The Genre Game; or, To YA or Not To YA

(This posting originally appeared on The Melt-Ink Pot)

Last week, one of the members of my Worldcon critique group was trying to decide how to position and market the story he’s currently revising. The question he posed to the group was whether or not he should aim the piece at the young adult (YA) market, or whether he should target the piece toward adult genre (in this case, fantasy) readers.

It’s an interesting question. Certainly, thanks to the likes of Harry Potter and the “His Dark Materials” trilogy, the lines between what makes good reading for teens/tweens and what will sell to supposedly “grown up” readers is far less clear than it once was. And indeed, even some of the once-clear indicators no longer apply. Subjects that were once taboo for stories targeted to the under-18 crowd (like sex, drugs…okay, maybe not rock ‘n’ roll) are now commonplace.

Moreover, there seems to be a growing audience of adult readers who are turning more and more to the YA section when they’re in the mood for a fun read. I have to admit to occasionally doing that myself — when the To Be Read pile just looks too dry and intimidating, sometimes I bypass it altogether and reach for, say, the latest Artemis Fowl novel instead. I know I can count on Mr. Colfer for a couple of hours of solid entertainment. It may not rock my world in the way a more literary mainstream work would have, but sometimes it’s okay to read for enjoyment rather than enlightenment.

Which is not to say that teens won’t or can’t look for books outside of the YA section. I certainly did, when I was a teenager. And you can certainly make the argument that a good story is a good story, no matter where you find it. But in the long run, if you have a story that could be enjoyed by both groups, is it better to put it in the YA section and hope that adults find it there, or to put it in the appropriate genre’s section, and hope that teens will go there looking for a good read?

It’s a question that’s near and dear to my heart right now. My current WIP, the Daughters of August Winterbourne trilogy, could be marketed to YA readers. The protagonist is nineteen at the beginning of the story, but that’s not outside the range for YA. There is “definitely a coming of age” theme to the stories. And as of yet, there are no steamy sex scenes (nor, frankly, do I have any planned, though there may be some hanky-panky taking place off-screen). But I do have a character who is sexually active and not shy about it (at least in the second book so far), and another character whose past exploits might be considered a bit suggestive. (After all, the MC, Celia, has three half-sisters who are all close to her in age. You do the math.). The first book has torture scenes in it, and both books (so far) have scenes that involve threatened rape. While all of the above are handled (I hope) delicately, and certainly not graphically, would this be enough to make the series a no-go for the YA market?

Moreover, is this a series I’d even want to target for YA readers, or would I be better off trying to just sell it as a fantasy novel?

These are all questions I’ll be pondering in the next few months as I finish the second book in the series and complete edits to the first volume.

What do you think? Is there some characteristic you look for in a YA novel? When you are looking for a good read, how likely are you to cross over from one section to the other (whether as a teen selecting “grown-up” books or an adult reader browsing the YA section)?

(And last night’s lesson learned…if one has a blog posting to write, and one is planning to take some ibuprofen PM, one should write the blog posting first, then take the ibuprofen PM. Definitely not the other way around, which is what I did!)

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About sheilamcclune

Aspiring author, sharing the tidbits I've learned along the way.
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