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How Old is Your Book?

How old is your book? What group does it fall in? When you are describing your book to agents (and following that, to publishers) what will you tell them about your book?

Now when I ask "how old is your book?" note that I am not asking "how long ago was your book written?" but rather "for what age group is your book intended?"

Recently, I have found that this question is much more complicated than it originally seemed. While I stand by the thought that my own book is a YA novel (a novel for young adults) while reading more novels and reading up on what agents are looking for and the current trends I have discovered some interesting facts about the three most common age groups for novels (I am unsure, though, really if there are any there age groups in which novels fit).

These three age groups, of course, are middle grade (usually shortened to MG), young adults (generally shortened to YA) and adults. As far as I can tell, middle grade targets the age range of 8-12 and young adults from 12-18 (adults is anything above that) however, in reality, what I also tend to find is that many 20-year-olds (I don't know many adults above 20 but possibly others as well) read YA novels more so than adult novels. In fact, even as a tween (10-12) I generally gravitated to the YA section where the books were more my style and length.

It makes sense, then, that there tends to be more YA novels and authors than there are MG or adult novels and authors. After all, there are so many more people reading these books than there are people reading the books in the other sections.

However, agents currently, tend to be seeking out specifically MG novels. Because there is such a pull to YA where most of the readers are, there are less and less authors writing for MG. This is great if you do want to write MG because you have much less competition and agents actively seeking you out. It is not so good for those of us who are writing YA.

But what I do want to talk a little bit more about is the wide variety of novels in the YA section. The reality is, of all the books classified as YA, only 50% of so would be read solely by 12-18-year-olds and those reading at a 12-18-year-old level of maturity, style and literacy. Rather, the rest of the books in the YA section can be split into two groups:

  1. YA-adult books: These are books that aren't quite mature enough to classify as adult books or which the author simply did not want to classify as adult books. These books, do, though, have mature content (sex, drugs, cursing, gory violence, etc.) and/or larger words and a writing style more appropriate for adults or older YAs. This means the book really could have been classified as an adult book, might be read by many adults, and appeals to the upper end of the YA scale. Examples of books like these might be the Red Queen series, Sarah J. Maas books (which are sometimes classified as adult reads but are in the YA section at my library), and John Green books.

  2. YA-MG books: These are books that are perhaps a little bit too mature, too long, or too wordy to be classified as MG (or the author just didn't want to be classified as MG). Nevertheless, they are appropriate for a mature MG reader, not difficult to read for a mature MG reader, and potentially could have been classified as MG. This might mean they lose some of the YA audience because of the style that might appeal more to a younger audience but usually, there are also MG readers that read these books. Some examples of these might be the Twisted Tales series, Doomed, or the I'd Tell You I Love You But Then I'd Have to Kill You series.

My main point in stating this is to say that many YA books have "adult" and "MG" readers as well because they also appeal to those age groups but potentially don't fit into the restraints of those classifications. Many books are like this (on the edge of two age groups or appealing to more than one). Both the Percy Jackson and Harry Potter series started off as very much MG series in the first books but further along in the series could definitely be classified as YA. Book series like Hunger Games and Divergent (despite their being overrated) can appeal to all three age groups.

In reality, the age group classifications are very loose particularly since the classification of YA is so broad (it really could be split in three to aid parents in monitoring what their child reads). While I classify my book as YA, I like to think that a mature MG (with a parent's permission) could read the book and that an adult who enjoys fairytale twists would find joy in its pages as well. The book has mature themes such as abuse, racism, and death but it also celebrates finding one's identity in more than the title the world places on oneself. It also has magic, joy, love, and fairytales. I hope that readers of all ages can enjoy the story.

My book is a YA book.

What's yours?

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