I wanted to write this post because this particular topic affects me both as a writer and a reader. Books are given a target audiences in order to become more easily marketable (i.e. Children, Middle School, Young Adult and Adult).
Now when you hear Young Adult, what age range do you think of for the protagonist? 14-25? Maybe 13-27? In reality, though, the preferred or “holy” age range is between 12 – 18 years old. I don’t know about you but if that’s the case then why not call it just Teen as Laura Moss brought up in her blog? This is what I call the dreaded void that the market is missing. If you have any characters that fall into this area, they’ll either be sent into YA (and that’s if they strongly believe that they “market it” to teens) or into the realm of the adult world.
“Why?” you ask. “Good Question,” I’ll reply. Meg from the blog, In Which A Girl Reads, says it best:
Among the publishing community, the general consensus seems to be that protagonists out of high school are a tough sell. The comments of “but college students don’t read, so there’s no market for it” and “teens don’t relate to protagonists that are are college aged” are always thrown in there somewhere during the discussion, which generally results in everyone agreeing and deciding to lower their main character’s age to 18 or under.
As a teen reader, I’m going, what? STOP THAT.
I’m sixteen, in case you’re wondering.
That doesn’t stop me from wanting to read about characters older than 18. I’d sure as heck love to go into the Young Adult section and pick up a book about a college freshman adjusting to their new life of freedom, stumbling around a huge campus, fighting with their roomate, and groaning about cafeteria food and being a poor student. I’d sure as heck love to read a book about a protagonist that sets off on an adventure after they graduate from high school, or who’s just taken up training as a cop or joined the army or taken a job you can’t do while still in school. I’d love it to bits if anyone wrote a book about a college junior’s experience as a study abroad student.
I’d lap that stuff right up. Mostly importantly, I’d buy it if I saw it in the Young Adult section.
I find that hilarious that they think teens won’t be interested in books like that. First off, there’s the notion of reading up. It’s shown that people tend to read above their age: Children reading books for Middle Schoolers, Middle Schoolers reading YA novels and I’ve read adult books when I was in the eighth grade for crying out loud (Iris Johansen!).
Secondly, EVERY SINGLE BOOK I READ ISN’T ABOUT RELATING TO THE PROTAGONIST BECAUSE THEY’RE THE SAME AGE AS ME! or that they’re necessarily going through the same things as me. I’ve read stories with characters that I literally HAD NOTHING IN COMMON WITH and was still interested in it BECAUSE it was so out of my realm. I love Batman for crying out loud and I’m not a middle aged Caucasian man who’s parents was murdered when I was 8.
So what happens to those of us who want to read about 19-25 year olds? Or what about those of us who want to write about characters in that age range?
Well, people have been throwing around a new market for these characters in the void called New Adult but it isn’t being used by literary agents and publishers. It’s defined by JJ at St. Martin’s as:
New Adult is about young adulthood, when you are an adult but have not established your life as one (career, family, what-have-you).
This makes sense since I’m a recently turned 20 year old and I don’t have a career (post-secondary student) or a family of my own (just my siblings and parents).
Kristan Hoffman goes on to explain further:
That puts New Adult protagonists in the range of 18 to 26 years old. College, first jobs, first relationships, or marriage…
There’s a lot that can happen when you’re 18-26 because kids and teens focus on the present, while adults draw on their past experience to inform their present and future decisions. New Adults are somewhere in between. As the saying goes: Old enough to know better, but still too young to care. That distinction might seem subtle, but it comes through loud and clear in the voice of New Adult fiction.
As a new adult, you deal with a new set of issues that teenagers and adults don’t necessarily go through. You deal with living on your own for the first time (although not many do in this economy), you deal with handling money more through paying bills (cell phone, credit card, rent…), you get a job, you’re faced with the university/college lifestyle (which is a whole other thing) and the new relationship you’ll have with your parents because this is the time they let you ride without the training wheels on (figuratively speaking. A time where the mistakes you make are your’s).
As a reader, I’d love to see more literature on characters of this age range (hopefully not just the ones that are about the stereotypical “post-secondary experience”. i.e. sororities/fraternities).
As a writer, I want to be able to write about a character without having to age them up or down.
I thought I’d talk about this because there really is a fine line between recognizing the realities of the industry while also writing the story that needs to be written. I don’t want to come across as naive when I say that I want to write MY story but really? Why bother writing otherwise?
A. A. Omer
I like to acknowledge some of the blogs that helped made this particular discussion known to me and provided me with some of the info.
- Laura J Moss at laurajmoss.com (Character age in YA novels: How old is too old?)
- Meg from the blog In Which A Girl Reads (I’m okay with YA protagonists that are over 18 years old. Actually, I’d like to have more of that, please)