Banner: How to Decide if Your Book is YA or Adult

How to Decide if Your Book is YA or Adult

Oh, the Kidlit You’ll Write! is my column over at DIY MFA. Here’s the latest!

Say you have a novel that stars a main character between the ages of 17 and 19, right on the cusp of adulthood. How do you pitch or market it, as Young Adult or Adult? The distinction matters, impacting where your book gets shelved and who picks it up. Readers of each category have certain expectations, whether they themselves are adults or teens.

Here are some signposts that indicate your novel is actually for adults, not young adults.

The protagonists are young, but harsh subjects are on-page

Young Adult books star young adults, with main characters anywhere from 13-18 years old. YA books can feature a wide range of content, including sex, violence, and drug or alcohol abuse. Acclaimed novels like Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak are all about the aftermath of sexual assault. YA is where kids go to process scary content.

The difference between YA and Adult is how these things are handled. YA isn’t graphic or gratuitous, it skirts the edges of what’s too much. Adult fiction is more likely to depict terrible things outright and even revel in the messiness of it. In some cases the messiness is the point.

Consider the difference between the book and the Netflix adaptation of Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher. The TV series has prolonged scenes showing rape and Hannah’s actual suicide that are absent from the book. The story is all about Hannah and why she chose to end her life, but the book focuses on Clay, Hannah’s classmate who is a remove from Hannah herself. The show splits its time between Clay and Hannah, and delves deep into Hannah’s experience, putting the audience right alongside as she suffers. The book is arguably more YA and the show more Adult. Same subject matter, but handled very differently.

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