What Is Young Adult Fiction?

I know there isn’t an exact definition for Young Adult fiction, but I’d like to know your opinion on some questions I have on the subject. To be honest, I haven’t really read much in the genre.
To you, what categorizes Young Adult fiction? Do the characters have to be teenagers? Are there specific issues that have to be covered?
I know some people classify it as fiction marketed to young adults, but I’ve noticed as I travel through the blogosphere that it appears to be really popular with plenty of adults as well.
As to why I’m asking: I am currently working on cleaning up the manuscript I’d like to publish next. The more I read other bloggers’ reviews of YA fiction, the more I realize that a lot of the things I touch on coincide with the genre. Actually, when someone critiqued the query letter for it one question they asked was, “So, is it Adult or Young Adult?” It sort of seems to be a hybrid of Adult and YA fiction.
So, now I find myself asking, in terms of marketing, should I brand it YA fiction…and can I brand it that. YA is starting to look like a HUGE marketing right now.
My characters are age 24 and 25. I could potentially bring then down to 21 or 22, but not to teenagers (at least not without having to dramatically change the whole story).
Another factor is I write Christian fiction. Does anyone know if YA is something Christian publishers handle?
Again, I haven’t really read much in this genre. I didn’t even know it existed until I volunteered at our local library. When I was in high school I read all the classical English authors, so this one is new to me. But then, I never really read Christian fiction until after I started writing it. :)
So, please, tell me what you think?

29 thoughts on “What Is Young Adult Fiction?

  1. Hey Emily! I read a lot of YA, and what I've learned is that most YA protags aren't older than 18. I think agents and publishers are pretty strict about this. I don't know much about the Christian literary world, but I've heard they do YA so long as it fits under their umbrella.There is a new genre that's been getting more attention and it's called New Adult fiction, aiming for slightly older readers but the protags are in their early 20's. I think St. Martin's press has an imprint that focuses on that.Good luck!

  2. Hi Emily! Sorry, I don't read YA myself, so I can't answer your question. I'm in a similar situation with my novel, since the MC is 18. I've always thought of my book as being targeted to adults, but I wonder if agents/publishers will want to market it as YA. That could pose problems for the sequel, since the characters will be in their early-mid 20s by then. I hope you get some answers, though!

  3. Lydia: Thanks for the info. New Adult fiction definitely sounds like a possiblity for my book! :D Sandra: It is a sticky situation! I hope you are able to figure it out too. I've heard that some agents will help authors brush their work up to fit the publisher they think the story will fit. :?

  4. I agree with Lydia about the age of MC's in YA – I think they do have to be 18/19 and under. It's too bad you can't drop them into the high teens, because it is a major market right now. HUGELY popular.As far as Christian YA, it is definitely a genre. My son and I love Christian MG and YA fantasy.Hope this helps! :-)

  5. Hi Emily -I read YA fiction, most notably Cathy Gohlke. She's got two Christy's under her belt for, "William Henry is a Fine Name," and "I Have Seen Him in the Watchfires." Cathy is a CBA author, so yes, it is published in the Christian area. She's only one example.Blessings,Susan :)

  6. I agree with Lydia. The age of the main character is generally what categorizes a book as YA. 18 and younger. And not only that, but they generally address something that teens must face. Drugs, pregnancy, relationships, high school, parents, etc.So age determines it, but then you also have to have situations that would appeal to teens.And there's definitely a market for Christian YA. Have you read PURE? It's out from Simon Pulse, and that's not even a Christian imprint.

  7. the only hard and fast rule I've heard when classifying YA is the age of the characters. YA characters generally range from 15-19. Anything younger (8-12) is generally MG. As for content, YA pretty much covers it all. Issues like sex and language tend to be a little more toned down than in adult books, though that is by no means a "rule" and plenty of YA books are just as edgy as adult.As for Christian YA, I would assume Christian publishers would take them as long as they follow their guidelines.

  8. Thanks, Elana. I appreciate the recommendation. :) Some of the issues I cover do seem to follow in those areas, including dealing parents, alcohol use, and a lot of pop culture stuff. Who knows? ;)

  9. I've always thought of YA for mature preteens and teens. But then, I've seen and read books that appeal to teens and adults…so that's not much help, now is it? If anything brilliant comes to me I will let you know.Have a good weekend,Karen

  10. Looks like you've gotten some spot on feedback–I agree with Lydia, Elana, Michelle and others regarding age of the MC. St. Martin's Press does indeed have a "New Adult" genre they're trying to "start up." It features "college age" kids and their issues of transitioning to adulthood and really growing into themselves as adult adults. :)

  11. Karen: Thanks! I will await brilliance! Laura: Yeah, I looked up ST.M's New Adult fiction start up. It's interesting. It feels like I really do fit into that catagory, but I'm not sure how good that is. …At times it's better to be in an established zone. :?

  12. YA is something that some Christian publishers cover. For instance, the new Christian e-book publisher Bokheim Publishing. They are very recent and currently only have one book in their catalog but that is because the main author they had been working with who had written the many other novels they had been working on died and his lawyer decided to take the novels away from their company so she would not have to keep up with the business arrangements. I asked because I adored the novels and was shocked when after all the work they put into them they were suddenly gone. They are looking for novels in almost all genres and one of the main ones they are interested in is YA. They are also accepting Adult Fiction too though. I really believe though that something being YA or not mostly depends on writing style. It is just a writing style that is much more fluid and much simpler than some of the adult novels. The novel I am querying is YA, my main is 17 but more than that I made sure all of the language was formulated very precisely and kept the grammar simpler than some of the novels I enjoy reading. Thanks for this post, I enjoy hearing other people's opinions.Sincerely,Emma Michaels

  13. Emily, I just got your facebook message. Cool discussion. (^_^)Your protags are too old. It's nice if they are kept under 18 years old for YA. And there are a wide variety of issues that can be dealt with in YA. Pretty much anything, especially older YA. And you're right, adults definitely read YA. There is a lot of Christian young adult. It sells more than you would think.I agree with Lydia above me. The New Adult Fiction is a Sub-Genre. It's called New Adult. This might fit your book exactly. Here is the link where I read about this. I had to shuffle my brain to remember, but I finally did. Yes, hubby, I can remember stuff. heheWrite-BrainedTalk soon!

  14. Emma: Thanks for the name of the publisher. I haven't heard of Bokheim before. :)Since everyone has been talking about New Adult fiction I started looking around and, well, the more I learn the more I feel like I sort of fit there. I asked around on a chat room today and one author told me that several publishers are starting to consider the option. Hm…Thanks you guys! This has been really helpful!

  15. Hi! Just read your facebook update on this . . . sorry I'm so slow.I agree that YA usually has young characters, but some YA start with young characters and then they get older as the series goes on.There is a series of fantasy books by Donita K. Paul, which are for "all ages" that start with 14 year olds that are in their 20's by the time the series ends.I have a tendency to read a lot of YA and Kid fiction, because I'm in the library with my kids.And yes, Christian publishers have YA sections! They do have a tendency to sort of overlap with the kids fiction in some stores.

  16. Hey Emily! Yep, I'm with everyone else about the age. Rarely is a mc 19, but that's because the book is from a well established series (e.g. the fourth Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants book). And like all the brilliant commenters before me said, the story needs to be relevant to what teens deal with, thought the topics are diverse. Before you consider changing your character to fit YA, make sure you've read at least 20 YA books similar to your theme to see if it's right for you. Writing for teens is not the same as writing for adults. Also, listen to the teens around you, read their magazines, watch their movies and TV shows. And check out writing books that focus on the teenage audience. Writing & Selling the YA Novel by K.L. Going is a great one.I hope that helps. You should also check out the Absolute Write Forums. There's a forum specificially for YA. Your question comes up there frequently. :D

  17. Great advice everyone. I appreciate all the recommendations. :) That is a huge help. I joined in a YA yahoo discussion group today to learn a little more about it from the writers. Thanks again. Every bit of information you have given has been a help. :)

  18. Hi, Emily! From the sounds of it, your manuscript may fall along the lines of "Crossover Fiction," or fiction that appeals to teens, tweens, and adults. I am by no means an expert on this topic. But after struggling with the same question, I believe it was at Andrea Brown Literary Agency that I discovered my novel was best suited for young adults (ages 14-21) and above. I hope this helps, and I look forward to reading more of your blog. Given that I'm new to all of this, I'd love for you to stop by my blog at http://www.toryminus.blogspot.comBest of luck! Tory

  19. Hi Emily! Love your blog it's so cute!!!You are definitely in the New Adult Ficiton which is something the writing world is trying to draw attention too! They certainly need to do so because they have some amazing "inbetween" books that aren't getting the attention they need!!I'm afraid I don't know the Christian Literary World so I can't offer agent or publishers!I'm a YA writer and they are pretty strict about no older than 18 so I do think you'd have trouble with being published through that way! Good Luck!Hope this helps!

  20. YA is very definite regarding age range. All YA is about ages 12-17. I'm not a big fan of it because the writing style and characters are usually quite simple and limited. I only called my book Young Adult because it seemed to me that would be expected since the characters are teens. The genre is extremely flexible about things other than age. I've seen with my own stories that many people have a different, darker, and edgier concept of a teen story than I do. Some people actually label my book as for kids (Middle Grade) even though characters like Alyce and Violet seemed to me definitely teens. I think this reflects their view of what a growing-up experience is like. So plot has a lot to do with it.

  21. I would say the same as most… MC in the teens. Now that I'm thinking about it, I haven't seen too many YA books geared towards Christian fiction. Maybe I'm wrong there… I think it would be a good place to focus some attention.

  22. Tory: Thanks for the reference. I'll definitly look that agency up for further defintion. Jen: Hopefully this new subgenre will get some traction because it really looks like I fall there. :DSarah: I've noticed that there is a really wide range within YA fiction. I don't think I'd catgorize your book as MG. I think your stories would appeal better to a little older age. :) M: From what I can tell, a lot of Christian distributors are more inclined to market classical books like Narnia and Twain as YA fiction. It might be a good place to tap into, if the publishers are willing. It seems like CBA publishers are a little slower to catch on to trends. :P

  23. I've never liked the rule that Young Adult fiction can only have characters age 18 or younger. That sort of leaves the in-betweeners hanging, the college-age and the 20-something readers. I would say that YA for me is a story-based category – a coming of age, a realization, a growing up in which the character moves on or learns about himself/herself in a poignant way. Life discoveries – about love, about truth, about family – are definitely a big part of a YA for me. Great topic!

  24. I've read quite a lot of young adult fiction over the years and I would have to agree with everyone else that the age range for leading characters in YA is always below 20. Though, I have read some fantasy series targeted at teens where the protaganists were in their 20's and above. This discussion has made me wonder what catagory my own fantasy novel/series would need to be placed in because my leading protaganists range from age 18-25 or so (though they are all under 30). Hmmmmm…

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