What is YA?

Since hitting the internet hard with the unwanted presence like a stinking corpse on the windshield, I’ve come across hundreds and hundreds of ‘YA authors’. Twitter is especially packed with them:

‘Jenny Bloggs – I love my cats, my crochet class and I’m a YA author’

‘Jeremy Snaggleforth the Third – YA author and nuclear physicist.’

They’re everywhere. What baffled me at first, is what YA is all about. It’s all about demographic: Young Adult. These writers aim their work at readers between the ages of 14 to 18 (with differing reports swinging a couple of years in either direction). There’s always been this niche in the market. Philip Pullman and Terry Pratchett are a couple who spring to mind as potential jet-setters. And then, of course, came J.K. Rowling with the Harry Potter novels (mentioning that should generate a few hits mwahahaha). And the YA ‘genre’ exploded. It seems to me that anyone who’s anyone trying to be an author is tuning into the YA bandwidth and cranking the volume.

Now, in case I’m about to sound like a grouch, I want to state that I love it when a new sub-genre comes along, if only because of the nifty names people come up with. I have a weakness for Steampunk, as previous readers of my own blog may already know. Then there’s Splatterpunk, Bizarro, Supernatural Romance (Bloody Twilight!) and even Cybergoth which I only found out about while researching this post. The word Cybergoth conjures quite the nightmare image doesn’t it? Terminator meets Gormenghast? What a combo! Anyways, there are hundreds of little subgenres floating around in the briny sea of fiction like plankton.

What bothers me is that YA isn’t a genre, or a subgenre. Despite stating its demographic (useful if you’re submitting to Literary Agents), it’s astoundingly vague. So far, I’ve come across ‘YA authors’ that write sci-fi, romance, fantasy, and a host of other major genres. It’d be impossible to have a YA section in a bookshop. Maybe an entire YA Waterstones would be better. So what’s the point? Well, it’s this: Is YA a bandwagon? Does its vagueness make the term itself defunct? Like saying ‘milk’ out loud a hundred times, does it simply become a sound with no meaning? Apart from generating hits on Twitter, does the term ‘YA’ serve any function at all?

And, since we’re pondering the purpose of things. What’s the point of this post?

I’ll tell you, because I can see you’re fused to your seat in anticipation….

It’s a friendly warning. Coming from a fellow ‘writer’ such as myself, I certainly hope no one is assuming that writing for this age group is easier than any other. It’s harder! Young adults are sharp, insiteful and have the attention span of a goldfish with a traumatic brain injury. For aspiring authors, restricting yourself to a demographic could be a dangerous approach. Think of it this way: No author calls themselves a ‘fantasy’ author or a ‘horror’ author. Those tags are applied by other people. People who own shelves and catalogues. Just write your story. Enjoy writing it. And, if you please, pitch it to the YA audience. But don’t label yourself. Others will be quick enough to do that for you.

Thanks for reading.

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About Craig Hallam

Author of Speculative Fiction. Not Before Bed, The Adventures of Alan Shaw and Greaveburn are out now. Embrace the Weird!
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6 Responses to What is YA?

  1. Pete Denton says:

    I must admit a lot of YA authors followed me on twitter and I didn’t have a clue what it meant until I looked it up. There are so many genres, it’s difficult to keep up!

  2. Ava Alexus says:

    I can completely understand the attraction since there have been some successful authors that have tapped into this marketplace, but I do find the term confusing. To me and IMHO there is a distinction between adolescent and adult or teenager and adult, so why young adult? It reminds me the whole genre/sub-genre argument. Not to mention some books marketed as YA do push the boundaries a little—that’s not something that bothers me but I’ve noticed the comments in reviews when readers feel that this has happened.

    What I’ve noticed with YA is that it does appeal to readers outside that demographic as sort guilty pleasure. I feel that it is almost a buzz word, but it allows readers to quickly identify that a book will fall within certain expected parameters.

    All that being said, people will read what appeals to them. I admit as teenager I found it pleasureable to read books that were probably well outside my market (think Shogun). Back then, even if YA existed the way it does today, most of it probably would’ve stopped appealing to me after sixteen. (Romance is universal, it’s just the language that makes the difference.)

  3. Amy Keeley says:

    I think the term is helpful for librarians and bookstore owners (as you pointed out). One of my daughters doesn’t want to read children’s books anymore, but she also doesn’t want to read “grown-up” books. She’ll only read stuff in the middle. Having a section dedicated to her level of reading ability/interest helps. But yeah, I do worry about it as a genre, because it seems like the more recent stuff isn’t getting shaped up as well as it should by publishers/editors. I blame it on financial pressures, but still, it worries me.

  4. Craig Hallam says:

    Ava – Very well said. I think you hit the nail on the head with “buzzword”. My only problem is when people use it and, as you said, aren’t really writing for that demographic at all 🙂

    Amy – What you find below is a rant which started off as a short reply to your excellent point. I decided to leave it in, just in case I made any valid points in there, but I doubt it hahaha I’ve been writing too many asssignments lately…

    “I agree. I’m constantly in awe of the writers such as Darren Shaw who produce an excellent product so quickly with consistent results. However, I think that there’s a certain pressure for less well-known authors to work faster and publish an unpolished book. My main bugbear is that we already have a Teen Fiction section which is, as you hinted at, already in use. As is the “reading ability” categories. So why YA? I think, as Ava said above, that it’s a buzzword which allows people who think writing for a younger age group is easier to add adult elements such as sex and violence into their work. I know it’s a rant, but it seems a little like laziness. Think of books such as Junk by Melvin Burgess which are taught in schools to teenagers between the ages of 16 and 18. As with many others, that book deals with extremely adult themes, but in such a way that the kids learn from it rather than being scarred. I suppose what I’m getting at is this: Is YA a cop-out for people without skill to rival the likes of Burgess? Or is it just a publishing/advertising ruse which has no meaning. To me, the writing world is one of the few which still has some integrity when all around us politics and media are becoming vulturous. It irks me to think that dips in judgement such as the misuse of the YA genre could drag those incredible writers out there to the level of hacks just by association.”

    I think I need to get out more! Ignore everything you read here! 🙂

  5. Carrie Green says:

    Hmmm, I’ve been of the opinion that YA is meant to imply less sex, violence, and language than an adult book. There seem to be a huge group of reviewers/readers who proudly state that they only want to read YA and they happen to be adults, so that it’s sort of a self-censorship movement.

    Authors, on the other hand, seem to be using the term to brand themselves as producing the next Harry Potter or Twilight series, wink, wink. They are less concerned with censoring their writing of the elements that will offend the YA reviewers/readers.

    The marketplace is especially flooded with Twilight imitators. This is a trend that will eventually burn out. Smart writers who understand marketing as well as the importance of having their books stand out in a crowd will avoid YA. I am an adult, I write for adults, enough said.

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