Yesterday we talked about the differences between Middle Grade (MG) fiction and Young Adult (YA) fiction, and today we’ll be discussing the differences between YA, New Adult (NA), and Adult fiction. Make sure you go back and check out yesterday’s post if you haven’t already, because a lot of what we’ll be covering today has to do with topics we covered yesterday (and I don’t have enough time to reiterate everything).
For each category, we’re going to be talking about a few specific things: The age group it encompasses, the general age of the protagonist, maturity level of the content, and word count. I’ll give a quick overview of YA fiction, just to catch you up to speed, but again, I highly recommend taking the time to go back and read yesterday’s post.
YA fiction is intended for readers ages 13 – 18, though, like every other category, both older and younger readers can and do enjoy YA novels. YA protagonists’ ages range primarily between 14 – 19, though I would recommend erring on the higher end of the spectrum if you’re looking to appeal to older readers. Yesterday we talked about something that I call the “Ariel Effect,” which basically means that young readers prefer to read about protagonists older than themselves rather than younger. This rule also bleeds into NA fiction, but not Adult.
Maturity-wise, YA fiction should hit either a PG or a PG 13-rating. This is one thing I didn’t touch on as much as I would’ve liked to in yesterday’s post, so let’s talk about it for a sec. Now, the general rule is that making a story too innocent or pure could be seen as boring, but making it too risque could disqualify it from even being considered YA. This tends to grind the gears of writers who hate the idea of “rules” when it comes to writing. So, instead, let’s look at these “rules” as “guidelines”. For the most part, topics considered mature can be covered in YA fiction. These include, but are not limited to: drug use, mental disorders, self-harm, etc. However, keep in mind that writing about certain topics might result in parents keeping their kids from reading your books (which I did touch on a little bit yesterday). Trust me, I’m definitely against censorship, but facts are facts, and parents will parent their kids however they see fit, whether you agree with them or not. Sometimes that means banning your novels in their household. Maybe that loss of revenue would bother you; maybe it wouldn’t. In the end, you’ve just got to decide what you’re willing to risk in order to tell your story.
Along those same lines, graphic sex scenes are a pretty big no-no in YA fiction. Don’t get me wrong, your characters can have sex. In fact, it’s more unrealistic for your teenage characters not to have sex, if we’re being honest. Just don’t make those sex scenes graphic, because YA erotica… well, like I said yesterday, I’m not entirely sure if it’s even legal.
Finally, word count for YA. 55,000 – 80,000 is a good range for most genres. 47,000+ can work for some contemporaries, but it isn’t recommended that you drop below that. 80,000+ is only recommended for genres like Fantasy or Sci-Fi, but try not to go too far above 100,000, especially if you’re writing the first novel in a series.
Now let’s move on to NA and Adult. I’m going to talk about both categories at once because, with these, I feel like there’s a lot of overlap. For example, NA’s target audience is technically readers aged 18 – 25, but Adult’s target audience is anybody 18+. Plus, both categories can attract older and younger readers, just like YA and MG. I think that protagonist age and novel content are the only areas where these two categories stray away from each other, and here’s why: NA still follows the Ariel Effect rule, where the protagonists’ ages range between 19 – 26, erring on the higher end. Alternatively, Adult novels can follow a protagonist of any age. Yep, that’s right. Any age.
So what keeps an Adult novel from being categorized as YA or MG if the protagonist is 14 years old? I would argue that it’s content. That’s also what I think separates an Adult novel from a NA novel, like I said before. It isn’t maturity of the content, necessarily–NA and Adult books could both range from PG 13 to R-rated–but the themes, tone, etc. And like I said in yesterday’s post, the lines between all of these categories is pliable. In the end, it comes down to marketability. If your novel is a dark story about a 10-year-old girl whose parents are murdered in front of her and then she’s kidnapped by her parents’ murderer… I mean, that can’t reasonably be marketed as MG, right? And, to be honest, NA seems to act as more of a sub-category to Adult fiction, where stories about college-aged shenanigans written in a YA-esque way can be found amidst a sea of literary musings about the meaning of life. NA fiction has actually gained sort of a bad reputation for being “young people erotica” (aka, legal YA erotica). That being said, if you’re writing a NA novel, it does not have to be an erotica. It can be, but it doesn’t have to be.
Anyway, let’s wrap this up by going over word count. NA word count lies somewhere between YA and Adult, at 60,000 – 90,000 (again, dropping lower can work for some contemporaries, and shooting higher can work for Fantasy/Sci-Fi). Adult, on the other hand, lies somewhere around 80,000 – 110,000. 70,000+ can work for some contemporaries, but don’t drop below that, and 110,000+ can work for Fantasy/Sci-Fi, but be conscious of the fact that your readers may not be willing to stick around for a 300,000-word book (unless you’ve written the next Game of Thrones).
So there ya have it! Hopefully now you have a bit of a better understanding about what age category your novel-to-be falls into or will fall into. While the lines between categories are pliable, most novels fall comfortably into one without much issue, so don’t stress too much about that. Oh, and in case any of you were curious, my series The Caspian Chronicles is YA. How do I know? Well, my protagonist is 17 when the series starts, 19 when it ends; I’d say it falls comfortably into a PG 13-rating; and book one is sitting somewhere around the 100,000 word mark, a perfectly respectable word count for a fantasy series. See? Figuring out your target audience isn’t that scary at all!
Make sure you check back in tomorrow for Day 5, because we’ll be going over how to create the characters for your novel!