Young Adult Novels Besting Adult Novels?

Discussion in 'Writing' started by Laer Carroll, Nov 16, 2011.

  1. Laer Carroll

    Laer Carroll LaerCarroll.com

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    That is the headline and subhead of a Boston Globe article today. It says that YA is the new source of bestsellers, in part because adults are reading them too. Then it goes into some questionable theorizing about why.

    Recently my Barnes & Noble bookstore moved the sci-fi/fantasy section back and the YA section forward. I've noticed that the selection of teen books seems to be getting larger and more of them are in hardbacks. And I'm beginning to see more writers of popular adult fiction putting out YA fiction.

    YA books have been bare of what I think of as "real" SF - stories where advanced tech and science are important parts of the stories. Most teen SF is post-apocalyptic or steam punk - apparently teens are not smart enough to handle the hard stuff!

    The one shining counter-example, to my mind, is David Weber's A Beautiful Friendship. It was placed on the Teen's New & Exciting table when it first came out, and is now in the New Teen part of B&N's YA shelves. It is billed as "A stellar introduction to a new YA science-fiction series." and subtitled "A Star Kingdom Novel" on its cover.

    [​IMG]

    It makes me wonder if the next Shapechanger title I plan to put up on Amazon should be classified as YA. Which it is for the first third or half of my book, until my heroine gets into her late teens and early twenties. Here is how I bill it on my Web site.

    So what about you? Planning to write some YA books perhaps?
     
  2. CMTheAuthor

    CMTheAuthor Life is fantastic, yes?

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    I can't read the Globe article, due to asking me to give them money and subscribe (not going to happen), but from what I can tell about the markets, it comes down to a combo platter of issues.

    First, a lot of young readers don't get science, at least partially courtesy of the U.S. education system being in the toilet. So to use science and technology, you have to explain it in the book. This is very difficult to do well, because you can't get too long-winded on the subject (and thus wander away from the actual plot) without boring a lot of readers.

    Secondly, Harry Potter has ended. An entire generation has grown up with those books, and it makes sense they look for more of the same. Since the Potterverse doesn't run on very strongly defined rules for the setting (particularly the magic), the generation that grew up reading it isn't looking for that, and in fact may be turned off by worlds that run with a stronger logical element. Add that to the fact that many new writers also grew up thinking these books were good, and copying how Rowling handled world-building...

    Third, it's easier to write YA novels. Because the protagonists are young, it's easy to hand wave them as not knowing much about the setting they are written in. This allows for easier handling of exposition. Sure, it's really formulaic, but it works, so we see lots of it.

    As for me, I don't go way out of my way to include YA themes, or market my book as such. I can see it being read that way though. I'll just write the best stories I can, and if they appeal to the YA market, they appeal.
     
  3. KatG

    KatG Effulgent Staff Member

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    They're about ten years behind the times. This article would have made more sense in 2002. Also, any article that thinks YA markets and adult markets are in competition with each other doesn't understand those markets.

    On YA SF, it's only post-apocalypse and steampunk now because that's what authors are browsing into and teen readers are browsing out towards. They worked through most kinds of fantasy -- all of which is still in place -- and are working their way through types of SF. We're already seeing more space adventure YA SF coming out and there will be more alien contact stuff. Really hard SF is harder to do with teen protagonists, but expect a fair amount of cyberpunk thrillers. Robots are percolating everywhere. This is normal ripples. This is why SF was not dying in the first place. The Hunger Games movies are going to give it a rocket boost because it will bring in new readers, some adults, mostly teens. :)
     
  4. Teresa Edgerton

    Teresa Edgerton Goblin Princess

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    I don't know if it's any indication of what teenagers are actually buying, but even though the YA area at the biggest library near me is a fraction of the size of the adult and children's fiction sections, all the series books look like they've been read to rags. The number of new books that come in seem to equal the number they buy for adults and considerably more than the books they buy for children. So I'm guessing that the reason the area is smaller is because more of the books stay in circulation.

    It seems to me that more teenagers are avid readers than was the case when I was growing up. They may be mostly girls reading Twilight clones, but they are reading. Kids read books and talk about them and pass them around. Openly. Only the odd ones with no social skills did that in the early and mid- 1960's. (At least in the places where I lived.) Not until LOTR had its big burst of popularity near the end of the decade did that begin to change.
     
  5. Laer Carroll

    Laer Carroll LaerCarroll.com

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    It's a common attitude that YA is an inferior genre. I suspect it suffers from the same kind of syllogism SF suffers from.

    But there has been very good YA written for decades. It just wasn't often labeled YA or Teen fiction, because of the analogous syllogism. Examples include books by Jack Kerouac, Judy Blume, S. E. Hinton, and J. D. Salinger. For that matter, it could be argued that some of the writings of Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, Mark Twain, Anne Frank, and James Joyce are YA.

    I've been a fan of YA for well over a dozen years. Some of it is still about young girls crushing on boys or being picked on by mean girls. But during that time I've seen an increasing number of very serious issues addressed, including the following.

    • rape - by parent, teacher, coach, date
    • school murder and violence
    • suicide
    • racism
    • self-mutilation
    • emotional abuse
    • pregnancy
    • drug addiction
    Not only is the substance of YA fiction often MORE ADULT than much adult fiction, the style of it is as well. Writing YA does not mean you can pay less attention to craft. It may even demand that you give your YA books more care.
     
  6. Loerwyn

    Loerwyn Staff

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    I don't know if anyone read my review of A Beautiful Friendship, but if I'm brutally honest I feel it was mislabelled. Yes, it had YA themes, but it was stuck between being a teen book and a Weber-esque technoporn (to use Modesitt's term) affair. YA is often seen as being between maybe 11 and 16, right? Maybe 11-18, I forget the figures, but going by the science curriculum of this country, Weber talked about things that aren't covered in schools until sixteen, perhaps later. To me, that goes against what YA is. To contrast, I've also read the whole of Scott Westerfeld's teen/YA dieselpunk Leviathan series, and found the science in it basic but it worked.

    You don't need technoporn to make a "hard sci-fi" book work, and the chances are you're going to confuse or bore one reader whilst getting another rather hot under the collar with the descriptions and explanations. In adult fiction I think it's fine to a degree, but in YA? No, it kills the pacing and can be very confusing.

    I think in some aspects, YA actually suffers for what it is. You can easily round up a group of adults who equate YA with children's books, and as such won't read anything YA. My mum is one, which makes me giggle because she'll read The Hobbit but not Philippa Gregory's upcoming YA historical series. Ahem. I digress.

    I agree with your last post about YA arguably being more adult than adult fiction itself, but in another way it's just a label. How many books have been rebranded as adult fiction or vice versa? Harry Potter and His Dark Materials had "adult" editions published, whereas Chris Wooding's books have recently had YA editions announced. How many books have been split for "YA" audiences? I know Robert Jordan's first two(?) Wheel of Time books were, and I have a feeling that's part of the reason why Feist's Magician is split in the US.

    The thing with "adult" authors writing YA/teen isn't new, though. Terry Brooks is a great example, as is Sir Pratchett. Both have a main adult series, but they have written a series and/or books for a younger audience too. It's perhaps not as common in genre fiction, but I would hazard a guess that it's not uncommon in other parts of the market.

    Sorry if I'm not making much sense. It's past my bed time :p
     
  7. Teresa Edgerton

    Teresa Edgerton Goblin Princess

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    Feist's Magician was split into two parts when it first came out in the US. I remember seeing Feist on a panel talking about that very subject not long after the books came out.
     
  8. KatG

    KatG Effulgent Staff Member

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    A Beautiful Friendship isn't a YA book. Baen does not have a YA list, though they have a teen rec list and have put all of Weber's books on it for some reason. Places that review YA works will also review something like A Beautiful Friendship because it has a teen protagonist, so they'll review whether they think it works for teens. But it's in the adult section of my bookstore. A lot of people call any book with a teen YA, but it's actually very specific marketing.

    The deal is that the media is mainly only interested in Hollywood, not books. So the only reason they are doing an article on YA books "heating up" now -- which again, occurred fifteen years ago -- is because a number of YA properties have been turned into film or t.v. shows in the last five years. This started being more significant back ten years ago, but with the Twilight movies ending and The Hunger Games movies poised to launch, they can point to that and say, see, YA's really hot right now, because they just noticed that there were these films based on books.

    The books are sold different ways with different factors, but the article can pretend that they are not and that they compete with each other (in actuality they feed each other,) and since YA numbers have gone slightly up and adult fiction went up and then somewhat down, they can declare YA to have "beaten" adult, but in terms of number of titles, there really is no comparison. The YA market is actually slowing down now with not as much growth and YA authors finding it a bit harder, though YA SF is having a nice expansion because of browsing. But it's not really a problem, and the expansion of YA is now allowing a further expansion of middle school fiction (9-13 years roughly.)

    In YA, you can expect growth in gay-theme subject matter, SF, mysteries, adventure stories, and historicals and historical fantasy. The YA comedies are doing well right now and that will probably continue.
     
  9. Loerwyn

    Loerwyn Staff

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    You don't need a YA list to sell YA? Harper Voyager UK sell Cinda Williams Chima and George R.R. Martin under the same label, Gollancz sell Kristin Cashore and Joe Abercrombie under the same label. That's YA and adult together, with little distinction between the two,

    Even on the back it's claimed to be YA through one of the quotes they chose (which is repeated on the front), so it's marketed in some ways as young adult. I've seen some YA books appear in the adult section of my bookstore, too (Gaiman, Cashore, Charlton, arguably Sanderson). It's even on their YA reading list, although you're right about the rest of his books being on there. The Amazon US page has it in the Teens section, too.

    So have we now hit a point in the discussion where we need to clarify what YA is?
     
  10. G.L. Lathian

    G.L. Lathian G.L. Lathian

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    That's a hard question to answer. YA typically targets young readers. Adult books are written for adults, but these target audiences can sometimes flick both ways.

    Lots of YA books are read by adults, and lot's of kids at the top echelon (14-18 year olds) read adult books. I think it really boils down to how entertaining YA is. It's fast moving typically, with less sex, but not necessarily less violence.

    I think YA is written for a wider range of intelligence levels, and as popular culture takes over modern day life, the entertainment value of society becomes more action based. Look at big budget movies: Avatar, etc,.

    YA is exciting- most of the time. It's beginning to appeal to a wider range of people, because it doesn't take a genius to understand it.
     
    Last edited: Nov 18, 2011
  11. Loerwyn

    Loerwyn Staff

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    I think I should clarify. I know what YA is, but I meant in terms of this discussion. Are we counting titles that are YA but aren't marketed as such (I believe Mistborn has often been called YA, as an example), are we counting titles only marketed by the publisher to the booksellers as YA, are we counting titles that class themselves as YA but aren't marketed as such? I think a little clarification is needed.
     
  12. Teresa Edgerton

    Teresa Edgerton Goblin Princess

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    My definition of YA has always been books that feature young characters and the themes, issues, concerns, etc. that are most important (and therefore more interesting) at that time in our lives. I realize this puts a book like "The Catcher in the Rye" into the category of YA, but that was written in another century and besides the wench ... I mean, although that's a book that will probably never be classified as YA, because of the author's reputation, I think it is YA even by the narrowest definition.

    For instance, adults may enjoy a book that is about the same issues, but they are going to resonate most for those who are facing them at that particular moment. And though there may come a point where an adult reader may have had their fill of so many "coming of age and finding your place in the world" stories — for young people who are encountering such stories for the first time, the ideas are still fresh.

    Of course such themes may be told in many different ways, in many different settings, and there is no bar on the writers imagination, but still those issues are at the heart of the story.

    These days, which of those issues may be addressed is broadening. "My mother is an alcoholic and her boyfriend molested me" would have been regarded as adult fiction a few decades ago, but now kids are sophisticated enough to handle it, and it's certainly relevant.
     
  13. Window Bar

    Window Bar We Read for Light

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    YA is hard to classify

    My own Spirit Thorn was definitely written as YA. I wrote a very different first version of it 20 years ago, then did nothing with it. With the maturing of e-Publishing, I updated the book via a year-long rewrite, then put it out there. It was very slow in catching on, but eventually that happened.

    Still, I don't know exactly who the readers are. Those who have posted reviews or have shown up on Shelfari or Good Reads have tended to be twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings -- even though the book has been very clearly marketed as YA. But as I said, it's hard to know who the majority of the actual readers (as opposed to reviewers) are... because perhaps twelve-year-olds are unlikely to review a book or to post their mugshots on Shelfari. Likewise, it would appear that I've drawn about 80% female... but maybe guys are less likely to join online literary communities or to write reviews.

    It would be useful, in future work, to be able target my reading audience, but so far I don't know how to do that.
     
  14. Laer Carroll

    Laer Carroll LaerCarroll.com

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    It's not? Have you read it? I have. To me, who has been immersed in teen fiction for more than a dozen years, it certainly seems to qualify. Its basic premises are growing up, taking responsibility for your actions, expanding your view of the world and people around you. And the very young protagonist takes action before the adults to save the day, in common with a lot of YA books.

    I've seen Dave's book put in the teen section in two B&N's and in the adult SF section in a large independent bookstore and a large college bookstore (which has no teen section). The stores place books where they think the books will make the most sales, and they have limited shelf space. So they are often forced to an either/or choice.

    Amazon and B&N Online are not forced to make such a decision, and I see teen SF books placed in both teen and adult "sections." Ditto fantasy and SF. In fact, when I did my magic engineer investigation Amazon places the exact same books, regardless of their conceptual classification, in both fantasy and SF sections!

    Physical bookstores consider name recognition among other factors when they make their either/or decision. Heinlein's juveniles, clearly teen books, instead go in the SF section. I have no such name recognition, so I see no downside to classifying THE SUPER OLYMPIAN as YA when I put it up on Amazon and B&N in a week or two. It will be at least a year, if ever, before my books will go into bookstores.

    And Amazon uses several ways to direct readers to other books by any author, including a link to their Author Pages. Which I have now! There's a photo and a brief bio on mine, plus a list of books by me. (Which I will be adding to soon.)

    Perhaps my topic headline was poorly worded, if it gave anyone the idea that the writers said that young adult and older adult fiction books are in competition. The article instead says that the YA market is expanding and coming more into parity with adult fiction. In several ways, including more adults reading YA fiction.

    The article does not say what Kat has pointed out any number of times: YA readers boost adult sales because they grow up and want more sophisticated books. Or at least MORE books.
     
  15. KatG

    KatG Effulgent Staff Member

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    You're talking about two different things: books that young people may enjoy with young protagonists (and thus may be reviewed by reviewers in that capacity and put on reading lists for teens, etc.,) and YA. YA is a market, just as adult fiction is a market. YA titles are marketed very specifically. They feature a protagonist in the 11-22 year old age range. They are usually, the majority, put out by YA imprints and publishers and are sold chiefly or solely in the YA/children's sections (not counting front store and special displays.) They are marketed directly to schools and teachers and school libraries, and authors will do events at schools and public libraries for young people specifically. There are specific media outlets, review channels, etc. YA and children's books have to have a reading age range printed on them, so that teachers have a reference guide. (For YA, it's 12 and up, though they often just use the word "teen.")

    So you can recommend to a teen any book you like and feel that it is appropriate for them, but YA itself is a marketing category that operates independently from the adult markets. Many authors write both YA and/or children's fiction and adult titles so there are connections and sometimes cross marketing, but their YA books are overall marketed quite differently from their adult titles. Bestsellers like Heinlein, Gaiman and Martin are in the bestseller market category, which means they'll be marketed all over the store but their teen works will be spearheaded in the teen section and they will market those titles very specifically.

    Publishers like Tor will have special lines for YA fiction, even though most of their list is adult. Or they may take a title and market it through YA channels even if they don't have a special line. For some titles, changing countries means a change in being sold as adult or YA because the YA publisher may be who buys the title for that territory. But if a book is sold as YA in principal markets, then usually it is seen as part of the YA market globally.

    So Cinda Williams Chima is an American author who is published in the U.S. by Hyperion Books for Children for the YA market. Harper Voyager -- which is part of HarperCollins which has extensive childrens imprints and is able to cross market, bought the British rights. They are marketing it as an adult title through Voyager, but they'll cross market with YA and use the YA marketing channels since she is principally marketed as a YA author. Likewise Kristin Cashore is an American author whose books are sold by Firebird, a children's publisher, and sold in YA. British rights were bought by Orion, which has a number of children's imprints but it was bought by Gollancz, so cross marketed YA and adult. Same with Artemis Fowl, etc.

    Weber's author site is listing A Beautiful Friendship as YA, so I was indeed mistaken about what they were doing. Baen is marketing the book as YA, including having a teacher's guide. However, it will also be heavily cross marketed for Weber's audience and so don't be surprised if you see it sometimes with his other books in adult. But the idea is that Weber is spinning off a YA series from his Honor Harrington series. This is not uncommon -- Terry Pratchett, etc. will do a teen directed spin off. Australian comic SF writer Simon Haynes, for example, just launched a teen spin off from his adult Hal Spacejock series.

    These things are not rigid, but if you're doing YA, then you are marketing to schools and you are trying to have the book in the teen section of the bookstores which is where the term Young Adult comes from. It's not really about the sensibilities of the story or whether adults read them too or not. It's just how the book with a teen protagonist is marketed. (Which is why the sneering about YA fiction is kind of pointless.)

    The article is talking about YA marketed as YA -- titles for teens that are getting attention and movie deals -- The Hunger Games, Twilight, Percy Jackson and the Olympians, etc. and when they talk about expansion, they're talking about the YA sections getting larger. They are not talking about adults reading books with teen protagonists because adults have always read books with teen protagonists. What happened was that YA used to be an anemic, small category in children's and then the gold rush of 1990's teen fiction, chiefly Harry Potter, caused a rush of new readers and a rapid expansion of the category and the middle school category and more attention for authors there. So there's more teen fiction, a lot of it is cross-media enough to attract adult attention and the last two big phenoms -- J.K. Rowling and Stephanie Meyers -- have been YA authors, which also attracts adult attention. They are still books marketed for teens.
     
  16. Laer Carroll

    Laer Carroll LaerCarroll.com

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    Very useful overview, Kat. Thanks much.

    So we have a general definition of YA as bildungsroman: coming-of-age stories. And we have a specific system: a collection of publishing financial and organizational mechanisms. Into the meshing gears of which every writer with a YA product to sell must venture.

    The Internet marketing and ereader phenomena complicate matters because categories can overlap. A book can simultaneously be "on" the YA shelves, and "on" the adult shelves. Because there are no physical shelves, only database categories.

    But a writer cannot be in two places at the same time: speaking to a classroom of high school students at a writing class. And sitting on a panel at a convention for adult writing. S/he has to timeshare, and time spent on one activity takes away time spent on another.

    To selfishly return to my situation, I can place THE SUPER OLYMPIAN online in the YA category, and switch it to SF at some future date with few problems. It is not going to be published as a print edition and placed on bookshelves until at least a year in the future, and it may never be. I'm a writer just starting out, as far as the world knows, and there are no expectations good or bad for me.

    Also, Amazon and B&N have several mechanisms to lead customers to other books they might like, such as the "Customers who bought this also bought this" and Package deal gadgets. And the Author Page which includes a photo, short bio, and a list of your books. That last lets readers interested in one book explore the others.

    So I'm still seriously considering putting up OLYMPIAN in the YA category. I'll know better when I have a cover for it, which will take at least a week to create. Then it takes a day or two to convert to the Kindle and the Nook formats. So meanwhile my subconscious will be working on this question.
     
  17. KatG

    KatG Effulgent Staff Member

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    Well, YA authors go to conventions. :) Usually, they write both adult and YA and market both.

    Basically, if you're hoping to reach an audience of mainly teens, then list it YA. If you're hoping to reach an audience of mainly adults, then list it as adult. You're perfectly free to market to both groups and with a young protagonist this is common, but you're picking a main target to concentrate on for the audience and being sure to try to use those marketing channels.
     
  18. Laer Carroll

    Laer Carroll LaerCarroll.com

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    From another thread.

    In several traditions you have a ceremony and bang! In an instant you become an adult.

    In a lot of teen comedies it's all about losing your virginity. In some teen tragedies it's about experiencing some awful event. Two kinds of loss of innocence, one sexual, one emotional. Not really becoming an adult, in my opinion.

    In real life maturity most often happens gradually. In fact, at well into the sixties I feel I'm still learning about myself and the universe and growing more mature and capable. But I don't see myself as immature. I see a lot of supposed adults who think they are but are not. They haven't grown up, they've just become even more self-centered and narrow-souled. And stopped growing.

    In YA books maturity also most often comes slowly, over the course of the book. Not that anyone becomes perfectly and totally mature in those books, but they go a long way toward it.
    _________________________________________________​

    The Shapechanger Tales are all speculative. What happens if someone becomes, in effect, a superhuman?

    That's what happened to Peter Parker, who becomes Spiderman when he's bitten by a radioactive spider. He goes out and fights criminals. They not being challenging enough, the writers introduce super-criminals. But part of the resonance of Peter which has kept him around in several incarnations is that he has the usual problems of ordinary humans. Earning money after he leaves high school. Taking care of his aging grandparents. Courting an ordinary girl.

    Meg Cabot's popular PRINCESS DIARIES is about a young girl who discovers she is a princess of a European country, destined some day to rule. The movie about the character introduced Anne Hathaway to the world.

    I have several different protagonists who become shapechangers. One is Mary McCarthy, 53 year old peasant wife, mentally sharp and emotionally tough. In OLYMPIAN it is Sasha Canaro.

    She is not an ordinary teenager. (Is there such a thing?) She's modeled on several child athletes who I've known personally over the years and others I've read about. Some of them are pushed into it by parents, some by the state. But a lot of them conceive of it on their own, sometimes at astounding ages. However they get their start they are very tough and stubborn people. Not always easy for others to be deal with.

    At 17 Sasha becomes a shapechanger. In a good part of the book Sasha is learning about her new abilities and adjusting to how they are affecting her life. Now she is so superior physically that competition with ordinary humans is no challenge. Being tough and getting tougher is a large part of being an athlete. It's part of the ... fun?

    So what new challenges can she find? The answer goes through her senior year in high school and through the Olympics. But it goes beyond. And this is where the book becomes questionable as YA fare. Do any teenagers, or enough of them, care about the years past high school? Enough to buy and enjoy THE SUPER OLYMPIAN?

    I suppose I'll just have to find out.
     
  19. KatG

    KatG Effulgent Staff Member

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    The YA audience is typically about 11-16. That's the core group. (The official designation is 12 and up.) Readers older than that may be reading YA, even extensively. A few readers younger than that range may as well. Typically, that 11-16 year old age range is reading about protagonists who are in the 15-19 years old age range, sometimes slightly older or slightly younger. So if she's 17 or 18, it's not an issue for YA. If, however, Mary starts at 53 and goes immortal from there, then it may get a little more complex because stories about adult are usually considered for adults, even if teens may read them.

    In adult fiction, there is no age range of reader or protagonist. While a teen protagonist under twenty is liable to have some asking you if it's YA, traditionally adult SFFH has plenty of teen protagonists. So it's not really an issue there either, especially as you are indie publishing rather than trying to persuade an adult fiction or YA fiction imprint to invest in the series.

    The big issue, as you have already identified, is who are you going to target your main marketing of the book towards, who are you hoping to have as your initial fanbase. While you can market as extensively as you like, the basic channels for a young teen audience or an adult one are ones that you should try to hit depending on your attempted market. Yours may be a case where some of the sub-series of the Shapechanger Tales that are teen-based, like Sasha's, are done as YA and others, like Mary's perhaps, are done as adult. This is what McCaffrey did with her Pern books and is not unusual.
     
    Last edited: Nov 22, 2011
  20. hippokrene

    hippokrene Peckish

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    I still don't get what makes a book a YA book as opposed to a book with a young adult protagonist. As it seems to just be how the publisher decides to market it, I sometimes wonder if I'll write a book and find out later that it's YA.