Guest Post by Author Laura Talley

Writing for Adults vs. Writing for Teens

Laura Talley

What do Harry Potter, Twilight, and Hunger Games all have in common? All of them are book series with mass appeal to both teens and adults. Many adults can find their teens reading adult novels. This often leave writers scratching their heads over the difference between genres. At first glance, one might assume the age of the characters, but an exploration of the adult fiction aisle leaves an array of adult novels that also focus on teens. As a result, many writers frustrate agents by not knowing which genre their novels fit into, and writers wind up frustrated because it’s not selling. Sometimes, it’s simply a matter of getting your novel in the right place!

So what’s the difference, really? How do you know whether to pitch your idea to an agent specializing in YA or adult fiction?

Read in both genres and pay attention to the following elements:

  1. Age of characters. While adult fiction often utilizes teens as main characters (see The Dovekeepers or Secret Life of Bees), YA fiction does not use adults as the primary character. Adults in YA fiction often serve as foils to the main character and help the main character discover his or her path—for better or for worse.
  2. Language. Words are usually simpler, sentences less complex in YA fiction. Not as much as it is in juvenile fiction, but it isn’t on the level. Like age, this is not always a sure sign. Popular fiction often does the same thing in a carryover
  3. Subject matter. While subject matter for YA fiction can be as dark as it is for adults, it is usually not quite as detailed or explicit. When was the last time you read a detailed sex scene in a YA novel? I can remember exactly one, and it was the book that had a huge waiting list at our high school library! Even then, it would probably make fans of erotic fiction laugh.
  4. Honesty. The voice of the main character is honest and straightforward. She says what she thinks and doesn’t sugarcoat or dance around the issues.
  5. Pacing. YA novels are quick and to the point. The fast-paced nature of YA novels is often appealing to adults because it makes for a quick, easy read.
  6. Themes. YA themes often center around coming of age issues: independence, autonomy from parents and friends, choices, and other problems teens must overcome in their quest to be happy, well-adjusted adults.
  7. Reading level. This isn’t always true, but generally, plot and sentence structure is often a bit simpler than adult novels. Note “simple” is not synonymous with “lazy” or “poor”.

Knowing where your novel fits will greatly help you publish and market it to the right audience. Whether you are publishing yourself or going a traditional route, make sure you have your book classified in the right category to help build sales.

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