Young adult : what’s the criteria?

Someone asked on the comments section a couple of days ago: what’s the criteria for a work to be classed as “young adult”?

I know pretty much zilch about the subject, but I suspect there is no precise criteria. Rather, an editor – or an author – will make a decision, and if the marketing people agree, then that’s the way it will go. I suspect that there are times when everyone is caught out by what happens next. I mean, they had to put out “an adult edition” of Harry Potter! Huh? It had a different cover – so adults wouldn’t be embarrassed to be seen reading it?

Trudi Canavan’s “The Black Magician” trilogy was not really marketed as a YA in the beginning, but once the book hit High Street in UK, it was obvious that it was having huge success among the slightly younger reader. A YA edition was brought out – exactly the same text, but with a different cover, and pushed to bookshops as YA, which would probably place it in a different section of the store.

So what is it about a story that makes it YA, not adult?

Perhaps YA authors can comment! But here are some of my guesses:

1. Language – not too much of the more vivid curses
2. Age of main protagonist(s) – not quite adult
3. Plot not X rated – if there is any graphic sex, it will be more of the “this is the first time for me too” variety.
4. Probably deals with at least a few “coming of age” issues, if only in passing. Such issues are often the main concern of the book.

And what’s the difference between children’s literature and YA?

1. Age of main protagonist(s) is younger
2. Language even more circumspect
3. No sex and probably not too much kissing either!
4. Issues will be the kind of thing that is of interest to the targeted age group.

Of course, when I was a highschool teacher, way back when, the kids could run rings around me in their knowledge of graphic swear words, not to mention slang for every conceivable part of the anatomy and the variable uses the said anatomy could be put to, and what you called it when you did…

But even so, YA books are unlikely to be raunchy. Young Adults have to be protected from that kind of thing, after all.


Young adult : what’s the criteria? — 5 Comments

  1. Penguin is actively marketing the Hal Spacejock series as YA, particularly to the schools market.
    It wasn’t at first, but someone realised the books lacked sex, swearing and violence, and kids as young as 9 were enjoying them. Nice clear language, funny bits and some action.
    I should explain that I wrote the books for adults, and there are quite a few double-entendres, but my kids are under 12 and I knew they’d want to read ‘dad’s book’ so I sacrificed my artistic integrity in order to please them.
    Actually, I’m not a big fan of swearing, sex and violence in books so it wasn’t that hard to keep mine clean. It also more than doubled the potential market.

  2. Probably a wise decision. And I think many adult readers are aware that some very good sff is coming out as YA. One of the big problems is that so many bookshops have one track minds when it comes to where to place a book. One area, and that’s it.
    If you are marketed as YA, your book won’t be obvious to the adult shopper.

  3. It weirds me out a little to see books I enjoy repackaged for YA. Maybe part of that’s because as a YA, I was already reading mostly just SF&F, so I just went to the SF&F section of the store. πŸ˜‰ YA? What’s that?! πŸ˜‰

    BTW, Bookseller Chick (who works in a U.S. chain bookstore) is talking about YA today, too! Warning: I linked to you from there. πŸ˜‰

  4. Mine are marketed to stores as adult, but they’re selling them to schools as YA. Best of both worlds, because if they mentioned YA to bookstores they’d stash them with Potter and Unfortunate Events. Instead, they’re in with the Pratchett and Douglas Adams books, which is where they should be. (I didn’t set out to write YA, as mentioned. It’s just that they decided the books were clean enough for that market.)

  5. I think the boundaries are blurred these days. It’s a shame that good books, enjoyable by a wide range of ages, should be confined to the adult or the YA sections of book shops when they could be sold to both.

    I just bought Hal Spacejock one for my niece’s 13th birthday and she was tickled pink. Especially seeing as the author signed it:-)

    And right now I’m re-discovering one of my favourite authors from my teenage years, Rosemary Sutcliff. I like her as much as 63 as I did at 13!

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