The YA and MG genres are probably the most misunderstood literary categories out there. They contain almost everything you can imagine. Because of this, is it really all that surprising that there is any confusion about them? In part 1 of know your market, my great friend and fellow Reject Liz offered her ideas on the subject. Here’s my rebuttal.
To put this plain and simple, a young adult novel is a story that appeals to the teens. Voice is a big factor, but it really just comes down to the story. Sadly this definition is the reason that YA and MG are so freakin damn hard to write for. What appeals to a teen one month probably won’t in the next one. So the idea that the protagonist should be the same age is what agents and publishers fall back on. Just because it’s a guideline that publishes lean on doesn’t make it true.
I’ll give you an example. Comic books are typically written to appeal to young teen boys and some girls. Yet usually the protagonists in these graphic novels tend to be in there 30’s. Look at the ever popular Batman and Superman comics. Yeah there are a lot of comic lovers that are in the same age now, but that’s not how they started.
Want more proof. Sure. How about Lord of the Rings? There are no teens in that series, and yet I distinctly remember reading that when I was around sixteen. You really can’t blame a kid. I mean, how many adults do you know want to read about talking trees?
Okay, now let’s look at a more recent series.. It has been said that the Harry Potter series started out MG and ended up YA, and for two reasons. One is because Harry grew up and because the series got darker. It’s true that Harry did get older, but darker? Has anyone forgotten that the series started with a double murder, blood drinking of magical beasts, and a very creepy bodiless dark wizard possessing other wizards? I’m sorry but Harry Potter was always a young adult series. It was simply marketed as MG due to age, and I can even remember having to go into the kiddy section of a book story just to buy Order of the Phoenix, and that was the one every agreed was a YA novel.
Please don’t misunderstand. I’ve read plenty of great novels where the teenager is the protagonist. I’ve even written a few short stories that way—some great, and others not so much. In other words, the story doesn’t need to have a teenager in it to be a YA novel. It’s just easier.