Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Query Question: YA or adult?

I'm having a hard time determining if my audience should be YA or adult fiction (and, subsequently, which agents to target when querying). I tend to write coming-of-age stories with younger protagonists and an upmarket/literary bent. My current manuscript is about a teenager trying to shape her identity while struggling with a chronic illness in the wake of 9/11. Because of the style, themes, setting, etc, I intended for this book to be for an adult audience. Now I'm not so sure, as the general consensus seems to be that if the main character is a teenager and the book is told from a first-person perspective (which it is), then it's YA. (To be clear, I have no problem if it's YA or adult so long as there's a market for the work, and I know part of determining that is figuring out who to pitch to.)

I know that I'm probably trying to seek out a definitive answer when there isn't one, but the blurred lines between YA and Adult have me so confused as to who I should be targeting for my queries, especially if there's the possibility of crossover later down the road. My concern is that I might be limiting myself when it comes to querying by choosing agents who rep one or the other.

Do you have any advice or additional thoughts on the YA/Adult debate?

If you query someone who rejects you because s/he "doesn't  rep This/That/The Other" what do you fear will happen?

1. You will be strung up in the town square and pelted with tomatoes, wearing a sign that says "I thought my novel was for adults; boy am I stupid!"

2. You will be exiled to Carkoon, there to dwell among the kale plants forever

3. You will be added to the Super Secret Agent Blacklist of Writers Who are Foolish and Stupid and whose queries will be spurned forevermore

4. All of the above

5. None of the above

I'm sure you've figured out that the answer is #5.

What this means for you: Query Everyone.

Since most agents have devolved into "no response means no" you'll just hear more silence.

BUT if you have a good query and great pages, agents are looking for good stuff to sell.

One hint: please do NOT put YA or Adult at the start of your query. You're just increasing the chances that you'll get ignored by an agent skimming her queries.

Engage their eyeballs before you mention the category.

I would venture to guess that at least three out of every ten queries get the category wrong in my incoming query mail.

I don't know whether this is YA or adult and I don't really care. I care about reading a good story. I'm pretty sure most of my ilk are too.

Then, once you've landed a slithery agent, you discuss with her where you'll find readers.  She will have read the book and if she's any good at her job, she'll know the market better than you (and certainly better than I do.)

Your job right now isn't to decide which shelf you'll be on, it's to write a book that's shelf worthy.


AJ Blythe said...

Your job right now isn't to decide which shelf you'll be on, it's to write a book that's shelf worthy.

I'm sticking that above my computer. Great advice as always, QOTKU.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

Being a delicate woodland creature, I read things like #TenQueries on Twitter with interest. I frequently see "YA, I don't rep YA" and things along those lines. But I've also seen things like "Thriller, can't put it down, YA but worth it. Request." And I've also seen things like "the author doesn't realize this is YA and I don't rep YA". It's all very nuanced.

As a writer and as a reader, I don't immediately feel that a teenage narrator equals a YA book. I'm not sure when this notion got so deeply ingrained, but I see it all over (and encounter it at the library). But I guess I'm also a bit perplexed by the sharp Young Adult divide, with some adults saying they will not, absolutely will not, read books for "children", and other people reading whatever they can get their hands on because books are awesome, full stop.

To whit, the narrator in my werewolf books is a teenager. Do I think they're Young Adult? I didn't much think about it while writing the first and most of the second. But no, not really. Could I make it work with her as an adult, with some deep revision and rewriting? Sure. And maybe I'll eventually decide it makes the story hang together better, makes a certain plot point all the more poignant, etc.

Kitty said...

I had no idea that "The Fault In Our Stars" was YA until my then-12-y-o grandson mentioned he had read it.
Yeah, everyone in my school read it and it was really good.

I never would have considered reading it had I'd known it was YA. As it was, I didn't read it because I simply could not handle the subject matter. I did, however, watch the movie on TV and loved it and cried all the way through.

Now, I'm not sure that teenagers actually seek out books that are labeled YA. My instinct says they hear/read that a certain book is about teenagers and take a look. For what this is worth, I think since the book's description is on the cusp between the two categories, I'd call it a novel. Period.

Matt Adams said...

Damn, I was Sure the answer was #4. It sure feels like it is. Or at least #3, because there's a lot of support for that answer on the interwebs these days.

I'm helping a friend query, and she's really getting obsessed with the categories and targeting the right agents. I tell her to just query everyone, that the worst that will happen is nothing at all. But it's hard to convince people of that sometimes.

In my opinion, you've got to be prepared to send out 200 -- first you start at 50 and work your list from there. But it does lead to a question I'm sure TQOTKU has answered before -- what's a smart amount to do in a batch? Send out 20 and see if the query's getting response? Smaller? larger? I started with 12, but it took 73 before anyone even asked to see more. I know the range can go from one to giving up, so I[m curious as to how people proceed ones they start the query process.

ProfeJMarie (Janet Rundquist) said...

I have to confess that I think it's a *potential* red flag if you are very conflicted about whether your book is YA or Adult. I feel like categories within each of those genres can be tricky to determine, but as someone who reads a lot of both YA and Adult fiction (and MG - Middle Grade, for that matter), I feel like it would be easy to recognize among these particular genres. Voice is huge in this respect.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Betty Smith), The Age of Miracles (Karen Thompson Walker, To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee) --> all are coming of age stories, but I would not classify them as young adult. The voice in each of them reflects an adult looking back rather than a young person experiencing it all at the moment.

Sarah Dessen, Maureen Johnson, Jason Reynolds, David Levithan, L. Halse Anderson, Matt de la Peña... all great authors to get the feel of YA voice, of feeling the urgency of matters that have the most impact and drama on an adolescent vs. the "I remember how it was" feel of an adult book with a teen protagonist. Mockingjay, the third book in Collins' Hunger Games trilogy is an excellent example of YA voice. She's indecisive and moody for a good portion of the book - because this is how a 16- or 17-year old girl feels at that age.

And while I think Janet is right about good writing and a good story doing winning over most agents, I think you'd be at a much better advantage pitching to one who almost certainly reps your genre. Becoming a YA author vs. an Adult author are very different routes, imo.

If you don't already, read a bunch of YA and see how it differs. Find someone who reads a lot of YA (or someone who reads both YA and A in equal measure) to read your book to help. I think knowing which it is could really help your agent search.

Colin Smith said...

I believe FuzzyPrint on Carkoon likes option #1, only they string you up by the toenails and pelt you with rotten lima beans. :)

I'm sure I've said this before, but YA is more than the age of the protagonist. There's a vibe to a YA novel. Usually there's some kind of romantic entanglement, and it deals with crises familiar to teens (e.g., peer pressure, conflict with parents/adults, popularity, identity, etc.). If you read enough YA, this becomes evident. I can't think of a single John Green novel that doesn't have some kind of romantic element, and doesn't in some way deal with those kinds of issues.

That said, I like Janet's advice. When querying YA novels, I would usually put "YA Contemporary" or "YA Historical" in the subject line. Perhaps just "Contemporary" or "Historical" will do, and let the agent figure it out from the blurb. And if she can't figure it out from the blurb, but is interested in the story, she might just request a full anyway. And if she asks "is this YA?" you could just say "I'm not sure." If the agent is interested enough, maybe she'll read anyway.

Perhaps I'm being optimistic, but Janet has said "just write a good novel" so often, I'm beginning to believe that's actually the key to all this... :)

Marc P said...

These terms are marketing and placement terms and probably not useful to writers when they set down to write a story in my opinion. Genre categories are for people who deconstruct your work. In broad terms it makes sense to see where in the market your work best fits for sending out to agents and publishers etc... but not for writing it in the first place... just my humble again. Certain writers didn't even know the term YA when they set out to write books that kinda created the word after the event. Could be wrong here JK & Stephanie - which accounted for huge upturn in teen readers and adults not feeling guilty reading the books too. I believe JK's were even printed in different covers for adults - lol!! Cynical marketing for cover collectors - or shrewd?? I AM agreeing with Janet by the way here :)

Colin Smith said...

... and ProfeJMarie's advice. Yes, VOICE. Yes... teen experiencing stuff in the moment vs. adult looking back. YES. TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD and AGE OF MIRACLES as examples of "YA" novels (actually, if you go with protagonist age, TKaM is MG!) that really aren't.

If only I'd waited a few minutes before I started typing... :)

Laura Mary said...

I actually made a similar enquiry over a year ago when I wasn't sure whether what I was writing was 8-12 (the age of the MC put it in this camp) or YA (theme, and word count was sending it in this direction).

I was told that *usually* the MC will be a year or two older than the reader - 8 yr olds like to read about 10 year olds, 12 year olds like to read about young teens etc.
I thought I could just keep writing and see what I ended up with, but the phrase 'know your audience' came up too many times for me to ignore, and I realised I really didn't know who I was writing the book for. After a good long think I realised it was intended for an older audience, and that a 15 year old probably wouldn't identify much with a 12 year old MC, so I started over. It was pretty tough going, but definitely for the better.

OP - There is a muddy line between YA and adult, I have books on my shelf that, having forgotten which section I bought them from, I couldn't tell you what category they were now! As long as you know who you are writing for, it doesn't matter where the book eventually ends up.

Laura Mary said...

Yeah I should have read more before pressing enter - ProfeJMarie has hit the nail on the head there - Voice!!!!

Also, whoever just mentioned reading in your category - Yes! If you don't read YA, chances are you haven't written it! Take a look at what you read as well as what you write.

Unknown said...

Punch my ticket for Carkoon, Janet, because I disagree. Here's why -

Yes, the goal is to write the best freaking book you can, but brealing the rules without knowing them is a setup for angst and failure - and is woodland creatures are full enough of that already.

Opie, nothing is written in a vacuum. We imitate what we read generally speaking, so if you don't read much YA, I'm guessing you wrote an adult book with a teenage main character. If you read a bunch of YA, I'd guess the opposite.

You don't need to know what genre your book is when you write it, but you need to know what genres are in a general sense or you'll break rules you didn't know existed and find yourself with a heck of an uphill battle. And agents have enough reasons to say no to you. Writing a thriller that clocks in at 150k or writing the next murder-strewn scifi space opera picture book for kids doesn't need to be another one (unless you know the rule and can explain clearly and articulately why you're breaking it.)

In many states, carrying an assault rifle with the proper paperwork is perfectly legal, but that doesn't mean walking downtown with an AK47 won't turn heads.

My point is simple. Know the rules, so you know when and how to break them. I think it's very important that you know what genre you write before or during the process. It doesn't need to be set in stone, but again, knowing it up front gives you a basis of rules and the capacity to understand when you're writing yourself into a corner.

Your best resource is books. Read as many as you can.

That's my take!

Theresa said...

Two phrases are now ingrained in my head:

Do the work.

Shelf worthy.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

So when a writer is looking for a slithery agent, it's ok for the writer to act slithery too? As long as there's a strong, fresh story that will grab the agent.

I'm imagining a scenario of an agent grabbed by the voice of a requested full but it's a genre the agent doesn't rep. Maybe they have a colleague across the hall or on their smartphone list that they can forward it to. Because literary agents do network even though they're also competitive with one another. Although there's the question...do agents have time to do something like this? I imagine it would have to be an exceptional story for this to happen.

Unknown said...

Colin made an interesting observation: there is a "vibe" to a YA novel. I agree.

I had this issue with the second book I wrote - a sort of Gilbert Grape story about a savvy teen who grew up too fast. I was advised to use the YA category because of the protagonist's age. For the last time, I struggled with my instincts which told me the themes were more likely to resonate with older adults coming from a variety of perspectives - as a former teen, as the parent of one, etc.

There was not a trace of YA vibe there.

To Marc P's comment: Don't start out with a firm category in mind, because you'll constantly wonder if your voice is right for the story when it should be other way around.

Unknown said...

And I agree with profJ! Voice! That's the real difference. I tried answering the question before reading the comments to stay on task. Looks like everyone else had it covered. :)

LynnRodz said...

I don't read much YA, but the few that I have, I've enjoyed. Personally, I agree with MB, target agents who represent both.

Matt, I haven't started querying yet, but I plan on sending out batches in ten to see what kind of reaction I get. I think if I send out more and there's a problem somewhere, I've burnt bridges which can no longer be crossed before the problem's fixed. Of course, that also means I'm hoping to get some sort of feedback to know what's wrong. (Notice the feedback/problems, I'm ever the optimist/pessimist.)

OP, if your story is great, I don't care if it's YA or A. Send it over to Fuzzy Print Literary here on Carkoon. There's always a lull in August.

Colin Smith said...

Brian: I agree with you that if you know for certain your novel is YA, NA, or MG, then target agents who rep those categories. The trouble comes when you're not 100% certain. Even after all your YA reading, you can't be sure. And half your betas tell you it's YA, and half say it's not. This hasn't been my experience, but I know there are writers out there in that boat. In this instance, I would follow Janet's advice: go with a broader category (e.g., "Historical" as opposed to "YA Historical") and let the agent discern whether it's for him/her.

I have first-drafted a novel that I've been hesitant about editing/rewriting because I'm not sure exactly where it would fit. The protagonists are college-age, but I know it's not NA. It could be YA, but I don't think the voice is right. There's a portal, and a parallel world, but it's not an alternative reality, and it has more of a "historical" feel than a sci-fi feel. There are elements of the "hero's quest" but it's not really fantasy. There are some scenes that would not be appropriate for MG... in other words whenever I think I've determined a category, I find a reason to say, "BUT..." If I were to finish it, I would be querying it very widely as "A Novel." :) So I understand this dilemma well.

Donnaeve said...

There is one other aspect to YA no has mentioned here that came from an YA editor at Algonquin who read my coming of age story, which I've always classified as adult, but my agent gave it to a couple YA's towards the end of the submission.

Algonquin Editor: "At times I wondered, though, if teen readers wouldn’t find too much emphasis placed on adult characters for their interests."

Aside from voice - which I agree is KEY, is that "vibe" Colin talked about, and maybe it's that the story is supposed to center strictly on the MC and their interactions with those around them. Generally, the MC is wrapped up in dilemmas and who's causing said dilemmas, and how they intend to deal with it/fix it. Adults don't fix it for them in the story. The MC handles it, or makes a self discovery that helps them. I have a critique partner writing a YA. She said "it's all about the feels, and ME, ME, ME." Not meaning the MC is self-centered, just they have to be the center of attention and responsible for solutions.

That's what I understand the difference to be.

Anonymous said...

Boy howdy. I could have written this question.

I've had people tell me for years the voice in Far Rider sounds YA. If I don't write YA, I should. The teacher at the writing course I took not long ago insisted I had a YA coming of age story, not adult.

Well, yes, but there's that whole 138,000 word thing. I'm pushing word count even for high/epic fantasy. Plus there are some scenes that definitely wouldn't go over with most schools and parents. I could delete the torture, attempted rape, and the whole cutting off certain appendages of rapists scenes, but it very much lessens the conflict and tension. None of it is graphic, but in today's world, how much is too much? The main antagonist is loosely based on Elizabet Bathory. She was not a nice woman.

Jennifer is absolutely correct. If you follow #tenqueries, and maybe we shouldn't, there is often a "Know your genre, people. This isn't ABC, this is XYZ." "I don't rep YA. My site says so. Why are you querying me with this? Pass."

I don't know what the answer is except as Janet says to query widely and keep writing a different book.

When you're buying and selling horses, one of the best horses to find is a "bomb proof" horse. That's a horse that just doesn't get excited about anything. He isn't going to blow up when an evil piece of paper blows across the trail and dump the rider on his head.

I try to look at some things like conflicting agent advice as bomb proofing training. It keeps me much saner.

DLM said...

Dammit, I had such a great comment, and blogger ate it. Pathetic reconstruction ensues.

The problem with YA and NA and other such categorization is that audience is not genre. I write histfic, and the only expectation I have regarding the age of my audience is that 14-year-olds will read it (I would have), and so will geriatrics and (THANK YOU 2Ns FOR THIS PHRASE) those of ages that are called "certain". If a bookstore had a section for YA, I would not imagine my work wold be shelved there, but I don't think it's "adult" above all - for me, it was "story" above all. That's it.

The creation of these marketing slots has been a convenience for some, but it also creates trip wires in an environment that was not short on obstacles to begin with, for the woodland creature type. I'd bet these age categories have created more hives amongst the forest dwellers than any infestation of mites; as if the "is it fantasy or dystopian or science fiction (et cetera)" question were not bad enough.

Worse, the categorization creates opportunities for prejudice. For good or ill, I'm pushing 50 and could care less about analyzing those ages before "certain" anymore. So I don't go for YA. Like, at all. Am I missing out? Undoubtedly. But I miss out on a lot, we all do, and we all make our choices.

I don't want to create choices more granular than "is this interesting" for my readers.

I wrote a book. Its genre is histfic.

Beyond that, I have no requirements nor even conceptions of my audience, other than that I want one.

Dena Pawling said...

Most of the writing sites I've read, recommend reading widely, both in your genre and outside it. Doing that will definitely help you figure out where your book fits, your comp titles, and your target audience. Does your book “sound” YA, with YA voice?

I have one ms sitting in an electronic trunk right now, because altho it's a romance, it doesn't fit one of the expectations of romance readers. I have to think about how I'll change it, or conversely how I'll pitch it.

Based on what the questioner wrote, I would say read The Fault in our Stars, read Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, read The Age of Miracles. All of those sound similar to the description of your book. You might get it “wrong”, but at least you thought about it and made the effort. Never say your book is “for everyone” or that it's romance/thriller/scifi/MG. If you haven't thought about it and read enough to have a general idea where it fits, you have a problem.

What category do your CPs and betas think it is?

You can also personalize your query in more ways than just in the introduction. If the agent you are querying reps YA, then call your ms YA. If the agent doesn't, first decide if that agent otherwise sounds like a good fit based on what she reps, and if you think so, just call your ms “fiction”. If your hook/blurb is good, and the agent thinks s/he can sell it, you'll get a request for pages.

I realize this sounds like what everyone else said. I guess that means I'm not all wrong. Good luck!

Anonymous said...

I agreed with Colin and the others about 'voice'. It's usually pretty clear what's actually YA in terms of voice. For example, Alan Bradley's wonderful Flavia De Luce mysteries feature Flavia, a 12 YO protagonist, but are absolutely not YA. Definitely adult books.

And my own books, which by age of protagonist could fall anywhere from YA to NA, are generally held to 'read' like YA (lack of sex and bad language mostly :D ). Here I sympathise with Julie, because even my definitely YA books are all over 100, 000 words. Only slightly, but YA range is usually 70000-90000 words (or so I've been told).

It's all about the voice...which means it's wibblywobbly territory and you ain't gonna get it right 100% of the time, so just QUERY WIDELY as HR Sharkiness suggests.

Anonymous said...

Hi folks! Long time no see! I'm back from my conference now all bright... well, tired-eyed and not-so-bushy-tailed, but with lots of inspiration to be written.

I'm sorry, I haven't read all the comments, but I've got to get running. Below is what I've got so far.

I write for an adult audience. I don't mention in my query letters that I write for an adult audience. The agent can figure that out.

My thought is, why mention that the book could be YA? The agent can probably figure that out if it's YA by his/her personal definition.

Unless the agent reps YA, and loves YA, and is looking for YA - then definitely call it YA. It will get their ears pricked up.

The goal of a query letter is to get the agent to request a partial or a full. It's the job of the partial/full to get the agent to offer representation. If, at the query stage, the agent assumes the book is a certain category, they'll know by reading the partial/full if they're right.

As Janet said, what's the harm? They read the partial, see that the YA they requested is really Adult, and a) pass or b) offer representation anyway.

Susan said...

OPer here: Janet, thanks so much for answering this question and welcoming everyone's thoughts on your blog. Everyone: can't express how much I appreciate your insights!

I'm exhausted thanks to chasing my dog who decided to stroll the neighborhood at one in the morning, so let's hope this makes sense:

I read across genres (but love upmarket/lit fiction, which is probably why I lean towards that in writing) and agree with everyone saying it doesn't matter who the intended audience is as long as it's a good story. Absolutely, bar-none. Story/writing trumps everything, no matter the genre, target audience, author, etc.

I tend to write the same way--I previously published an MG book (originally classified as a literary novella) and have an adult historical novel in the works--all young protagonists. Stubbornly (and probably stupidly) I just want to write good stories, no matter where they fall on the shelf, which probably doesn't bode well when trying to launch a long-term career, even if the books have similar themes (although, Alice Hoffman does this well).

It's funny that "A Tree Grows In Brooklyn" was mentioned--that's one of my favorite books (and favorite authors) and probably the closest to what I write. When I was growing up, it was shelved in the general fiction/literature section, which is what led me to believe that the books I write lean more towards upmarket/literary fiction, despite the age of the protagonist. However, even that is now shelved in YA. With this book specifically, the voice seems to be YA, but the "vibe" is definitely adult. That's probably what's complicating it for me.

I understand that publishing is a business with divided markets, and all the advice I've read or received says to know your target audience so that it falls into one of those markets. That's where the confusion comes in for me: from the classifications. Even if I'm querying widely, there are agencies where a 'no' from one agent means a 'no' from the agency, so it feels like it really is up to the author to know where the story should fall on the shelf--especially with agents requesting comp titles in the queries. Adult comps are going to be different from YA comps.

My instinct is to (of course) take Janet's advice and remove any reference to market--it's sound advice and makes sense. But I'm still leery/nervous about it--especially when agents are specific in what they're looking for and you only have one shot.

Adib Khorram said...

There really is nothing like reading widely to help you identify where your work belongs.

Some other books that had young narrators but were not YA/MG:

Abigail Tartellin's GOLDEN BOY
Lev Grossman's THE MAGICIANS started out with a character who was eighteen but the series progressed until he was in his thirties.

I'd also point out that first-person voice does not automatically make something YA. There's plenty of YA told in third person (ELEANOR & PARK!) and plenty of adult told in first person (like Michael Gruber's THE GOOD SON).

ProfeJMarie and Donnaeve have pretty much hit the nail on the head: Voice! Agency of the young protagonist! Emphasis on feelings! And the last one is especially important in YA Contemporary, which is MUCH more character and voice driven than YA Fantasy.

Julie.M.Weathers: As far as some of your darker things, I'd point you toward THE INVASION OF THE TEARLING, which had some pretty heavy stuff in it and has been pretty big in the YA and crossover spaces.

Matt Adams: The most common number for queries I have seen is ten at a time, and most people will do five from the top of their list and five from the bottom of their list (regardless of how they have sorted their list).

DLM: I HATE WHEN IT DOES THAT! I've taken to copy-pasting my post into a Pages document before I hit Publish, just in case.

Oh, no. What if I am a robot?!?!

Susan said...

Jennifer is absolutely correct. If you follow #tenqueries, and maybe we shouldn't, there is often a "Know your genre, people. This isn't ABC, this is XYZ." "I don't rep YA. My site says so. Why are you querying me with this? Pass."

Julie: I'm pretty sure this has been my downfall/why I'm (unnecessarily?) concerned. A ton of great information, but confusing when you're querying!

Colin Smith said...

Hello, Opie Susan! Yup, sounds to me like you want to drop "YA" from your novel description. Not that it's not YA, but if you read enough YA, you should have a sense of whether or not it will meet the expectations of someone looking for a YA novel. Let the blurb set the premise, and the agent will decide whether s/he wants to see it.

Julie: I've been quite surprised at what's tolerated in YA novels. Very little seems to be taboo with regard to sex. Most still avoid salacious detail, but I did a double-take at the oral sex scene in LOOKING FOR ALASKA by John Green. As far as cutting off appendages and torture scenes... YA can get somewhat nasty, but I've not read anything that compares to some adult horror I've read. That's not to say it's not out there, and others may be (and most likely are) better informed than me.

Unknown said...

Agh! Brain exploding...

Maybe someone can clarify this for me.. The comment train is derailing down the scary genre road, but I just don't understand the debate.

This isn't magic. It's not even really all that subjective. But in writing we get these lofty ideas that art can't be defined and my story is so different it will shatter all genres and left is right and up is down and watch out Gravity, you're screwed!

These conversations don't happen in music. There's metal. And there's rock. And you can write rock metal or rockabilly gangster rap if you so choose, but you're not doing yourself any favors. And though there's 12 categories of metal, people don't argue vehemently about how THEIR version of metal transcends all notions of metal and becomes god like. They call it metal or metal core or black metal and metal kids buy it and argue about it themselves.

To me, this stuff isn't rocket science, and writing a YA fantasy or an Adult fantasy is irrelevant in every regard other than it helps identify who you're generally writing to... And sure, kids read adult books and adults read kids books and metal kids listen to Katy Perry, but that's not the point.. The point is, categorically speaking, what is your book like? It's important for that reason only.

Am I crazy here? Is there something I'm missing? Colin, DLM, 2N's, Janet, Julie, anyone, save me if I'm way off base!

Colin Smith said...

... not just adult horror--I've read some nasty torture scenes in adult suspense novels too.

Karen McCoy said...

Very true, Marc P. From what I understand, the publisher that went with J.K. Rowling wasn't even accepting children's manuscripts at the time.

Categories make things murky--especially in libraries. Each library system has its own way of figuring out where things go--and it always lands differently depending who the catalogers are. There's also a push to market YA to adults as well as teens, which muddies the waters further.

What Janet said. Entice them first, worry about details later.

Colin Smith said...

Brian exploding?? Is that too gruesome for YA? ;)

I'm with you on the let's-not-overthink-this train, Brian. If you know fuh shurrr your novel's YA, then send it to YA agents and wave the YA banner. If you're not sure, then don't. Query widely. To your music analogy, Brian, if you are Katy Perry, you're not going to market yourself to a metal audience. But you KNOW you're not metal, so that's a no-brainer. But then you have your Joe Jacksons who have been new wave, jazz, pop, and classical! Guys like that become Stephen Kings, in that their name is their brand and genre. You don't buy Joe Jackson for a specific genre. You buy Joe Jackson because you like Joe Jackson. But there are things about the music analogy where it breaks down with regard to books. Or perhaps not. How does a musician or a band know it's audience? The type of people that show up to gigs? The repertoire they seem to play? What if you get all sorts showing up to shows and you play music across a wide range?

Again, we can overthink this, but I don't think we need to. If you know you're a Katy Perry or a Girls' Generation or a Metallica, then you know how to market yourself. If you don't, then just query and sell your story.

Colin Smith said...

Brian: As I think about this, it seems to me that knowing your genre might be more important for bands/musicians trying to break in than it is for writers trying to get an agent..?

DLM said...

Brian, I'm not sure I'm participating in the what-is-YA discussion so much, because my whole point is that YA is not a genre.

I do NOT think categorization does us any favors: see also, this thread and every other discussion of what-is-YA I've ever seen. I don't think it's necessary to define *audience* so much as genre. It's hard enough to figure out some of those finer points (and yet AGAIN Diane says "man I'm glad I write histfic, it's so straightforward") without clamping down on who can read it.

Every time I see discussions like this, it bewilders me. Marketing age categories just are not genre. YA/NA/MG/adult/whatever can be many genres. Genres can be for many audiences. YA/NA/MG/adult/whatever is. not. genre.

And I really do not think it is necessary to button down age brackets in a query.

As I said - this must be helpful to somebody (your pickier agent types), but it's hardly necessary, and it's very clearly getting in our way.

So, yes, consider your voice - and, if you think you "need" to clarify, do so. But why limit yourself for any reason? Agent A only takes YA, and Agent B works with adult, and Agent C specifies no age brackets at all. You have a story that fits with genres or themes or characters they have said they're looking for.

Why would you not query all three? The tomatoes will wash off.

Unknown said...

Thank you Colin!

To the Joe Jackson point, he may cross genres but generally each album had its own sort of "major" classification. Similar to 311. They write records in just about every genre, and a fan of them knows this, but that doesn't mean at any one time they couldn't be classified. Every book has other books that are similar enough to call it something.

Like MB said. As a matter of practicality, you need a genre. Pick the closest thing and go with it.

When I set out to write, I pick a genre and follow most of the rules. And if it morphs at the 50% point into something else, I pick something else and have lots of revising ahead of me. Blake Snyder said it best. You've gotta answer one burning question if you ever hope to find an audience:

What is it?

My new book is metal. Because I break all the rules. ;)

Unknown said...

Also, DLM is very smart. She should speak up more often so I can learn from her. :)

Susan said...

Brian: When it comes to reading and writing the book itself, I agree entirely. A book is a book--a good story is a good story--and it doesn't matter how old you are when you read it or who it's originally intended for.

The problem comes down to marketing/querying: publishers who divide/classify the books into these audience-dependent markets, and agents who say you have to know where your book should be shelved based on that. This is especially evident when they request to see comp titles within that market. Comp titles for YA are going to be different than comp titles or adult, even if the stories are similar and both represent what you wrote.

If it were simply a question of genre (the audience is comprised of those who read Fantasy vs. Thriller vs. Sci-Fi), maybe it wouldn't be so confusing. But now we've narrowed it down to audience age, and we have to determine where our books fit accordingly. Especially when you have agents who say they only rep YA or only rep Adult fiction versus they only rep Fantasy or only rep Thrillers, I feel like this takes the story out of the equation and puts the onus on the audience.

Which is why I agree with Janet's original suggestion to query widely and remove the marketing tags. I just don't know how well-received that will be across the board when certain agents say they want that classification.

The Sleepy One said...

Has anyone here read The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón? The narrator is a teenager and its told in the first person. It touches on some teen coming-of-age type situations. It's not considered YA despite these elements. I suspect the OP's novel might be similar.

Martha Grime's Hotel Paradise features an even younger protagonist (12), also told in first person, but its never going to be shelved in MG or YA.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

On lunch 45 so no time to read all the comments.

Last line in your post MUST be the new subheader.

Gah, the boss just walked in and sat down. See you Reiders later.
Can't ever get a break from the suits.

Susan said...

Looking forward to checking out the book suggestions here...

Also want to quickly say thanks to everyone: I realized that I've been able to work through my stance on the subject thanks to the comments here. It's also helped me figure out that I was putting too much emphasis on whether or not agents want YA/Adult, rather than the story itself matching what they're looking for.

DLM: you perfectly put into words my problem with this debate/classification (and why I've been so confused because of it), though that's probably a tangent topic for another day!

Looking forward to adjusting my method of querying! Thanks, all!

Colin Smith said...

Brian: I wonder if we need to differentiate YA author vs. YA novel. To play the music analogy again: Paul McCartney is not usually classified as a classical artist (i.e., composing classical music). Yet both his Liverpool Oratorio and Working Classical albums were released by EMI Classic and listed among classical works. In other words, you have a pop/rock musician who has produced some classical stuff. If Working Classical was McCartney's first album, how would he market it? To what extent does that first album define you? Is it the same way that your first novel might define you? E.g., if I write a YA novel, and it gets repped by a YA agent, and sold and published as my debut YA novel, do I then get pegged as a YA author even if that's the last YA novel I intend to write? I'm sure that kind of career discussion would happen when you have "The Call"--but that might also mean your YA agent won't want to take you on because he/she is looking for YA writers.

I may be confusing things, or throwing dust in the air, or giving vent to writerly frustrations we share. It seems to me, this is another reason for querying widely (especially if in doubt), and letting the proverbial chips fall where they may.

DLM said...

Susan, if failing to lay out a detailed marketing plan in a query turns off an agent: do you really need that agent?

A query is an introductory business letter. Yes, it should follow submission guidelines - and yes, if an agent says they will never ever ever ever ever read a story which might be appropriate to a 19-year-old or older when all they dearly want is works for 16-year-olds: THEY are making one of those self-limiting choices I mentioned in regard to myself above. If you did query that person, though, the very worst result is a rejection.

Not querying at all is rejecting yourself.

Janet has told us time and again, we have 250 words to entice. I find it hard to believe going into the weeds for marketing purposes in an introductory letter is worthwhile; what if an agent "fails" to reject a novel which may or may not be YA, and requests pages? And THEY decide the work is totally their bag? Sell it as YA and toast success in good health. And if they request pages and decide it's not for them, no harm truly; no foul. this is what requesting pages is *for*.

I know a particular pair of marketing folks who are OBSESSED with comp titles and "where does it go on a shelf?" They are draconian in their insistence this information must be clear. And, certainly, it's not rare agents feel this way too.

But if I provide a good hook and query in good faith, and THAT is the reason I am rejected? The semantics are too dominant in their process, and as for me I'm okay not working with that snowflake.

I see an awful lot of agents' and successful authors' posts showing successful query letters, and the fact is I can hardly remember one of those examples being held up for emulation as actually containing comps - and, if audience is mentioned, it's not very prominent, because again I can't recall seeing that. I recall seeing hooks, concepts, characters, events.


It's not my place to advise against caring about these things. But I would observe that WORRYING about them gets counter-productive, fast. Anything that gets in the way of querying widely does. And seriously: Susan, you do not come across as likely to truly damn yourself with agents. You might see nary a tomato at all. :)

Brian, thank you!

I am shutting UP now.

Anonymous said...

DLM hit that nail. YA is not a genre, it's a medium or an audience or just a marketing category. Genres include things like science fiction, technothriller, cozy mystery, contemporary fantasy, romance. Any of these can be YA or MG or NA or old vanilla adult.

I don't know that this helps the original poster, though. Do you need to decide on the marketing category before querying? My feeling, as someone who's still months (and many revisions) away from the first query, is no, you don't have to worry about that. But you DO need to have a clear handle on the audience and what others here have called the voice or the vibe.

I'd also like to echo the importance others have given to the agency of the young MC. There's a reason why most YA/MG/NA stories have absent or neglectful adults, when there are adults at all; they're all about the young person's actions and decision driving what happens. If the child is participating in or just observing and responding to actions of adults, then it's probably not one of the younger people's categories.

Christina Seine said...

Oh my goodness I could have written this question myself as well. It's been a topic of discussion lately. In other words, if I bring it up one more time, my friends and family are going to dump me on some remote deserted island and leave me there. (Wait, will there be books?) One of the agents I pitched to a NYC told me they didn't rep YA, but to try someone else at their agency who did rep YA because it sounded like a good story, blah blah blah. I just sat there and blinked at them. Don't get me wrong, this person VERY nice about it, and I was grateful for their kind words, but my book is definitely not YA. I actually mumbled something like, "Um, thank you, but ... it's not YA." They said, "Sure it is - the main characters are 15 and 24."

But duuuuuuude, that doesn't make it YA! It is NOT a coming of age story. It is not written for a YA audience, and most importantly, if it sat in a bookstore among real YA novels, it would live a lonely life, because most actual young adults wouldn't be interested. Now, I love YA books - some of my all time favorite books ever have been YA. But my current MS is not. (I didn't say all that to the agent, of course. Just thanked them and moved on. One definitely doesn't want an agent that doesn't completely "get" their book.)

Y'all have already mentioned several great books featuring younger protagonists that were not YA. I didn't see anyone mention ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE, this year's Pulitzer Prize winner. If you haven't read it, STOP WHAT YOU'RE DOING AND GO BUY IT RIGHT NOW!!!!!! No, really. It's amazing. It's also not YA, although the MC's are teenagers. So there you go. Or there I go. Or something like that.

Anonymous said...

But Susan - you don't only have one shot. Maybe with that book, but if they don't want it in one category, chances are they don't want it in another.

Each book you write is another shot at the agent. And there are a LOT of agents out there (remember to research, research research - Preditors & Editors, Writer Beware).

Colin Smith said...

Celia: I think one of the reasons for Opie Susan's concern is the fact that agents DO seem to want us to think about marketing when we query. Whether that's just to know whether it's women's fiction as opposed to western, or whether we can identify it as YA High Fantasy as opposed to MG Urban Fantasy depends on the agent. Then there are those like Janet who want us to give categorization a shot, but anticipate we'll get it wrong so doesn't get too hung up about it. (And, yes, YA isn't strictly speaking a "genre"--but it's often treated that way.)

I wonder if this urge to classify comes from agents wanting to help us query more productively (i.e., aim our queries where they are most likely to get hits). In other words, is this an agent thing where they think they're helping us, but in fact they aren't (at least not all of us)?

Anonymous said...

The main reason these conversations come up is because agents bring them up. If you follow the twitter contests, YA whatever dominates.

While YA might not be considered a genre, here are some agent listings from one agency. I didn't cherry pick this. I chose the first listing from Query Tracker.

"She primarily represents romance, women’s fiction, young adult and middle grade fiction along with select non-fiction projects with a terrific message."

"She represents all sub-genres of romance, women’s fiction, young adult, middle grade, picture books, thrillers, mysteries and select non-fiction."

"women’s fiction, thrillers, young adult, mysteries and romance."

There are 200 agents looking for fantasy, which also breaks down to various kinds of fantasy and 516 agents looking for YA. YA as you will note, often doesn't break down.

If I were to try and sell Far Rider as YA I'd have to chop 30,000 words. I'm not doing that. I would remove the sex scene, the penisectomies, and the word that rhymes with clock. Yes, I know kids say this and read it, but I'm not comfortable promoting it to them.

Classifying books can be difficult even for successfully published books. Outlander is everywhere; romance, literary, novels, fantasy, historical.

Personally, I like Joss Whedon's advice. "Make it dark, make it grim, make it tough, but then for the love of God, tell a joke."

Colin Smith said...

@Mighty QOTKU, Wisest of All Sharks, Consumer of the Finest Chum: If a query lands in your inbox with "YA Speculative Fiction" in the subject line, do you automatically form reject, or will you at least read as much of the query as you need to read before making that call?

I was going to add "be honest, now"--but decided not to. After all, when is Her Sharkliness anything less than honest. And such impertinence would no doubt end up with me being forced to work the kitchens at Carkoon High. Teaching these gremlins is hard enough, but to cook and serve the slop they eat too?? :\

Susan said...

Celia/Colin: Yep, that's what started this in the first place--everything I've read and heard directly from agents said to classify and target agents based on where your book would stand in the market.

DLM: I know a particular pair of marketing folks who are OBSESSED with comp titles and "where does it go on a shelf?" They are draconian in their insistence this information must be clear. And, certainly, it's not rare agents feel this way too.

Some of the agents who answer questions on their blogs (not Janet) do this. They're adamant about comp titles because they say they want to be sure you know where your book fits in the market. I'm pretty sure they'd be forgiving if what you write doesn't match what they want so long as the story is good--and I know that sometimes they'll pass it along to others within their agency...but sometimes not. Like I said, when a no from one agent means no from the agency, it makes you wonder what it is they're passing on: is it because they don't represent what you write? When silence equates to pass, it's hard to tell.

But you're absolutely right in that I don't want to work with someone who doesn't believe in my story, no matter what the genre/category or comps used. It's just interesting that these things are requested as part of the query in the first place--you'd think it would play some part in getting a book out of the slush pile.

Colin Smith said...

Susan: "when a no from one agent means no from the agency, it makes you wonder what it is they're passing on..."

Think about that:

* No from one agent is a no from the agency.
* No response means no

So if you don't hear anything after 2 months, 3 months, 6 months, a year...? the whole agency--every agent within that collective--is a no...? No wonder woodland creatures get wrapped up in knots about this stuff.

Susan said...

Colin: Some of the agents/agencies I've looked into have guidelines that say something along the lines of:

If you haven't heard from us in xx weeks, it's a pass.

Then they'll go onto say:

A pass from one of our agents is a pass from the agency.

To be fair, most of the agencies seem to encourage submitting to other agents within the agency if one of them passes ("if xx passes, feel free to submit to another agent here at xx"). I should also clarify that I'm speaking about one specific manuscript. If you have a new manuscript, it seems fine to submit like you're querying for the first time.

Although I could be wrong. That's happening a lot today ;)

Colin Smith said...

Susan: Oh, you are certainly correct that many agencies are not "query one query all" types, and encourage you to query their agents separately (though not simultaneously). But the scenario where an agency has BOTH policies (no reply means no AND query one query all) sounds like some kind of Carkoonian torture!

Susan said...

Colin: Writers are a tortured-soul bunch to begin with! :)

I see what you're saying now--that specific scenario I've come across once, though it was a two-person agency, so maybe that makes a difference.

Marc P said...

Here's a word of advice that I got told off for doing myself. Told off for paying money that is.. by someone who thought I shouldn't.


I have 5000 words of a Children book I wish to write after I finish this mystery/crime/thriller I am currently writing at the pace of a snail but will finish in just over four weeks time! So I was not sure - was it YA .. MG .. MSG or whatnot. Also language - too sophisticated for the modern yoot or whatnot again and etc. So I sent the 5k to a freelance children's book editor - recently went freelance ex commissioning editor from a major children publishing division of a big publisher. A Few hundred bucks (if that) and she told me ALL I needed to know.

If in doubt find out.. I don't regret the spend at all. :)

MVB said...

The thing is, I believe agents fall into 2 camps. There are those like HM Shark, who like queries to launch straight into the story and put housekeeping, genre, category etc at the end. They want to be seduced by something that jumps out at them. They want to be surprised. (And as far as my research shows, they don't, unfortunately, generally rep YA)
The other camp prefer to have an indication of what they're being offered first. They like to know if it's a thriller or a romance or a fantasy straight up and adjust their expectations accordingly. If you don't put an age category in the query, these agents will most likely assume it's adult and be unhappy when they find out MC is a teen. It won't match their expectations and it will be a red flag.

The age category problem is one I've struggled with for years. The thing I've found most difficult to learn is that as a writer you have to match your reader's expectations. If you don't you'll lose your reader. Nowadays if the author is not already established (like Jonathan Safran Foer was) and the MC is a teen, the reader expects YA. The Book Thief is a good example of a debut novel with a young MC that is not really YA but ended up being marketed that way to make the sales. And it was a highly successful.
I'm not saying there are no exceptions but, for debut authors, if the MC is 16-18 years old and the novel definitely isn't YA, I suspect it makes the route to publication way harder (and longer) than it is already.

John Frain said...

I have a hard time proffering advice on this blog because, well first the Queen, and then so many of you are so knowledgeable. So I'll add just one thought I haven't seen yet.

While I agree that agents fall in two (or more) camps, I think there are two clear camps for writers as well, as regards this subject: aspiring and established.

There are two sets of rules, depending on which camp you fall in as a writer. That's not an unfair judgment, it's just reality. And it stretches across many subjects.

Does your work defy classification? That's okay for an established author, doesn't work as well for an aspiring author.

Does your ms open with a dream sequence? Readers have learned to trust you if you're established, but an agent will likely stop reading if you're aspiring.

The list goes on and on. And like so many things, once you understand it, you react to it accordingly.

My two cents, in a crowd of people filled with silver dollars.

Colin Smith said...

John: A great point, sort of along the lines of my McCartney comparison above (because I like to compare things I've said with great points--makes me look good! ;)). JK Rowling can jump from fantasy (if that's what HP is) to Contemporary to Mystery to Screenplay to Stage Play to whatever the heck she wants because she's JKR. But just as she started out as a "Children's Author" writing her quirky MG series, so we have to find our niche and start there, even if we think of ourselves as genre-less.

DeadSpiderEye said...

I confess, I find the term of concern confusing, young adult, is it the market or genre? If we're talking market, that's the demographic that buy books isn't it? Genre wise, I associate a teen-angsty narrative convention, that actually appeals to the inquisitive 11+ group and maybe the occasional solo, judging from the paperbacks I spy ferreted away from plain sight. But as mentioned, I'm confused, so that's likely to be off the mark.

Colin Smith said...

DeadSpiderEye: Yes. :) If you market to Middle Grade or Young Adult, there's a reason why your novel markets to those age groups. That reason has to do with the voice of the novel, the subject matter (MG-ers tend to prefer adventure stories over angsty love stories), the age of the MC(s), and factors such as that. As I see it, this is why MG and YA (as well as PB and NA) are thrown into the "genre" mix because it's not simply about the age of the audience. These books appeal to those age groups for a reason, and that reason impacts the type of story and the way it's told.

That's very broad and simplistic, I'm sure, but that's my explanation for the YA audience/genre confusion.

Donnaeve said...

For what it's worth, the definition of genre:

"a class or category of artistic endeavor having a particular form, content, technique, or the like..."

So, although in general I'd agree with Diane, I do think there are nuanced techniques to writing YA/MG just like writing with a focus towards thrillers/suspense/cozy mystery/histfic. Yes you can write YA/MG for all those genres, but it won't be the same way you write for adult market.

Honestly. It's a clear as mud. This reminds me of the discussion we had a while back about the differences between suspense and tension. That one made my head hurt too.

DeadSpiderEye said...


Thanks, is that voice you mention as being appealing to MG-YA fairly consistent across the genre or is more of case of including certain qualities in the style? It would be great too, if you could cite an good example, something I could pick up.

Lizzie said...

Well said, Prof J.

There's also Tell the Wolves I'm Home, a beautiful not-YA book. I think it's in first person. First person definitely does not mean it's YA.

Anonymous said...

I've always had trouble with the notion that writing, or any art, should be classified by age. Especially when the ranges are so narrow, within a few years. Should we next have separate classifications for 40-year-olds vs. 50-year-olds? What about the 80-year-old set? It used to be ["get off my lawn"] children vs adult, and that seemed pretty clear. But even then, I enjoyed many of the "children's" books I read to my kids as much as they did. And I sure did read a lot of inappropriate "adult" books when I was supposedly too young to understand or appreciate them.

To further Brian's music analogy, can you imagine a band producing music that would appeal to ONLY the 12 to 14-year-old age group? Or a painting or sculpture solely for 18 to 21-year-olds? Is it expected that children who love Barney and the "I Love You, You Love Me" song will not also appreciate Bach or Beethoven or Pink Floyd?

It's silly. It's a measure people (agents/publishers) have developed to target an audience where they think they'll make the most money. It has nothing to do with what ages will appreciate reading a certain genre or voice or style of writing. It just happens that, right now, people are making a ton of money from stories that seem to fall in this range of YA. It won't be long before the next "big thing" comes along and we'll all scurry around trying to define our writing by some new arbitrary measure other than genre. Geriatric taxidermists who used to be spies, probably.

Write your story. Let someone else figure out who might buy it. Gives them something to do and keeps them off the streets.

Why, yes, I am feeling all growly today.

Anonymous said...

In the publishing industry, 'genre' is science fiction, mystery, etc., while YA/NA/MG are called categories. Some will include 'contemporary' or 'literary' as genres, others won't. But that's not the question here.

True, there are probably ways of writing YA mystery that's different from adult mystery, but in the book biz, the age groupings are called categories.

So if an agent says they want to know what category you're writing, they want to know the age group/audience. They don't mean the genre, in this case.

As for Susan, our lovely OP, if you don't think it's YA - unless the agent you're targetting is 'SEND ME ALL YOUR YA PLEASE TRIPLE PLEASE' - don't say it's YA. The agent will either decide by the age of the protag (in which case, they may not be the right agent for this novel) or they'll understand that adult books can have teen protags (which is the type of agent you're looking for.)

Anonymous said...

Also: what kdjames said. Just because 'genres' and 'categories' exist, doesn't mean they're always right. But it's good to know what the terms mean. :)

Julie said...

On "Test Queries" (In the subject of Things Not To Do), Humble Author Querulous Querier decides to go the paper route instead of Catching Agent Noir's attention (A) with her linen stationery (B) which is slightly grey (C) and has her business information beautifully embossed in bold Navy Blue lettering at the top. (D)

She happily writes her new query, beginning with her standard Dear Sir or Madam, (D) I'm sure you recall (E) my previous inquiry (F) and then moving directly to the business of her revised, improved, 120K (G) completed YA fantasy mystery. (H)

Now, the above roadkill notwithstanding, Querulous has previously had a request for a revised partial which she places... HERE. Supposing it's Outstanding. (I)

Assuming that the writing is even better than Agent Noir hoped, would she (1) un-accept/non-accept/do something other than accept the manuscript; 2) point out all or certain egregious errors and state the concerns that this raises - but ask for full; 3) let it go and just take the MS on its own merits?

Thank you for your many considerate responses.

Julie said...

Actually, in above, it turns out that I decided it wasn't a test query.

But I also thought it might be cool to leave you all out of that decision.

Until now.




(cough) Ahem...

Karen McCoy said...

Ha, Julia! I almost said "you always have me in stitches" but it seemed in poor taste. So I'll say instead, "You always have me spitting water onto my workstation!"

Prayers for a safe and swift recovery.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Sixty seven comments, I've read them all, kinda', and we stayed on subject, sorta' HOW THE HELL DID THAT HAPPEN?

Anonymous said...

I know a lot of people keep harping YA is not a genre. However, as I pointed out earlier, if you look up agent listings on sites like QueryTracker and AgentQuery YA is listed as a genre. Agents on their own sites as I pointed out, say they are looking for YA.

Regardless of whether this is technically correct or not, we might as well stop doing the tomato tomahto discussion, because there it is. If agents call it a genre, if publishers call it a genre, if publishing sites call it a genre, we really ought to find something else to chase our tails about.

Aussies, the dogs not the people, are bob tailed, but it isn't from chasing them over silly stuff.

Anonymous said...

One more thing -- less growly, I promise -- I find interesting about the whole YA classification and its relatively recent popularity:

The really big YA hits have been (as far as I know) Harry Potter, Hunger Games, Divergent, Twilight. Of these, I've only read Harry Potter, so, grain of salt. But as a writer, I'm aware enough to know the basic premise of all of them. And it's interesting that people (which people, I don't know) have decided the common feature of these successes is the age of the MCs. And so YA was born. But it seems to me their success is just as likely to be other things they definitely have in common:

1) several books in a series
2) various competing factions, and being chosen or forced to choose (ie, conflict)
3) a world apart from our reality
4) interesting characters
5) compelling storytelling

Oddly, with all these choices of possible commonalities, people have settled on the age factor. Why? Maybe it's easier to say, "We want more Young Adult." Julie's examples above from Query Tracker are interesting. Looking at what those agents want, the YA category sticks out like a sore thumb. Almost like it was added as an afterthought. "It's popular and makes money, of course I'm interested in that."

Perhaps easier than to say, "I want well-written compelling stories with interesting characters engaged in meaningful conflict, and a big story arc over several books. Submit more of that."

Frankly, I think they're mistaken. YA isn't popular because of the age thing. It's because of all those other factors that make a good story.

But Julie is right. If that's what agents/publishers think they want . . .

Anonymous said...

I guess I'm guilty of going off topic, and at length. More of a tangent than completely derailing?


I'll try to narrow my focus in future. Or sit on my hands. Something.

Anonymous said...

Totally and completely off topic, but maybe of interest. I discovered I had two copies of Mary Chestnut's Civil War Diary and two cds of Civil War Battlefields although in my defense one is a two disc set. I decided it was time to get my books organized.

I found all kinds of articles on how to organize home libraries, including one on how to cover your books in bright neon paper and arrange them in interesting patterns. You don't have a clue what your books are, but they look cool. Ask me if I wanted to smack someone.

I finally ran across a site called Library Thing. I would link it, but apparently now the link goes straight to my library when I click on it and you would be bored.

I loaded 30 books into my library about as fast as I could type the title, hit search, and pick out which volume I had.

I'm not sure if anyone else has a problem organizing hundreds of books, but if so, this might be of interest.

I now return you to your regularly scheduled program.

Marc P said...

@Julie M... re length.. Surely a few K more words and it becomes a YA - Fantasy Trilogy. Should you wish it so?

DLM said...

Maybe this is one of those areas where personalization of a query becomes most important. By this I don't mean "gee, your alma mater's doing great this year" but THIS information.

For those agents digging on the YA chili and saying so widely and enthusiastically, you can call it YA if you wish to do that. For those not specifying category, just give the genre and hook 'em with the query/sample.

Assuming THAT is clear! :)

Colin Smith said...

DeadSpiderEye: There is a voice and a vibe to YA that will come out differently depending on the genre and the author. The themes you find are those that are important to teens: love, relationships as a whole, taking risks, authority/authority figures vs. my goals and aspirations, society--conforming/not conforming, and others. Kendare Blake's ANNA DRESSED IN BLOOD series is a horror duology, where danger and teens taking high-stakes risks couples with relationship issues--both friendships and romantic relationships... with the living and the not-so-living... :) But if you really want to get a feel for the YA vibe, read just about anything (or everything) by John Green. I don't like everything he has written (AN ABUNDANCE OF KATHARINES is my favorite), but he is an excellent writer, and without question the master of YA voice.

For MG, I would recommend Rachel Searles' THE LOST PLANET series. I think she really captures the essence of the MG voice and vibe in this space adventure. It's written on a level MG-ers can appreciate, but with concepts that should resonate particularly with that age group--trust, sibling rivalry, abandonment, and betrayal, for example. There's no romance as such, but friendships are very important, and also trying to figure out which adults you can rely on, and which ones to avoid.

Anonymous said...


Someone suggested breaking FR in two and if an agent and editor thought that was the way to go I would certainly try.


DeadSpiderEye said...


Thanks again, Green must be good, he's on loan throughout almost the entire county.