Saturday, June 11, 2011

My Book is YA...Or is it?

Question of the century: is my book written for a YA audience or for kids? If it's got huge pictures and about seven words on each page, it's clearly written for children. If it's got a major character named Ruffley Von Rufflefeather, then odds are it's a children's book. But what if my WIP doesn't fit into a neat box like this? That's what I want to know.

Wikipedia says that "The Young Adult Library Services (YALSA) of the American Library Association (ALA) defines a young adult as 'someone between the ages of twelve and eighteen'" and goes on to say that "theme and style are often subordinated to the more tangible basic narrative elements such as plot, setting, and character, which appeal more readily to younger readers" and "The vast majority of YA stories portray an adolescent as the protagonist, rather than an adult or a child." (OK, I promise I'll stop quoting Wikipedia now).

But what if my main character is younger than an adolescent but my book deals with dark subject matter, more appropriate for young adults than young children to read? But what if it's still got goofy character names like Brumchalk Littlewing? (Aside: that's not an actual character's name from my book; I just made it up to illustrate a point).

This is a big question because, as Nathan Bransford notes on his terrific blog, if you're a children's author (as he is), you really shouldn't be self-publishing for a range of reasons, one of which being that print still dominates in that age range (Bransford reasons that not many parents are rushing out to buy their 8-year-olds Kindles at the moment).

Which makes sense. But part of me really, really wants to self publish. I'm heartened by the fact that J.K. Rowling is considered by Wikipedia (the final authority on all matters, don't you know?) to be a YA writer, because while my WIP is really nothing like the Harry Potter books, my intention for it is to appeal to a broad age range, as the HP books do.

So should I forsake self-pubbing because my book may tread too close to the boundary line that separates children's and YA fiction? Maybe Bransford is right: maybe I'd have a better shot at selling books going the traditional, legacy route. I don't know. It would be interesting to know if anyone else out there is going through a similar marketing crisis.


  1. Hi Chris, I found you on Twitter and finally visited your blog! I have the same problem. I was calling my book YA until someone pointed out that my MC was 10 years old; therefore, my book was MG. But what about the dark themes? What about the DEATH? I am still confused, I will tell ye! To add to my existential angst, I also write nonfiction. In essence, I am a mess. Good luck with your work!

  2. Hi Jenny, thanks for your comment! I know, I'm right there with you on the darkness/death front. I'm considering changing the age of my protagonist to be more borderline adolescent age (maybe 11 or 12?). Maybe that'll help if I decide to query agents (if I go that route). Good luck to you as well!

  3. I'm with you, too. My characters are talking cats and various ages of humans, though the MC human is roughly early teen. Generally speaking, unless you're Shirley Rouseau Murphy, talking cats belong in the MG section. The theme of redemption, though, could be YA and older. So, what to do?

    I've self-pubbed my non-fic and I'm seriously considering doing the same with the fic because marketing it traditionally (and let's face it, an MS is usually accepted by the marketing dept.) could be difficult at best.

    I look forward to hearing about your decision and good luck on your WIP.

  4. @virginiaripple, I hear you. I have talking creatures in my book too which you'd think would relegate it to the children's fantasy genre, but as you say, it deals with more mature themes, so I'm at a crossroads.

    After having given it some thought, I don't want to change the age of my MC right now. He's younger than an adolescent, and I just feel like changing his age would change the whole nature of the book. I'll definitely keep you updated, thanks for your interest! And good luck to you too.

  5. I haven't hit this crisis yet, but I expect to. The book I'm writing is fantasy, but I could probably classify it as YA Fantasy if I wanted. I just can't decide if I want to or not. I may let beta readers tell me which category they think suits my book the best. Of course, I have to finish the book first, lol!

  6. @Scott Niven--This, to me, is what's so great about self-publishing. If your work doesn't quite fit squarely into a genre (and, thus, no publisher will want to deal with it), it can still find an audience in the indie world. Of course, even lots of indie readers like their books to fall into some sort of genre. But hopefully in the future genres won't be such a big deal. Thanks for your comment!