Nathan Bransford, Author

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

The Difference Between YA and Adult Literature

Originally titled: Dude Looks Like a YA

Maybe it's because basketball season is in full swing (and my Sacramento Kings, sadly, are stinking up Arco Arena), but I have been seeing a lot of crossover novels lately. Get it?? Get it?? Crossover? Basketball? (I know, it's my lamest opening ever. Just stick with me here.)

After everyone saw how books like HARRY POTTER and ERAGON sent kids and adults alike scurrying to the bookstores in droves, crossover became the new thing all over again. Everyone has seen how successful books that are enjoyed by both children and adults can be, and the massive sales.. ahem, I mean the thrill of having your work read by as many people as possible means I now get a lot of crossover novels in the query inbox.

But here's the problem with crossover novels: there's no crossover publisher, only children's publishers and adult publishers, and there's no crossover section of the bookstore, only the children's side and the adult side. Sure there are big publishers with both children and adult divisions, but cooperation on a crossover novel would mean taking the elevator down a few floors, and come on, who can be bothered to do that???

So this raises an interesting question for the aspiring crossover novelist -- how can you tell if your novel is a YA (young adult) novel that might appeal to adults or an Adult novel that might appeal to a younger audience?

As an example, let's take two (very good) novels about troubled high schoolers: KL Going's FAT KID RULES THE WORLD, and Michelle Tea's ROSE OF NO MAN'S LAND. FAT KID RULES THE WORLD opens with an overweight teenager contemplating suicide before he befriends a homeless high schooler and joins a band, ROSE OF NO MAN'S LAND is about a troubled teenager who befriends/sort of falls in love with a wild teenager who distracts her from her troubled home life. Somewhat similar themes, right? But FAT KID RULES THE WORLD is a YA novel and ROSE OF NO MAN'S LAND is an Adult novel. What accounts for the split?

To me the separation between YA and Adult is not necessarily thematic, it has more to do with pacing and presentation. When you read a YA novel the pace tends to be quicker, the books tend to be shorter, and things happen in a more straightforward fashion. While of course there is a ton of variation and exceptions, things tend to unfold on the surface to keep a younger reader interested and engaged. In an adult novel, even an adult novel about high schoolers, things unfold more slowly, there tends to be more subtlety and ambiguity. Things happen beneath the surface and they can be more challenging. In other words, I think the YA/Adult split is more about the telling than the characters and the themes.

All of this is a long way to say that I think you need to write and pitch your novel as one or the other, because agents don't usually handle both adult and YA, and it's virtually impossible to pitch a "crossover" book. You also want to really make it one or the other to avoid ending up with a novel that is too adult for children and too juvenile for adults, which happens a lot. Books do indeed cross over, and you can mention that your book has crossover potential, but at least initially I think you have to go one way or another -- hopefully this will serve as a rough guide of which direction you should go.

Just. Like. Basketball.

(Worst metaphor ever.)


brian_ohio said...

The substance of your post was brilliant, the metaphor quite pathetic. The fact that you blatantly plagiarized an Aerosmith title too boot... I'm just stunned.

But keep the great info coming.

Nathan Bransford said...

"The substance of your post was brilliant, the metaphor quite pathetic. The fact that you blatantly plagiarized an Aerosmith title too boot... I'm just stunned."

If I ever write a book I'm using this quote on the cover.

Anonymous said...

Walk This Way, Nathan, and tell Brian to just play with his Toys In The Attic. I wonder if he'll ever get published? DREAM ON. Brian in Ohio? My name is Janie and I only wish I had a gun. You are a pain Brian and I need a Tyler-nol after reading your comments.

Jack Roberts, Annabelle's scribe said...

Great blog. I'm going to keep checking back.

Christopher M. Park said...

Hello again, Nathan! It's really awesome that you're so active on this blog; if you don't mind, I've got another thing I'd like to pick your brain about. I feel a bit stupid on this one, actually....

You talk about the structural differences between a YA and Adult book, and all that makes a lot of sense. I can easily think of a lot of examples that slot easily and well into both.

However, there are some that I am not so sure on. For instance, take a lot of the semi-recent Michael Crichton books--Prey or Timeline in particular. Those both have the fast pacing and lack of subtlety that I think could make them more YA, but because of the violence and strong language that are common to his writing, I don't know if that inherently bumps them up to adult. I know that I, for one, started reading him in 5th grade, but I don't know if he is generally appropriate for that age group. I just don't know what the industry expects on that, I mean.

I myself have an utterly different writing style from Crichton, but I think that my pacing and such would largely work for YA or Adult. It's probably borderline. I'd almost prefer it to be billed as YA, though, just because of audience. I don't write sex scenes or anything, because that's just not my style, but I do write the violence that occurs moderately explicitly for the sake of realism.

But what is more concerning to me is cursing (this is the part I feel silly about). Mostly my language is entirely clean, but in the few cases where antagonists are verbally haranguing the protagonist, or when the protagonist is extremely upset, there is some cursing. Nothing too creative, just the general f**k and other such words that we all use in those cases. It's just what made the dialog sound real to me, and it falls flat without it.

Does the above automatically shift me into the adult category? Based on your post, it wouldn't at all, but you didn't really address violence or language. Thanks again for sharing all your insights with us!


My writing blog

Alex Fayle said...

You are an absolute delight to read, even with the worst metaphors ever.

Nathan Bransford said...

Christopher -

Only you can know for sure. In the case of Chrichton, I too read him when I was younger, and so there is something in his writing that appeals to adults and young adult audiences, but he still writes in the classic adul thriller style. One big difference-maker is length -- adult novels are typically from 50,000-125,000 (I'd say Chrichton's books average about 100,000, but that's just a guess), whereas YA is typically 40,000-60,000. And because of the difference in length the pacing is slower and more measured. So while I'm sure Chrichton could write a great YA novel I don't think anyone would confuse his adult novels for YA.

While there are people, like you, who can write in both YA and Adult, I think it's important to pick one from the start and go with it, because ultimately the styles are very different.

Let me reiterate that the difference between Adult and YA is more in the telling, not so much in the themes. YA is filled with sex and bad language these days, so that alone is not much of an indicator. What's more telling is the particular styles of YA and Adult novels.

laurie_ saloman said...

Oh, how I wish you had written this months ago, when I was agonizing over whether to make my work in progress a "crossover" book! I ultimately decided that I should go one way or the other, for the reasons you laid out, and since my first book is a YA that's the direction I took. My impression also is that once an author is published and established in a particular genre, it may be easier to pitch his or her next novel as "crossover."

Peni Griffin said...

Mr. Park, you're worried about cursing? What YA have you read lately?

If the antiliterary grownups pick up your YA with cursing, they will try to ban you, but it's not a problem for the publishers or librarians and it's only an excuse for the antiliterary grownups anyway. Don't believe me? Go down to the YA section and read big stacks of YA. Start with one that's been banned for languages, such as Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan.

If you're considering writing for this discerning audience, you should be reading it. And if you really think that Michael Crichton or Danielle Steele or pretty much any bestselling adult author can touch Nancy Werlin, Neal Shusterman, Elaine Marie Alphin, Carol Plum-Ucci, or dozens of other YA authors, you've got another think coming. For that, you have to go for Salinger or Woolf. (Wait, Salinger is YA too; at least Catcher in the Rye is.) Literature happens at all reading levels.

Dayna_Hart said...

Grammar aside, what a terrific blog! Thanks for providing an agent resource for those of us still a teensy bit intimidated by her Royal Snarkiness :)

I'd like to know, from your perspective as an agent: is fantasy a dead or dying genre, best left to Tolkien, Lackey, Jordan, Kay, etc. as this poor author has been led to believe her whole life...or is it simply being relegated to a YA genre--which will undoubtedly cross over? Or is there a hale and hearty market for non-YA fantasy novels?

Christopher M. Park said...

Thanks so much for the response. That makes sense, but I had no idea how different the lengths are. I guess I'm just not too sure what YA is, then, if it's that short. It's almost like you're talking more about "chapter books" if the book is that short. I thought 40,000 words was approaching novella length.

I guess I'm thinking about all those ten year old kids who read Harry Potter and A Series of Unfortunate Events, and so on, and I don't like to think of them playing Grand Theft Auto or watching Die Hard or something. I don't know, I guess I'm a little old fashioned in that regard.

Anyway, I mostly read in the Sci-Fi/Fantasy realm, and a lot of my YA reading hasn't been very recent. I've read most things by Orson Scott Card (my favorite writer--the first Ender books are thought of as YA, right?), Susan Cooper's Dark is Rising series, all the Harry Potter books of course, and a variety of other things (the White Mountain series, recently). Is A Thousand Words For Stranger a YA book? I can't really tell. Clancy and Stephen King certainly aren't, and neither are Dan Brown, Connie Willis, or Robin McKinley (right?), and I enjoy all of them.

I know that literature happens at all levels, but my tastes are what they are. I read what interests me (and what my wife recommends), and when I'm writing I'm not too focused on the age group that is going to appreciate it. I start with a given premise, and then just try to write a story that feels real and important to me.

Bad approach? Maybe. But it seems to work. I think my natural preferences will slot me into a particular age bracket, and that is most likely where I will stay. I was just trying to figure out exactly what that age bracket should be. Based on length and probably pacing, sounds like I'm more into the adult area, but my writing isn't any longer than Card or McKinley. But a lot longer than Cooper and some of the others.

Well, it's still not clear to me where I personally (or a lot of these other authors) stand, but it sounds like the divide between the two audiences can be pretty subjective. (I guess Ender's Game is another crossover book?)


My blog on writing

Nathan Bransford said...

Thanks, Dayna! I'm more of a science fiction guy than a fantasy guy, so take my response with a grain of salt, but it seems to me that fantasy is alive and well, with new subgenres opening up all the time.

Perhaps some fantasy experts can weigh in with their thoughts.

Annalisa said...

I have a question I've been meaning to ask. It doesn't exactly fit in with this post but here it is:

When you look for an agent, do you need one that will cover the bases of all the genres you plan to write in? More specific to my situation, if you have a novel in progress and a YA on the back burner, but you have a finished picture book you want to shop around, do you need to find an agent that deals in children's, YA, and adult? And what if the adult is genre fiction?

Here's another way of phrasing it: do any writers you know have multiple agents to represent the different genres in which they write? I know there are plenty of authors that write in a couple different genres, but I don't know about their agenting situations.

Annalisa said...

Also, I want to give a special thank you for this post because I've been wondering a lot about whether my current WIP is YA or adult. I keep going back and forth, but I guess I'll decide when it's all done and edited. Thanks, and thanks for the whole rest of the blog too!

Nathan Bransford said...

Annalisa, it's very rare for an agent to represent children's, YA and adult. Agents tend to specialize. However, I would really try hard to focus on one genre/age group to start and try and find an agent in that genre. It's hard enough to break out in one area let alone three at once in all different age groups.

If it's very important to you that you have representation across the spectrum, you might try with a bigger agency like Curtis Brown, who has agents who represent clients who write for all ages.

Still, while I can understand the desire to write for all ages, there's a reason it's very rare. It's important to pick one area and work really hard there until you've found success, especially in the beginning.

Christopher M. Park said...

To add to the comments in response to Annalisa, here's a link to the same conversation on another agent's blog. They have much the same thoughts as Nathan does, but some of their commenters asked a few other clarifying questions.

The link: BookEnds.


P.S. - Sorry Nathan if you don't want posts to other agents here. I won't do that again if that's the case, but based on what I can tell of your personality from your blog, you won't mind at all.

Annalisa said...

Sorry, another comment from me...


dayna_hart, I think that fantasy still isn't that widely respected a genre (sadly), but I think plenty of new fantasy books are being published all the time. At the same time, it's a genre very inclined to spawn series, which I imagine leaves less room for newcomers. This is all based on my own conjectures and observations, of course.

I think Nathan is right about the subgenres of fantasy opening up. People are also thinking of fantasy as stuff besides sword & sorcery and epics. The other day in the sci-fi/fantasy section I picked up Moon Called by Patricia Briggs (LOVED it!!) and it's all about werewolves and vampires. And what's funny is normally I would never read a book about those scary creatures, but I gave it a try.

Here's a list of fantasy genres and descriptions from

I think you shouldn't let it discourage you if fantasy is what you're passionate and feel you write best.

Annalisa said...

Wow, fast replies, Nathan and Christopher! Thank you!!!

I can see it totally makes sense to focus all your energy on a single genre and do the best writing you can for that audience. For one thing, it's hard enough as it is. For another, I've read about how rigorously a published writer has to promote himself or herself these days. Still, I guess I was just hopeful that someday my interest in these different genres would pay off, one at a time and several years apart, and I wanted to know if getting a children's book agent now would limit me later.

This is probably one of those "you cross that bridge when you come to it" kind of situations, but the question has been nagging at me. Thank you for so kindly indulging my curiosity!

BuffySquirrel said...

Why do you never play basketball with squirrels? Because one always hops off with the ball, buries it, then forgets where....

I see that list of Fantasy sub-genres lists Alternative History. But presumably alternative (or alternate) history without magic or fantastical creatures is still science fiction? What say you?

This whole YA/not YA issue vexes me, as I have a novel, with a teenage protagonist, that I don't consider YA. It worries me when querying that agents will think I'm clueless (as 100k is too long for YA). On the other hand, if I put "adult novel" that suggests something much more erotic than what I've written.

Sqrl out.

Mary said...

This is a good thing for me to read right now. The current peice I'm working on is stuck in a mire of not being very "adult" and yet I have one scene that I keep thinking will be too much for a YA book.

But you're right, it isn't really too much. The pacing and length are YA, and I think it really would fit well there.

That said, I mostly read my books from the YA and kids sections of the bookstore where I work. I have a shelf reserved for books I read every few months, and only three are from the "adult" section of the store. Except for Ender's Game, which makes me ponder something else.

Have you ever noticed the new trend to take titles like Ender's Game, the His Dark Materials Trilogy, the Chronicles of Narnia and such and publish three different versions, with different covers, and shelve them in the kids, YA, AND adult sections of the store?

It's maddening for the bookseller, but it relates to what you're discussing here.

Dayna_Hart said...

Thank you, Nathan. I appreciate the fast reply! The fact you're not saying "Oh no! Not another fantasy book, I've heard about you people!" is a good thing. I reserve the right to inundate you with fantasy references in my comments, however :)

Annalisa, thanks for the link you provided. I'm having some success with epublishing my fantasy works (the first of a series having been picked up by Samhain publishing, who also put books out in print)
But, I'd still like an agent who can go to bat for me with publishers whose name I cannot even say for fear of jinxing my chances ;)

Anonymous said...

I too have a question about shopping around YA novels to agents...

I just finished an SF YA novel (you might be hearing from me sometime, actually =] ). I am 16 years old. Should I mention this in my query letters? On one hand, it might be a plus since this shows I am very, very familiar with my intended audience and the other books in the genre. On the other hand, agents might automatically shriek, "Kaavya Viswanathan! Eek!" and throw my query out the window.

Do you think revealing my age would give me any kind of advantage, or would it be safer not to mention it? (I also think most agents would be a little disgruntled to find out their newest client is actually still in high school.)

Nathan Bransford said...

^I think it works to list your age, because publishers always love the story of the young writer -- however, the reality is that it's very rare for a writer so young to have the tools to write a novel at such a young age. Agents have to look at whether the material is as good as a work by a veteran writer, which is so hard to accomplish when you're under eighteen. But it does happen!

Carrie said...

Great post, thanks! I guess I've always approached the distinction between YA and Adult as "you'll know it when you see it" which isn't that helpful but seems to be true. I had a friend sell a book at auction where some bidders wanted it as an adult and some wanted it as a YA. Sometimes, I just think there are books that could go either way.

My current WIP, I think, is like that (could go either way). I was just hoping that I could pitch it (prob as YA) and let the agent - who knows so much more about marketing and placement - figure out where it goes if he or she likes it.

So I guess my question is, if you got a project that you liked where the author pitched it as YA and it should be adult (or vice versa) would that bother you? Would you think the writer didn't understand the market? Or would you just be excited to have found a project you liked?

Thanks again for the blog!

A Paperback Writer said...

Okay, so I'm not an agent. But I've taught junior high school for darn near 2 decades. I KNOW what kids will and won't read.
Nathan is right: YA has to move. These are kids who don't know a world without special effects. If the story's too slow, they won't read it. This is why Victor Hugo and Sir Walter Scott are considered instruments of torture in an English classroom but Rowling is "fun."
I've got students reading "adult" books that move, too. The Historian, The Thirteenth Tale, The Doomsday Book (and its sequel, To Say Nothing of the Dog)....
But if it doesn't hold their attention, they won't read it.

Nathan Bransford said...

Carrie -

Since I represent both YA and adult I would definitely be open to a novel I really fell in love with that defied easy characterization. I think, though, that instances like your friend's case are very very rare. For the most part it's either one or the other and needs to be either squarely YA or squarely adult.

Peni Griffin said...

The May 2006 Locus, if you can find it, was a YA issue. You may find that useful in getting things straight in your own mind.

Don't get too fixated on defining the category, though. About 10 years ago, I had the opportunity to pick the brains of a buyer for a certain Megabookstore, so I asked her the vexed question: "How do you decide what's YA and what's children's?" Her answer: "Trim size." I suspect if you asked her today about the distinction between YA and adult, her answer would be similarly illuminating.

As for your approach to reading, Mr. Park - you should write what you like to read, but you should also read new stuff if you want to write. A writer who wants to be successful should understand the history and the market both. It doesn't sound as though you're a YA writer simply because that isn't what you read. Write what you like, then pitch it best you can.

For what it's worth, I know people who are being told that their YAs are too short now. It's not a structure or a word count or whether or not you're deep, or even how fast you move, though it's true that you won't make it in the YA market with poor narrative skills. Gossip Girls are not classy books; Jurassic Park is not a slow read. Certain themes are YA themes; certain attitudes are YA attitudes. Read Blood and Chocolate, by Nancy Krause, next to an adult werewolf novel - one of Mary Janice Davidman's, for instance, or maybe you can find something a little Gothier - and you'll see the difference.

Juvenile and YA books are written for people whose brains are still growing. Adult books are written for people who have all the gray matter they'll ever have.

Anonymous said...

Some other agents tell writers to work on a next project if their first submission is rejected.

But what if that first submission is the first of a series?

Nathan Bransford said...


Ditch the series and start another book. The series isn't the last thing you're going to write.

~Em~ said...

I work at a used bookstore, and we shelve books like HP in two sections - it goes in the Children's/YA department as well as in the adults, since both age groups look for them. It's the best we can do.

Nathan Bransford said...

EM -- out of curiosity, do you do that for all books that are crossovers or just the books like Harry Potter and the Ender series that have sold a lot of copies to both adults and kids?

Demon Hunter said...

Some of the really popular "crossover" novels weren't really intended for that purpose to begin with, right? So, do agents generally guess at a novel becoming a "crossover" success, or do they look on in wonder with the rest of us. I read adults novels in middle school. I think just about all novels "crossover", but you're speaking in terms of success with adults and children? My dark urban fantasy may appeal to both but I wrote it for adults.

writtenwyrdd said...

Nathan, I have a question for you. In recent years, I have found that the books I originally bought as adult in the SFF shelves (like Orson Scott Card, C.S. Lewis, and Philip Pullman) are now also on the children's and YA lit shelves...sometimes all three. And a bookstore clerk told me something: That these books are all different. In some of them, the language has been "dumbed down" or edited thematically. I believe even Harry Potter was so altered.

Is this correct? And is it a growing or inevitable trend? Can a writer say no to such treatment of his/her work?

Personally, I think this is as bad as Disney's rape of literature to reinvent it with happily-ever-after endings. But that's just me.

Thanks for such an informative blog.

Nathan Bransford said...


The reinvention of stories with new happy endings has been around since the Greeks and Romans and probably much before, so I don't think we need to blame Walt Disney.

I haven't heard of these specific titles having abridged or condensed versions for younger readers, but if they did release special abridged versions you can bet the author (or the author's estate) signed on and gave their approval.

And frankly, as someone who enjoyed my Star Wars picture books as much as the next guy, I don't see the problem.

Jack Roberts, Annabelle's scribe said...

While we’re on the subject of YA fitting, I have a question. I’m worried of skirting the audience.

Can a book start out with children protagonists and then those children grow into teen protagonists? I know that question sounds stupidly simple, but I heard that topics like death and infatuation did not belong in YA books with protagonists of the 10-12 year age group.

Here’s why I ask;
The first half of my YA involves children (ages 12 and 10). We follow the main protagonist, a 10 yr. old girl named Annabelle, as she and her brother become vampires. They discover what vampire life (such as transformations, feeding only on animals, ect.) is about.
Towards the middle of the book they are teenagers on the inside and their bodies catch up. For the second half of the book we’re following the adventures of these teen vampires as they run from a vampire hunter and a few evil antagonists
The first chapter does show them as they are later in the book, looking back on how they got there. I hope that allows it to flow better.

I just don’t want to skirt the audience. I heard that 10-12 yr. Olds would be scared of themes that 13-16 year olds enjoy. I want my story to appeal to everyone.

Nathan Bransford said...

jack roberts-

I would be very careful to situate your story in either middle grade or YA. As others have said in this thread and elsewhere -- let the crossover happen after the book is published. I think authors sometimes make things far too hard on themselves.

If you are alraedy starting to feel that your project defies categorization then you might think about changing the storyline to situate it more squarely in one or the other.

Maureen McGowan said...

Dude is one smart agent. (Okay, it doesn't fit the song quite as well...)

I write in a different genre... but your post really got me thinking about the differences between other types of books too... Like literary vs commercial and chick lit, vs women's fiction.

Very insightful post. Thanks.

john levitt said...

Nathan, great post. But one thing - in fantasy, perhaps unlike in some other fields, I believe it is almost the norm for agents to rep both adult and YA books.

Nathan Bransford said...

^It varies from agent to agent, and I recommend that people check out or to see if an agent represents both adult and YA.

Anonymous said...

It's easy to tell if it's YA or not--read the title. If it has something like "fat kid" in it, it's YA. If it has words like "rose" and "man," it's adult.

No self-respecting boy will touch a book with flowers in the title. This ain't rocket surgery, folks.

Maia said...

Years after I read and loved LIFE OF PI, by Yann Martel, I learned that book was published as YA. Yikes, I had no idea. It was a beautiful book that appealed across genre. Luckily I didn't know it was YA. I probably wouldn't have picked it up.

Nathan Bransford said...


Actually, I'm pretty sure LIFE OF PI was published by the adult division of Harcourt, not the cildren's -- that's a good example of a novel that has a child as a protagonist but is an adult book because of its pacing and the way it is told. And of course it has some crossover potential, although it's pretty slow and philosophical for a younger audience.

Meiran said...

In response to writerwyrdd:

I work in a major chain bookstore, and I can tell you that the different versions of the diffent books you mentioned have only one change made to them:

The covers.

The interior story is the same. I haven't done an exhaustive study to be sure, but I've actually never heard of this happening without a label of some sort saying it is "abridged" or "altered" from the original. In my experience, even the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit are sold in the YA section with catchier, more colorful covers, and the exact same content.

HP is def. that way, though the American publishers did decide to change some of the slang in the books so that people wouldn't get so confused. Those were the only changes made. Oddly enough though, the HP books sell perfectly fine though only shelved in the 8-13 year old section. We don't put them elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

But Life of Pi was originally published in Canada at least a year before the Harcourt picked it up in the US, wasn't it? And I'm pretty sure it was the Canadian publisher who put it up for the Booker prize. I hadn't heard that it was first marketed as YA, though.


You left the first comment at my page, Red Stick Writer, and invited me to send you a query regarding my suspense/thriller manuscript, By the Light. My next post, Virginal No More, was a thank you and some associated commentary. Actually, I already sent you a query in August of 2006, and you sent a response the same day. Since we don't have a working relationship, it is obvious that you declined to offer representation. I originally found you on MySpace while chasing information about another agent, enjoyed your writing, and sent the query.

I'm glad you crossed my path again, as I am enjoying your Blogger presence, especially the interaction with your commenting visitors. Hopefully, this will be the place where I will, in fact, have a relationship of sorts with you.

In that vein and following up on your follow-up to Christopher early in this thread, I'd appreciate your comments on word count and genre. My manuscript is a bit over 72,000 words. I received a reply from one agent saying that would pass since it was a bit short for the genre. I had recently discovered the Text Stats facility at Amazon, and checked out a bunch of James Patterson's counts. All of them were within a couple of thousand more or less than mine. His first book, an Edgar winner, was only about 58,000 words. This made me feel better.

Then I received a request for my full manuscript, my third full request, in which the agent said my count was a bit short for genre and asked if there is room for expansion of the story. I reread the whole manuscript with an eye for lengthening and came away believing it is a possibility. Another visit to Amazon Text Stats for word counts for other writers in the genre told me that the majority was between 75,000 and 100,000. I'm still awaiting the verdict from the requesting agent.

What are your thoughts in this regard? I'm certain there are others who'd be interested, as well. Thanks.

Chris Howard said...

Wow. Great post and comments. I agree, but I'm curious about the exceptions and the trends. Do you think one YA genre has more exceptions to the pace and plot-unfolding rules than others? I'm wondering if YA fantasy is in general slower paced than other YA--I'm thinking Stephenie Meyers, Tamora Pierce. Not that anything they write is slow, but their work seems--to me anyway--to run about the same pace as mainstream fantasy--and they're long. Meyers' Twilight is 115k words. Measure those against Scott Westerfeld's, Uglies, Pretties, Specials, which have a rocket's pace, simplicity of language and plot and character motivation.

I have heard agents and publishers looking for things like a "YA Jonathan Strange," which, if it's like the original, will do anything but speed the reader along and unfold the plot quickly. Although, maybe that's the idea. Jonathan Strange-ish but a lot less wordy, no footnotes, half the size and twice the speed.

YA encompasses so wide an age range, and in chain bookstores it seems to be divided into Children's and Teens sections. Will publishers break YA in two at some point?

To an earlier comment about different editions of books in the children's and mainstream sections, I read a lot of YA for various reasons, one of which is because my kids read a lot. I haven't seen a "dumbed down" edition of anything, but I have seen large books like Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time stuff broken into small chunks for children.

The Beautiful Schoolmarm said...

People just won't stay in catagories, will they? Young adults, which I believe encompasses middle and high school, often reach into the non-YA section to find interesting and challenging reading.

IMHO, the best YA lit. take into account that young readers, especially middle school readers (11-14 yrs old) often want more mature stories with more complex ideas, but their reading ability isn't always ready for adult level literature.

In any give class, I have students with a 12+ reading level (which means they comprehend at the same level as some college students) and others who are only at a 4th or 5th grade level. Books like "The Giver" by Lois Lowery and "Uglies" by Scott Westerfeld are so popular because the writing level is easier for students, but the ideas are mature and interesting (And they are both awesome writers, I don't want to imply that this is the ONLY reason students like these books).

zylaa said...

Since somehow my comment didn't make it last time (curse these faulty computers) I shall try again.
On fantasy, my favorite genre:
Both Harry Potter and Eragon began as young adult books and then became crossovers. I can't think of any originally adult books that have become runaway crossover bestsellers off the top of my head (I know there are some.) Just throwing that out there.
As for the young SF writer, I don't know what this has done for SF, but Eragon was a runaway bestseller mostly because everyone exclaimed "Wow! He's young! We must buy his book because a)of course he is brilliant or b) we are curious to see what such a young writer comes up with." I think (mind you, I am totally unqualified to think such thoughts) that publishers in the sci-fi genre will be thinking more of the Eragon story than the Kaavya Viswanathan story.

The Beautiful Schoolmarm said...

Zylaa (cool name, I love it), I think Ender's Game was originally for adults and has recently been crossed over into YA. Once kids hit HS, the boundaries become increasingly blurred.

word verification: xmenp (I guess even superheros heed the call of nature)

ksgreer said...

Catching up on posts, and there's one other detail that's used as a rule of thumb for YA novels: if at any time, a POV in the story is from an adult... it's not YA, which focuses exclusively on the teenager-protag's POV. There are no adult perspectives except through dialogue; adults certainly don't get time in the scenic spotlight. The goal is to create the teenage-protag as the center of reality, reflecting the readers' own beliefs that they're pretty much It. Adults would intrude on this, y'know, introduce a reality check. Can't have that.

Three things occured to me when I found the above, from a YA author trying to define the sub-genre:

First, a massive sigh of relief that I'd not accidentally written YA (though I do have a teenage protag).

Second, I wonder if this means the series "My So-Called Life" and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" wouldn't be classed as YA, since both did have scenes from adult POVs...

Third, now when I see the label "YA", I'll always be thinking of Charlie Brown's teacher, off-screen going waah-wa-wawawawaaa.

If you're ever in a bookstore and you hear someone making that noise while strolling past YA novels, that just might be me. (heh.)

Nathan Bransford said...

ksgreer, that's a really interesting point. I tried to think of a YA book that had sections or was told from an adult perspective and I really couldn't think of anything!

Kit said...

I had a quick question about YA fiction - is it all categorized as YA fiction? For example, let's say I've written a YA fantasy novel. Are there people that represent YA fantasy, or would someone who represents YA fiction be willing to take on the YA fantasy?

Nathan Bransford said...


There are YA agents who don't represent YA fantasy, although I know that some of the agent search engines don't get that specific. I would use agentquery and to search for agents who specify both YA and fantasy, and hopefully you'll find a few people to query.

Philip said...

I know this post is over two years old, so I don't know if this question will reach anyone, but I have a question on YA material. I wrote a YA manuscript that takes place in college.

Did I commit some cardinal sin setting a YA novel in college and not high school? The characters and plot and word count fit right in with a YA novel, but do agents and publishers automatically reject any YA book set in college? Do they prefer you change it to a "prep school?" I would hope that after the success of TV shows Greek and Felicity, that publishers would be more open to books in that milieu.

Anonymous said...

I, too, am figuring out if my novel is YA or Adult........or a weird conglomerate of both. I wrote a novel that spanned the main character's life from high school into college. There were some adult themes but it still had a YA feel. The one I'm working on now is more than likely a YA...but I can see it having some mass appeal too.

Hey Phillip---
The way you've described your book reminds me of another novel I've read. Granted, it wasn't set in college but at a boarding school instead. Something like Curtis Sittenfeld's "Prep" comes to mind. Her novel, though set in boarding school, was put in the "Adult" section, not YA. Just something to think about... I can see yours being YA. I think people underestimate the intellectual abilities of teenagers to grasp novels that border on more 'adult' themes. College, sex, alcohol, death, depression.... all the books lately for YA deal with things like that.

Jessica said...

I have the same question! I recently completed a YA novel (63,000 words) that revolves around a callege fraternity. The main characters are barely in college, so they're still "teenagers", but I set the story that way for two reasons:

When I checked the YA paranormal sections of the major bookstores, everyting was set in high school. So I wanted to do something a little diffrent. The second reason was that I've read several times that YA readers like to read about kids who are a few years older than they high school kids would enjoy reading about college kids etc.

Anonymous said...

It's now June 2010 and the question of YA vs Adult vs Women's issue is still relevant. I have written a novel and now that I'm ready to query I am wondering which of the three genres would be most appropriate. It is 62,000 words (by page count). It starts with a 12-yr old protagonist and follows her through to adulthood. It's in first person voice, it paces like a YA, but it has issues such as death, sleeping w/boyfriend, war, parental mistreatment etc. Nathan, I'm a newbie...BTW I LOVE your blog. I hope you will see this and respond to it even though it's 3 years after your initial post. I'd love to get your advice on this...YA or adult or Women's fiction issue. thnx.

Nathan Bransford said...


Really tough to say without reading it, but the most important thing to consider is the sensibility and the target audience.

JustSarah said...

So basically just make sure I have larger paragraphs? I'm sort of writing about high school life, but its more like how actual high school kids are. Or, not like it is in high school music.<_< (I really hate sugery fake high school depictions.)

Nimora Deland said...

I've been questioning for some time now whether my book was a YA or if it was just a Contemporary Fantasy. I now know that it is more of a crossover, which was why I was having this difficulty. I was sending out queries, but I took a pause to see if I was doing something wrong. After all, if I wasn't sure, how were agents supposed to know?

I've done research on how to write a query letter and I make sure to research each agent as I go along. This also means changing my query a little for each person, depending on their likes. In the end, I'm not really sure if I am going about this wrong or if this is the correct way to query.

Now that I see that my novel is more a crossover, I can at least add that to my query. So thank you ^~^

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