character is a good character.

It's a big part of why I don't do much with my work. I'm not good at pigeonholing it. Mayhem became a fantasy because Angus had to listen to a conversation and it seemed a good idea to turn him into a bird. It's not really a YA book even though my protagonist is YA. My protagonists have ranged in age from 17 to 68. I've not approached writing them much differently. I'm currently writing a mystery but I'm not really doing anything differently to how I write my fantasy.
 

sknox

Member and remember
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I started reading from the public library as a teenager, in the mid-1960s. There was no YA section, but there was Juvenile section. I think before that (pre-WWII?) it was all just Children's Literature. I'm mildly wondering when YA replaced Juvenile, but that's a side-thread.

I'm wondering if there was the same kind of gender bias back when the name was different. Were women pushed to write Juvenile? I do recall a very real split in boys books versus girls books. Hardy Boys versus Nancy Drew, to make an anachronistic example. I suspect most girl book authors were female and most boy book authors were male.

But with SF (fantasy barely existed for me until the later 60s), I saw no such division. There were some SF books for youngsters (Heinlein, mostly), but for the most part I read SF with no awareness at all of a particular work being written to a particular age or gender. To my young eyes (and my old memory), SF was indifferent to such things. It was about stories and ideas. I cannot help feeling the current awareness--even preoccupation--with age and gender is not necessarily an improvement.
 

AnyaKimlin

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I'm wondering if there was the same kind of gender bias back when the name was different. Were women pushed to write Juvenile? I do recall a very real split in boys books versus girls books. Hardy Boys versus Nancy Drew, to make an anachronistic example. I suspect most girl book authors were female and most boy book authors were male.
t.
In the case of your particular example they were both syndicates. Although Franklin W Dixon and Carolyn Keene are male and female names the actual authors seem to have been both male and female with the majority being female.
 

sknox

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I learned they were not individuals some time ago. Neither was Ellery Queen. Seems to have been a pattern back in the day. WRT to the OP, though, I was wondering if women were pushed toward "juvenile" or if that is a recent phenom, peculiar to this strange YA thing.
 

HareBrain

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The original Book Riot article suggested that the book by Sarah J Maas shouldn't be YA because its level of sexual content isn't suitable for a 13-yo. But 13-18 is a huge leap in maturity, and something can still be YA even if not suitable for many under-16s. (I've also read something deliberately aimed at teenagers that blows the article's examples out of the water in that respect.) The Maas book has a teenage MC, and though that doesn't mean it can't be adult, for me, making it adult would have to involve a lot of complexity in the worldbuilding, politics, abstract ideas etc, stuff that an adult would be more likely to have the life-experience/learning to engage with than a teenager. (I don't know, to be fair, if the Maas book has that or not, but that aspect wasn't addressed in the article.)
Having further investigated Throne of Glass while searching for things to read recently, it is so absolutely clearly a YA novel that I'm amazed the article's author chose it to advance her argument.
 

Dragonlady

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May 4, 2007
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106
I find this debate fascinating. I'm currently rewriting a novel I wrote as a teenager, with a protagonist who's 19. I don't go in for graphic anything, I'm not naturally sweary (though always up for a fantasy curse) and I was told this week my writing reads a lot like young adult. I read a lot of young adult fiction - I'm devouring Charlie Holmberg books at the moment. Part of me would be happy in the YA bracket, part of me thinks there's no reason they should be pigeonholed, so when it comes to submitting I'm not sure what I'll do.
 

Toby Frost

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Personally, I wouldn't go anywhere near YA at the moment. The hysterical policing of books that haven't even been published yet seems completely contrary to how I'd like to work. But that's just me.
 

aThenian

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Jul 31, 2013
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463
UK YA seems to be struggling at the moment - there's been a lot of talk about falling advances in the press/social media. The market seems to be dominated by US authors, for whatever reason.
 

EJDeBrun

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I think it might be interesting to point out here the differences between the YA and Adult categories (genre spreads across both, but in different ways) because YA is actually very strict and confusing at the same time.

Paraphrased according to the various editors and agents I've talked to, YA is defined by the protagonist having to be between the ages of 14 - 24 (again rough estimates. this changes from person to person) who undergoes a (mostly) transformative experience (namely coming of age) type story.

From what I've been told, if the work doesn't have the above qualities, it's not YA.

As far as SFF goes, well, obviously SFF can be in any age category of books (from the velvateen rabbit all the way up to 2001: Space Odyssey) because SFF is defined by setting and less on the specifics of plot or character.

The gender argument is very interesting, but I have to agree a lot of the marketing that is gender or culturally based is misguided. Readers will like what they like, regardless of who wrote the book.

On the same note of big book marketing being biased, a lot of these strict categories are irrelevant but at the same time they are a reality that a working writer probably shouldn't ignore. Publishers are basically trying to categories things that can't be categorized easily so of course they get it wrong. It's one of the big problems in publishing right now and it's going to take a while to fix, but on the other hand, it's also what they use to determine their marketing choices which can still generate bestsellers no matter what anyone else thinks about a book.

And yes, I do think it's ridiculous to push any writer to write in any particular way, but I think it's also important to understand the reasons for these categories because like or not, this could decide a lot of things in terms of how well your book gets exposed and sold, though I'm not just saying this to push anyone to conform. I just think it's good to look at the categories and try to figure out a way to work with them rather than fight too hard and get lost in the tussle, but that's my personal opinion and not advice for anyone.

Also note: fiction sales dropped across the board last year. I had an agent tell me that not one fiction book broke 1mil copies (big number!) all the top 10 sales spots were political nonfiction books, so a lot of those sales could be reflective of the current environment and less to do with any categorizations.
 
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Teresa Edgerton

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Also note: fiction sales dropped across the board last year. I had an agent tell me that not one fiction book broke 1mil copies (big number!) all the top 10 sales spots were political nonfiction books, so a lot of those sales could be reflective of the current environment and less to do with any categorizations.
I wonder how much of that is due to piracy? I've heard of successful authors whose careers were destroyed because pirated editions gutted their sales (leading to their publishers dropping them), but does anyone know how much impact that has had across the board?
 

EJDeBrun

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I wonder how much of that is due to piracy? I've heard of successful authors whose careers were destroyed because pirated editions gutted their sales (leading to their publishers dropping them), but does anyone know how much impact that has had across the board?
Piracy is a huge issue and I'm sure a lot of books are falling from that. But that doesn't explain last year's macro sales figures because the drop was consistent over all of fiction. Also the people who were expected to make the NYT's bestseller's list still did. Their sales just didn't reach the top because consumers basically threw all their money into political exposes.

This is the same phenom that came out when the adult coloring books hit big a few years back.

Side note: the top fiction book sale last year was the Bill Clinton and James Patterson collab.
 

dannymcg

"It places the lotion in the basket"
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Side note: the top fiction book sale last year was the Bill Clinton and James Patterson collab
I got it as an ebook in error!
It's called 'The President is missing'...I was intending to get 'The President's brain is missing' by John Scalzi.

(Keeping it in case of extreme boredom)
 

mistri

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Jul 5, 2006
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87
Interestingly (for me), I've just realised my WIP could quite easily be categorised as YA but I've never envisaged it sitting there. In my mind it quite happily sat along say, Robin Hobb. But the two main characters are under 21, and sisters who get separated and try to find their way back to each other (with magic and political intrigue along the way). I don't write particularly violent or sex-heavy scenes. There's not that much swearing. So why do I feel a bit weird about potentially being a YA writer instead of an 'adult' one?
 

EJDeBrun

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Interestingly (for me), I've just realised my WIP could quite easily be categorised as YA but I've never envisaged it sitting there. In my mind it quite happily sat along say, Robin Hobb. But the two main characters are under 21, and sisters who get separated and try to find their way back to each other (with magic and political intrigue along the way). I don't write particularly violent or sex-heavy scenes. There's not that much swearing. So why do I feel a bit weird about potentially being a YA writer instead of an 'adult' one?
I think a lot of it might have to do with the YA stand outs (Twilight and Hunger Games, for example), which, while commercially very profitable aren't really the kind of opuses you get in something like Space Odyssey or LOTR. But that could be me.
 

Juliana

Juliana Spink Mills. "No capes!"
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Interestingly (for me), I've just realised my WIP could quite easily be categorised as YA but I've never envisaged it sitting there. In my mind it quite happily sat along say, Robin Hobb. But the two main characters are under 21, and sisters who get separated and try to find their way back to each other (with magic and political intrigue along the way). I don't write particularly violent or sex-heavy scenes. There's not that much swearing.
Honestly, as far as I know it's less to do with protagonist age (there are plenty of adult fantasies, for instance, where the characters are teenagers or start out as children or teens) and more to do with the sort of themes used in the stories and the voice itself. So for instance, comparing Scott Lynch's Lies of Locke Lamora and Leigh Bardugo's Six of Crows, both excellent books dealing with a band of thieves and a heist-type setting. Although Scott's book has flashbacks to the MC as a child, the voice and manner of dealing with sub themes like romance is adult. Six of Crows has a teen voice, and stuff like romance is seen from a teenager's point of view.

It's subtle, I know! But simply having teen protagonists definitely does not make a novel YA. So if you feel like yours is written for an adult market, I wouldn't worry about having teens in it.
 
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