To YA or Not to YA, That is the Question

After much deep and profound brain things inside my head, as King Julien would say, I have come to the conclusion that what I really need here is your opinions. As many of them as possible, in fact, although ideally not more than one each. (Unless you can support them with reference to the text, as my first-year Shakespeare lecturer would say.)

Lemur catta 3
The brain-thing which is currently circulating inside my head is this question: what constitutes a Young Adult novel? More specifically, was I mistaken in not classifying Restoration Day as a YA novel?

It does have a young adult protagonist, and it is, content-wise, suitable for young adults (although from what I’ve read, some YA novels are more graphic and/or explicit than adult novels). But is it a YA novel?

Is it a YA novel, and I didn’t know?

Technically, as the publisher, the book is whatever I say it is. There was a moment when I had to choose how to categorize it. And while you can choose more than one category, you can’t choose a YA category and a non-YA category. YA is YA and adult is adult and never the twain shall meet, except of course in surreptitious skulkings between the library sections.

Restoration Day is classified as Fiction > Fantasy > General; and Fiction > Coming of Age. To be honest, the main reason I didn’t classify it as YA fiction is because teenagers read fantasy that isn’t specifically marketed as YA, but you don’t often see adults in the teen section of the library. Casting the net wide, you might say.

And yet Restoration Day is frequently referred to by reviewers and other interested parties (e.g. at least one of the people who nominated it for the Sir Julius Vogel Awards) as a young adult novel. And maybe they’re right. I don’t know.

Now, I’m not planning to try retroactively reclassifying a novel that’s been out for more than a year, but it has occurred to me that I could, at some future date, try releasing a YA edition of it – with a more YA-friendly cover, and perhaps a study guide. (A sort of reverse of Harry Potter, which came out first with colourful kid-friendly covers, and subsequently with more dignified covers for the adults who didn’t want to own up to reading “kids’ books”.)

Harry Potter Books 1-7 without dust jackets, 1st American eds. 2
The other point – and this applies regardless of whether Restoration Day is ever reissued – is that I need to know how to categorize The Wound of Words when it eventually makes its appearance in the World Outside My Head.

In some ways, it’s similar to Restoration Day – similarish tone, youngish protagonists, and carrying themes around coming of age and finding your place in the world.

But does that make it a Young Adult novel? All the advice I’ve seen seems based on the idea that you first decide to write a YA novel and then need to find out what that entails. No one ever seems to think that you might have already written a novel and require an accurate diagnosis.

Perhaps I should release The Wound of Words as a YA novel and see what happens, but…

Confession time: you know how they say that the secret to marketing is going where your readers are and interacting with them? I have no idea how to interact with young people. I wasn’t even any good at it when I was a young people myself. I was the kid you saw scurrying off to the library in the lunch-break – wearing their student librarian pin.

Are they gone yet?

Transcript of actual conversation held while Deborah issuing fellow student’s books in school library:
Fellow Student: So… do you actually talk?
Deborah’s Brain: Only when there’s someone worth talking to.
Deborah’s Mouth: Only when there’s something worth saying.

(Yes, my brain is a lot snarkier than I am. Let us all be thankful that it doesn’t have a direct line to my mouth, or my life could have been a lot more eventful.)

The interaction thing has possibly worsened as I’ve aged, bobbing gently out of the main current of pop culture. I’m the person who sits on a bus idly wondering what language the teens behind me are speaking, until, after five minutes or so, it dawns on me that it’s actually English.

So it’s perfectly possible that categorizing Restoration Day as general rather than young adult fiction was rather more a matter of cowardice than I would like to admit.

Lémurien 1052a
Actual photo of Deborah espying imminent interaction with Young People.
What do you think? When is a YA novel not a YA novel, and when is it, or possibly vice versa? And what course of action would you recommend?

6 Replies to “To YA or Not to YA, That is the Question”

  1. It’s quite a conundrum! Most of the people I know who’ve enjoyed Restoration Day have not been young adults, but when I’m marketing it to people “out there”, like in airports or on the bus, I generally only go for the younger ones, as instinctively I think most older people aren’t prepared to try something with the category of fantasy. I think in part that’s because the word fantasy conjours up a lot of the weird and wonderful (or less than wonderful) that we hear about and see on TV these days. Not the good old-fashioned fantasy of the classics. On balance, I think your original reasoning that more people wander down the adult aisles than the YA aisles still holds good for works like Restoration Day, and I can’t judge what the next one will be like.

    1. Perhaps I should make it a question for the beta readers: would you expect to find WoW on a YA shelf or a general fantasy shelf? Or, who would you most likely recommend it to?
      Food for thought. Thanks!

  2. RD is about grown-up people. The youngest was turning 18 at the start of the story. Ergo, the book is not for the wild young teenagers who YA seems to be for, but ‘adult’.
    Its successor should be ‘adult’ as well.

    1. Heh heh. No, I definitely don’t write for “wild young teenagers”.
      There’s a relatively new classification described as “New Adult” for those who are adults but haven’t had much experience at it yet, but NA doesn’t seem to be making it big as a category yet.

  3. I have been reading my way through the nominees for the Sir Julius Vogel awards, and found your blog after rummaging around to see what else you’ve written. I like Restoration Day, but I was surprised it was in the Best Novel category rather than Best Youth Novel. With the two main characters both being eighteen, and with the clean, fairytale-like nature of the story, that seemed to me to put it pretty clearly in the YA category, if maybe towards the upper end of the target market.

    On the other hand, I may not have a clue what I’m talking about. I had the same problem with classifying my books (the Reforging Series, The advice my publisher gave me, and that I couldn’t refute, was that adults were as likely to read down (all those adults reading Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, etc.) as teens were to read up, and that a lot of the shopping is done by adults for teens: parents, grandparents, school librarians, … I wasn’t attempting to write a YA novel either, but what I had written didn’t trip the publisher’s alarms (bad language, sex, drug usage, whatever) that would have led him to classify it as “adult”.

    So who knows? I don’t.

    By the way, I love your confession about interacting with young people. I can relate to that. And as for targeting the YA market, I figure you’ll have a stronger story if you write the story that you want to tell first, and then figure out where it belongs.

    1. It’s a knotty question. isn’t it?
      Part of me wishes I lived in a world where novels were classified by their traits, rather than the estimated age range of actual readers. I’ve enjoyed many books for adults without bad language, sex, drugs, etc etc; and I’ve read YA books which featured them heavily. It’s so subjective what constitutes YA, isn’t it?
      Thanks for stopping by and putting in your two cents – it’s always useful to hear other perspectives on the question.

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