Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Adult Fiction, YA, or in between?

Lately I've been trying to categorize my audience and have felt torn between the two camps of Adult Fiction and YA (Young Adult/Teen). My novels in progress are probably geared to 16-28 yr olds (depending on the story), although it's not to say that younger or older readers wouldn't enjoy them. (I'm over 30 and am enjoying writing them!)

But there isn't a 16 to 28 years old or even a 19 to 26 years old age range for books. According to publishing rules (which change about as often as the US Constitution--ie, every 20 to 30 years), there is YA (ages 12-18) or Adult (aimed at anyone over 18). Oh, and then there is chic lit, but that's another blog post. ;-)

Excuse me, but the above delineation doesn't make a lot of marketing sense to me. I was a pretty voracious reader as a kid and that didn't stop as I left high school. And I had plenty more money to burn on books post high school than I did as a 13 or 14 year old.  Sadly, there wasn't much for me to read. By 16, I had pretty much exhausted the teen section and was looking for something more...with deeper, more developed content, but not what my mom was reading at the time. I still don't read a lot of what my mom did when she was my age (Love ya, Mom!!).  We're just at different places in our lives and consider the world around us differently.

When I graduated from college there wasn't much geared specifically to fresh out of college readers. And honestly, I didn't have time for leisure reading except during Christmas and summer breaks. A few years ago, though, I stumbled (and promptly devoured) "Emily Ever After" and "The Book of Jane" by Anne Dayton and May Vanderbilt. I couldn't believe it! These stories were girls my age dealing with issues I was dealing with. I LOVED them. Since then, I've see a slow, but steady trickle of books coming out with main characters in their early to mid-twenties dealing with normal twentysomething issues (first job, engagement break-ups, traveling the world, marriage, sometimes first baby, etc) and in the way that most "adult" fiction doesn't.

Some of this is the result of authors who wrote teen series and then progressed along with their readers. Robin Jones Gunn did this. Jenny B Jones is my newest favorite as an author of teen novels who "grew up" with her readers and is now writing stuff for folks in their 20s and 30s. (Not to say she won't keep writing YA).

Also, Bethany Pierce and Christa Parrish stand out as writers in Christian fiction who are writing slightly edgier books which are more relatable to Christians living in a post-Christian society). These are the authors I'd recommend to twentysomethings looking for books to read. (It's also probably not a coincidence that all the authors I mentioned above, which the exception of Mrs. Gunn, are still close to these issues since they are in their 20s and 30s). (Robin, if you're reading this, you are totally twentysomething at heart still!!) :-)

But there isn't enough of these in-between books to get bookstores to grant a shelf to it. You've got to dig for hours online to find them.


Feel overwhelmed, I did a quick blogosphere search. There is definitely some buzz on this issue. A lot of people think its time for a middle category....even if it's within on of the two recognized ones. I tend to agree. A recognized "Twentysomethings" sub-genre within adult fiction, would be a huge improvement over what we have.

Let me summarize a couple main differences between Adult and YA--pointed out by other bloggers (more astute on this issue than myself). Aside from the obvious issue of  age-appropriate content, there is the issue of voice (ie, first-person, third person, etc). Much of YA is in first person. The more intimate viewpoint connects me to the story more and really relate to the main character. This happens to my natural writing voice. And I tend to read adult fiction written in first person also for this reason. YA first person certainly can be ego-centric though and caught up on every little emotional detail. I can get burnt out on too much of that.

Not that I don't vent and go on selfish tirades....but it's different now.. I use bigger words.

The other main issue is the point of the stories themselves. Adult fiction often addresses the question: "how do I make the best of things in life I can't change." At the other end, YA is about kinda becoming who you are and gaining some measure of autonomy of self.. Or about changing the status quo. It's not like YA doesn't discuss how to deal with the fact that life isn't fair. But there tends to be an outlook of hopefulness, like things will get better. Lots of adult fiction characters have given up trying to change the world. YA readers don't know they "can't" yet, so there's more energy in YA.

Sounds like I should be writing YA, right? Maybe.

My characters straddle both worlds. They are young and still figuring life out. But they're also ready for things beyond high school. Many of them are ready to try relational, spiritual, or vocational commitment in a deeper way than they were as teens. They have matured some, but they aren't their parents. They want to choose to love someone for the rest of their lives, but they are frightened by what that means and unsure of the sacrifices (and joys!) involved. That's not something most teens look for in their novels and certainly not what most YA writers include in their writings.

Twentysomethings are in-between. Personally, I started the "who am I?" journey in jr high, but it wasn't really a huge soul-searching question for me until I was in college. Then, when I joined the "REAL WORLD" (ie, graduated and moved out on my own working my first 9-5 office job), I realized that here was the actual testing ground. Was I who I thought I was? Or was I just being who my parents, professors, friends, or church wanted me to be. Many of the books on the market communicate to me that publishers seem to think that it's teens who struggle with these issues (the classic comming of age tale). So maybe I was delayed. Maybe it was because I attended a Christian college??? I don't know. What I do know is that I was still grappling with the "who am I, what does God want from me and how do I fit into this world" questions at 22, 26, and even 30. And in a more nuaced way that I was at 16. I know I am not alone in this experience. The YA answers might satisfy teenagers, but not twentysomethings. The stakes are higher in your twenties than they are in your teens.

St Martin's Press was a bright spot in my Google search for a fiction genre I could camp out in. Well, mostly. An imprint of MacMillan, the publisher is developing a "New Adult" line that targets the group I feel like I write for. I guess the difference for me would be content issues (where do you draw the line with language, sexual content, etc). That aside, I am THRILLED to see a publisher officially recognizing that twentysomethings are a viable market and that bookworms (like me) don't stop their reading habit between the ages of 16 and 40. (I guess 40 offically feels adult to me. Most days I don't feel fully grown up. And that's ok.) :-)

What do you think?

Would you like to see a clearly cordoned off genre for 19-29 year olds (or something like that)? Are you a reader in your late teens, twenties or early thirties that can't really relate to your mother's fiction? Are you a young-at-heart reader who loves to rediscover the newness of striking it out on your own or deciding to go for a life together with your true love?

Or do you prefer the status quo? If so, I'd love to hear some good reasons in support of this!


  1. I'm glad I'm not the only one struggling with this "square peg, round hole" ordeal. Raising up a new generation of literature will be tricky, what with the current lines of demarcation in the publishing market.

  2. Hmmm... another interesting thought would be to look at what *genres* 20-somethings are reading. Mysteries? Romances? SciFi and Fantasy? A mix of everything? I think of "my mom's books" (and good grief, at almost 42 I *am* my mom now!) as the staid "drama" - she never read anything cool like Tolkien or Asimov. But I loved that as a 20-something, and I still do. Still, I wonder if those tastes change over time for most folk?


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