Posted on May 20, 2020
So you’ve written an NA book but the agents and/or houses you’re querying don’t recognize the genre. How do you market it then? First thing is first. Is your book really NA? I want to reiterate that what sets NA apart from YA and adult fiction is age, sure, but as or more importantly, content. If you’re writing a book about a 25-year-old divorcee with 2 kids and a wild past who’s lost her job, moved to a new city to start over, and falls down a rabbit hole of sex, drugs, and rock and roll, you might not have and NA novel on your hands. You, my friend, have probably written adult fiction.
Right, so you’re dead set that this is an NA book, but you can’t market it to all agents or publishers as such if they don’t recognize the genre. The first step as stated before is figuring out who it’s written for. Just because you write a book about a 17-year-old who has a past of trauma, drug-use, or is in mourning for the first time and is now dealing with it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s automatically YA. Is the voice YA? Is it from an older, more mature lens or character looking back? It’s important to know why you’re telling this story and who it’s for.
If you’re writing a book on the survival of sexual assault and how it affects those who suffer the experience in high school, it must be told through a “teen” lens. This has to feel authentic to a teenager who’s gone through the experience. Some thing may need to be touched on more than an adult book about assault. Do her classmates look at her differently? Has anyone called her a liar? Did she lost friends? Is she the school’s social piranha? All these questions would be handled differently in YA, NA, and adult. The “teen” lens, though, is not just about sounding like a legitimate teenager, but is also the way the internal conflict is written on the page. This is to say, one of the biggest differences in YA and adult fiction is that, though they can both talk about a plethora of dramatic and awful events, they’re handled differently in text. YA tends to be much less graphic, gory, and discuss the events without getting into too much detail. It’s less about the actual mess of the trauma rather than the fallout. In adult fiction, sometimes the actual mess of the events are what drive the tory. They are the main point. They are what the story is about, which calls for a much darker tone and usually told by a more mature voice.
I’ll say it once and I’ll say it again (mostly because this was an actual sub-header in my thesis):
Again, the age isn’t the only defining trait. What else matters? Content! I’ve added up to 29 on NA, but if you’ve read the New Adult Is Dead, post, you’ll have seen I talk about the bell curve where most NA ages tend to stem around 21-26, and even I personally think 27+ is be pushing the “norm” NA age. Regardless, if you write a book about a 27-year-old just graduating and starting her life, she could still be a new adult. And like my previous example, you could have a main character who’s 25 and dealing with drugs and have moseyed your way into writing an adult book.
It’s not that YA doesn’t cover the same topics as adult, it’s that they’re done differently–but that’s not to say some themes aren’t much more prevalent in YA than adult (and vice versa). Take for example: coming of age vs. existential crisis. One is blatantly more adult than the other.
So first thing’s first. Is your book too mature for YA readers? I want to point out here that if you’re writing a book with war, death, or traumatic events, this doesn’t mean it’s too “mature” or “gory” for YA readers. I think a lot of people take for granted how much teenagers are aware of, what they’re watching, what they’re seeing in daily life, and what they’re exposed to. (And let’s not even get into the fact that basically 50%+ of YA readers are actually middle-aged.)
So within content, let’s talk about what that means, specifically in regards to themes in YA and adult. Briefly touched upon above, YA does not mean “censored” writing ideas, themes, or content. Many people think that YA means that certain topics can’t talked about. This simply isn’t true. The key difference are how these themes are explored. Aforementioned, if a book contains trauma, is about the trauma, and the trauma is the focal point, YA and adult typically go about different ways of painting the picture on the page.
YA fiction covers more so the aftermath of an internal conflict with regards to the event(s) and how it’s changed, shaped, and warped the character in every manner. This includes how they deal with it, PTSD they may have, how they react to/around others, how they now view the world, etc. (Is it always unsafe? Does blood family mean nothing? Did certain events transpire because of the affected character’s actions and/or past attitude.)
*Note: If your novel (YA, NA, adult, etc.) focuses on trauma and/or internal conflict as the main plot, your book is character driven! Here’s a blog post that helps categorize character vs. plot driven novels!
So if your book does deal with trauma, drug-use, gory memories–or the like–is it explicit in the text? Are the scenes written out in detail? Are the events thought back on, shown, or expressed on the page in a graphic way that makes the reader feel like they’re with the character(s)? This isn’t YA. While all types of trauma, lifestyles, and life events, can be and are in YA, it’s simply how it’s shown to the audience (readers) that dictates the genres typical boundaries.
Now that we’ve covered the age (and how it may not be too much of an indication which way you should market yourself as) and content, let’s address the thing affected by both which also affects who your book is more geared toward–voice. Quite possibly the most important diving force of the novel that separates YA from adult. This not only embodies how deep into events or trauma you’re writing are shown, but also the way the characters react, talk, and think! The way the world is viewed through the eyes of a teenager. We’ve all been there! (Or are there now?) Teens think very differently than adults. Even if you aren’t out of your teens yet, you’ve noticed that adults behave a bit differently. Maybe they take time to think things out, say no to things you want to do for what you think are “stupid” reasons, or overall do things you think are to just make you upset. It’s because adults have the life experience over teenagers that usually makes them stop and think of all the things that could go wrong…because they’ve experienced them! Teenagers, meanwhile, haven’t fallen victim to all the consequences of bad decisions yet. This can create a big divide between teen and adults (in real life too!), particularly within a family environment.
I won’t get into this much more before the third paragraph of the opening really touched on this, but who is this tory for? Readers of YA age? Readers who have been YA age and want to reminisce (or masochistically ponder) the high school/YA experience? The voice should reflect this. It should be authentically teenage if you’re wanting to tell a story through the eyes of a teenager, and just as genuine of someone remembering said YA years from a more mature and adult voice.
Let’s end with this: Give YA protagonists room to mess up! Teens don’t always make the best decisions. I’m just going to call it how it is. They aren’t the smartest. My friends weren’t the smartest teens. I wasn’t the smartest teen. I did some risky things that I only really realized all the possible consequences of later on in my 20s. People often remark that YA books “read too young” or that the main characters are “too immature” but, hell, have you met a teenager? They’re moody. They’re temperamental. They’re confused. And they typically have less independence and control over their lives than they crave.
The thing that drives these actions is the voice of the novel and the perceptions that the main character(s) have over their world. Because teenagers act and react differently, certain tropes in the genre are popular (ie. love triangles, self-discovery, friendship, and first loves). These are things that teenagers tend to focus on more than adults. This is what makes the voice sound like a bona fide YA protagonist–by having them obsess, cry, yearn, etc. over things that teenagers are concerned about.
Content is key–and that content is told through the voice of the main character.
The take-away from this is to be conscious what your POV’s voice sounds like.
Still have questions? Feel free to leave a comment or DM me on Twitter! (And don’t forget, as I shall continue to scream it from the heavens, a Google search can usually clear up confusing questions you have!)
I’ve made a fun, little Buzzfeed quiz for wether to pitch you NA book as YA or adult. It’s in no way official and it was rather difficult to make because just because there’s no, say, excessive drug-use in the book, that doesn’t mean it’s automatically YA. But still! Hopefully I managed to make to relevant enough to help!