Why Your YA Book Might Not be YA

For whatever reason, I’ve been seeing people in writing groups talking about their YA (young adult) novels, but there’s a problem. When they actually get to the heart of their question, it turns out that their novel isn’t actually YA. It bothers me just a smidge, partly because I’m pedantic, and partly because I live for YA books. I’m going to talk a lot about YA and its sibling NA (new adult) today, but I also want to give you a few notes about target audience in general.

First, let’s talk about what a target audience is

Your target audience is basically your ideal consumer. Identifying your target audience helps ensure you’re marketing to the correct demographics. I get that it can sometimes be hard to figure this out off the bat, but it’s worth researching and even tweaking your book if you need to. If you’re looking at traditional publishing, agents will want this information, and they’ll probably reject you if your book doesn’t actually meet the correct criteria. If you want to self-publish, getting this wrong might hurt your reviews. And reviews equal sales, so you definitely don’t want that. You also need to be careful about including “adult” material in books aimed at kids or even teens.

How to determine your target audience

Start by looking at your protagonist. Usually (not always), your target audience is going to fall somewhere in line with your protagonist’s age, and possibly with their race, ethnicity, and maybe gender as well. You can refine this even further if you want, but I don’t know that it’s a good idea to narrow yourself down too much. Like, you need to know who your audience is, but you don’t want to get to the point that your niche is such a tiny slice of the population that you’re not going to get any sales. You’ve got to find that sweet spot.

Next, look at your subject matter. It needs to be age appropriate. Adults aren’t likely to be as interested in coming-of-age stories, or stories with some kind of moral or lesson. Kids probably shouldn’t be exposed to graphic violence, language, or sex.

You sort of have to weigh these things against one another when you’re trying to figure out where your book falls. Most of the time, it’ll be pretty clear whether you’re writing for kids or adults. However, there’s one category where the lines sort of blur, and I want to take a deeper look at that.

Books for Young Adults, aka YA

Writers seem to have a real problem distinguishing what belongs in YA and what doesn’t. I’ve seen it from a writer’s point of view in groups and forums, and I’ve also seen agents talk about it on Twitter. There are three main things to keep in mind if you’re having trouble classifying your book:

Your protagonist’s age

If they’re over 19, or out of school, your book is probably not YA. If it meets the other criteria, I’d strongly recommend bumping their age down and/or putting them back in school.

Your narration

YA books can absolutely be dark or gritty. They can be violent. They can even be a little sexy in a fade to black kind of way. But the way your protagonist interprets what’s going on around them is going to figure into determining whether you should target your book toward teens or adults.

YA narration tends toward deep POV, low filter, in the moment writing. You’re also looking at things like family, first time experiences, and self-discovery. Characters can get away with being unreliable, vulnerable, immature, or naive. They don’t have a lot of life experiences and that’s going to come into play when they run into trouble.

Adult narration is more reflective, and maybe a little less in-your-face than YA. It’s more mature and experienced. There are fewer firsts, and less self-discovery because your narrator should have a better idea of who they are and how to solve problems.

The themes of your story

This plays in somewhat with the emotional payout you want to give to your reader, and it’s probably the hardest determining factor. Lines can blur a bit because YA and adult experiences overlap more than a young child’s experiences might intersect with an adult’s. When you’re thinking about how your novel’s themes might suit your target audience, you need to keep age and maturity level in mind.

If you’re writing for YA, you have to remember that the targeted YA audience is not adults. They don’t have the same life experience as a grown person, and they have a different way of looking at the world. They’re still growing, and YA books need to acknowledge that. If it’s easier to think about it in movie terms, YA books are rated PG-13.

Why YA?

I think the reason a lot of authors are trying to shoehorn their books into YA is because it’s a big, vibrant market and they’re hoping for an easy sale. YA has pretty much boomed ever since its inception in the early ’00s. There have been some big, big releases, like Hunger Games and Twilight, that ended up with movie deals and tons of attention, and I think people just want a piece of that pie. I mean, who wouldn’t?

For a long time, YA got bigger and bigger every year. YA also happens to have a lot of adult readers, which added to the high sales volume. I think, because of that boom, some people decided to just write to market and pitch YA titles so they could get their feet in the door, so to speak.

Unfortunately, the YA bubble is on the verge of bursting, if it hasn’t burst already. Publishers aren’t buying as much, advances are shrinking, and two of the big five have shut down YA imprints recently. (This is happening across the board right now, but YA seems like it’s getting hit especially hard). If you’re writing for the sake of a paycheck and not because you just love YA, it might be time to move on to a different market. If you’re writing YA because you love YA, keep it up, but also keep in mind that it might be harder to maintain a foothold if things keep trending the way they have been. I feel like MG could use some good, imaginative new titles. Especially a good, new MG fantasy series. But that might just be me.

What about New Adult?

Much like its 18 to 25-year-old protagonists, NA is still trying to find its place in the world. I think part of the issue is that when NA was first conceived, a lot of the titles were erotica, which is already kind of a niche market. It gave NA a reputation of “YA, but sexy!” that it hasn’t quite managed to shake.

It seems like a lot of the NA books I’ve seen have been self-published. There are traditionally published NA titles out there, but they seem to get lumped in with other adult books. Maybe NA just needs its own Hunger Games, something to make it really stand out and shine, before the industry starts taking it more seriously. I don’t know.

I’d advise you to just write an adult book, or maybe call it adult with crossover potential. Then, assuming an agent likes it, let them guide you on whether you want to market it as NA. Or, if you’re self-publishing, do whatever you think is best and make adjustments accordingly.

I’ll talk more about this later, so be sure to check back

I’m sure some of this was about as clear as mud, but I hope I gave you enough to get started. I’m not super focused on marketing right now because I’m still trying to actually finish my book, but marketing posts will probably get more frequent as I reach those stages with my own work. If you need a little more help with age ranges, I made chart for you. It’s down below, so keep scrolling if you don’t see it.

If you have any questions, or if there’s anything I can clarify further, please leave me a comment and let me know. Thanks!

Are you counting down the days until the end of the month? I know I am! We only have a few more days left in November, so let’s make them count. I have another bad writing rules post for you tomorrow. I know you all love those, and this one’s a little silly. Please be sure to come back and see it!

target audience infographic

Connecting With Other Writers on Twitter

I’ve been on Twitter for about two months now, and so far it’s been interesting. There are a lot of writers on Twitter, from famous bestselling authors like Neil Gaiman and Stephen King, to unpublished unknowns like yours truly. There are also a lot of agents, publishers, and editors on Twitter.

It’s been fun, but I had a hard time figuring things out at first. Honestly, I feel like I’m still trying to figure things out. As far as social media goes, I’m more comfortable with Facebook and Reddit, but I don’t have as many followers on either of those outlets. It’s a lot easier to get followers on Twitter, but that doesn’t guarantee they’ll look at your work or interact with you. For example, analytics shows that I’ve only gotten about three website hits from Twitter in those two months, which is less than ideal.

What I’ve been doing

There’s a ton of advice out there about how to promote your brand on Twitter. I’m sure some of it works, but a lot of it sounds like it sucks. Like tweeting your posts three to four times a day sounds super spammy to me. I unfollow accounts that do that.

I’m going for a more organic approach. It might be slower, but I’d rather have a small following of actual human beings who are interested in my work than a large following of spambots that are just throwing stuff out there to see what sticks.


Obviously tweeting is the main purpose of Twitter. I don’t tweet as much as I should because I don’t want to spam my followers or talk about my personal life. Anything blog-related gets tweeted when new posts publish, which is only once a week. I might tweet about writing, or my current projects if I think of something interesting. I also retweet anything I come across that I like–sometimes it’s about writing, sometimes it’s panda videos.

Follow for Follow

If someone follows me, I’m going to at least check out their account. If they seem to be a real person and not just a mindless advertiser, I’ll follow them back. I have followed a couple of pages that are probably bots because they post interesting content, but mostly I try to stick to accounts that seem like real people.

I have close to 150 followers right now, and I’m following a few more accounts than that. It’s not just a massive number, but I haven’t been doing anything to promote or advertise myself at this point. I’m just existing and trying to go with the flow. I can’t complain so far.


I don’t have Twitter installed on my phone. Instead, I get on the computer and check in once or twice a day. I usually just go down my news feed and favorite, retweet, or comment on anything interesting I see. If someone asks a question and I have a relevant blog post, I might drop a link to that in a comment or a retweet.

Things I don’t do on Twitter

I almost didn’t include this, but then I decided a few of these might be worth a mention.

Spam my blog posts and website

I feel like this is obvious. Nobody wants to see the same things posted over and over again. I think it would become off-putting over time.

Tweet with the wrong hashtags, or spam hashtags

This is one thing that really gets under my skin. Say I’m searching #tenqueries, and I really want to look at tweets from literary agents. The last thing I want to see in this tag is authors promoting their books! It isn’t relevant at all, but it really clogs up the search. I can promise you, I’ll NEVER knowingly buy a book from any of those authors. It’s so rude.

Also, seeing a short tweet, like “How’s it going today?” that has as many hashtags as the writer can fit into the character limit is just annoying. I hate seeing other people do it, and I’m not going to start doing that myself. I try to limit my tweets to three hashtags. Sometimes I’ll do four if I can sneak one into the body of my tweet, but I don’t try to force it.

Tweet statements that are inflammatory or obviously offensive

Bad tweets can come back to haunt you. It’s not my place to criticize other authors, editors, agents, or anybody else on Twitter. I’m also not going to respond to trolls in a tweet. Life’s too short for that nonsense. I also try to be very careful about political tweets. I have some very strong political feelings, but an account attached to my blog doesn’t seem like the best place to share those.

It’s all about building relationships

My marketing style is very much a slow burn. I can get away with that right now because I don’t have a whole lot to offer besides the writing tips I post here. I don’t have any books out, I don’t have any courses or paid content, and I’m not doing any affiliate marketing right now. There’s no reason for me to try to rush out there and gather a huge following when I really can’t give people anything exciting in return. For now, I’m just trying to meet people with similar interests, maybe make some friends, and hopefully get a few of them interested in what I’m building. Then, when I do have something good to offer, maybe my new friends will help me share it. And of course I’ll share their work as well.

That’s all there is to it right now. I’m working on a followup to this post with some of my favorite hashtags and related websites, and I’ll try to get that up for you soon. In the meantime, I’ll see you on Friday for another critique exercise, and I’ll be back on Wednesday with another rant for you. If you have any questions or anything you’d like to add, please leave a comment below. And of course, please feel free to tweet, share, or pin my posts if you like what you see. Thanks!

On Twitter pin

Image Credit: Jonas Jacobsson, Unsplash.