What is YA?

Since hitting the internet hard with the unwanted presence like a stinking corpse on the windshield, I’ve come across hundreds and hundreds of ‘YA authors’. Twitter is especially packed with them:

‘Jenny Bloggs – I love my cats, my crochet class and I’m a YA author’

‘Jeremy Snaggleforth the Third – YA author and nuclear physicist.’

They’re everywhere. What baffled me at first, is what YA is all about. It’s all about demographic: Young Adult. These writers aim their work at readers between the ages of 14 to 18 (with differing reports swinging a couple of years in either direction). There’s always been this niche in the market. Philip Pullman and Terry Pratchett are a couple who spring to mind as potential jet-setters. And then, of course, came J.K. Rowling with the Harry Potter novels (mentioning that should generate a few hits mwahahaha). And the YA ‘genre’ exploded. It seems to me that anyone who’s anyone trying to be an author is tuning into the YA bandwidth and cranking the volume.

Now, in case I’m about to sound like a grouch, I want to state that I love it when a new sub-genre comes along, if only because of the nifty names people come up with. I have a weakness for Steampunk, as previous readers may already know. Then there’s Splatterpunk, Bizarro, Supernatural Romance (Bloody Twilight!) and even Cybergoth which I only found out about while researchign this post. The word Cybergoth conjures quite the nightmare image doesn’t it? Terminator meets Gormenghast? What a combo! Anyways, there are hundreds of little subgenres floating around in the briny sea of fiction like plankton.

What bothers me is that YA isn’t a genre, or a subgenre. Despite stating its demographic (useful if you’re submitting to Literary Agents), it’s astoundingly vague. So far, I’ve come across ‘YA authors’ that write sci-fi, romance, fantasy, and a host of other major genres. It’d be impossible to have a YA section in a bookshop. Maybe an entire YA Waterstones would be better. So what’s the point? Well, it’s this: Is YA a bandwagon? Does its vagueness make the term itself defunct? Like saying ‘milk’ out loud a hundred times, does it simply become a sound with no meaning? Apart from generating hits on Twitter, does the term ‘YA’ serve any function at all?

And, since we’re pondering the purpose of things. What’s the point of this post?

I’ll tell you, because I can see you’re fused to your seat in anticipation….

It’s a friendly warning. Coming from a fellow ‘writer’ such as myself, I certainly hope no one is assuming that writing for this age group is easier than any other. It’s harder! Young adults are sharp, insiteful and have the attention span of a goldfish with a traumatic brain injury. For aspiring authors, restricting yourself to a demographic could be a dangerous approach. Think of it this way: No author calls themselves a ‘fantasy’ author or a ‘horror’ author. Those tags are applied by other people. People who own shelves and catalogues. Just write your story. Enjoy writing it. And, if you please, pitch it to the YA audience. But don’t label yourself. Others will be quick enough to do that for you.

Thanks for reading.

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4 thoughts on “What is YA?

  1. I found you via Jeremy Rodden and love your post. I’ve been ranting about seeing the words “fuck” and “erection” in books labeled YA. It is one of my worst pet peeves. What is the point of having this distinction if you are going to totally disregard the audience it’s intended for? I mean if 17 year olds want that content they can read adult books. I read Henry Miller and Anais Nin when I was 16 but no one would bill that as YA. Age restrictions aside, the YA label exists so there is a level of appropriateness in content that parents and teens can rely on.

    Writers don’t seem to understand that writing true YA doesn’t mean dumb down your writing. You still need a sophisticated story, maybe even more so, but you have to be aware of the content you are putting out there and be willing to take the YA out of your Romance Book’s description if you want that steamy shower scene included! Part of the problem is so many adults are reading YA now looking for the next Twilight and writers are catering to those readers instead of the actual Young Adults.

    1. Hi, thanks for dropping in and joining the debate (…tumbelweed…). I agree with you, of course. What people dont seem to realise about the Twilight books (and I’m not exactly a fan) is that they’re very subtle regarding sexuality. Yes, there’s a romantic plot throughout the series, but they’re never explicit as far as I know.

      My main worry is that people are advertising their ‘YA’ fiction in a world where kids can get hold of it on their phones, laptops and pretty much injected directly into their brains. It’s about having a modicum of responsibility. Write whatever you like, but make sure that you market it properly. No one wants a product that isn’t what it says on the tin. And those people will quickly stop reading your work and probably tell their friends to avoid it. It’s a danger zone.

      Thanks again!

      1. Haha, well it should be a discussion, it’s an important point, esp for those of us considering self/Indie publishing where there is no one to guide how we market. If we’re going to have descriptions to narrow down books then you have to follow them. I wouldn’t market Lord of the Rings as a “Thriller” it’d be inaccurate, same goes here. To me it’s not about protecting the kids but about being honest in your advertising and labeling, otherwise it means nothing.

        As for Twilight, I am a fan, read them all. There is nothing in it beyond a few kisses until the 4th book, then they are married and the sex scene is *fade to balck*. Frustrating for adults but appropriate for the genre.

      2. Amen! I think we need to be very careful if Indie authors are going to be treated with any respect. You’re right, accuracy is the key. Advertise your product for what it is rather than what it ain’t will only benefit authors and, more importantly, readers.

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