The “New Adult” genre emerged on the book scene several years ago and has confused authors ever since. The distinction between Young Adult and New Adult books isn’t always obvious. So, how do you tell if your book is YA or NA?
It’s important to determine the age of your ideal reader when writing a book. Keeping the reader in mind during the writing process can flesh out relevant details, themes, and characteristics. Usually, the audience is pretty clear. Except when it’s not.
Ages matter…sort of
The ages of your readers will vary because people will read what they want. However, the rule of thumb is as follows:
- YA readers tend to be teenagers (15-19)
- NA readers tend to be 20+
Narrowing down your target audience allows you to write directly to them, making your book more easily marketable.
In addition to the ages of your readers, you also need to pay attention to the ages of your characters. There are no hard and fast rules for character ages but rather suggested age ranges for better marketability.
Your character ages should reflect the ages of your target audience as listed above. In theory, readers best connect with characters of their own ages because they can identify with their experiences.
Character Circumstances and Mindset
Character age is not the only factor. The things you decide to put your characters through also play a part in determining whether your book is YA or NA. Additionally, the voice or mindset you create for your character makes a difference to your target audience.
Real-life teens start learning that their actions have consequences. They yearn for freedom from rules, to live their own lives and chart their own courses, but they aren’t often able to achieve that goal. Teen characters should reflect this mindset.
New adults have more responsibility but with that comes more freedom. They get to do their own thing, and these experiences allow them a level of self-exploration that teens can’t usually access.
In other words, you can put a teen and a new adult in the same circumstance, but their actions and reactions would be completely different because of their mindsets. Getting into the appropriate mindset for your character makes all the difference.
Similar to circumstances, the themes that run through your story can be the same whether your book is YA or NA. How you approach them is where things differ.
For example, say your story is built around a romantic relationship. There are plenty of YA novels that incorporate this theme—think The Fault in Our Stars or A Walk to Remember. Both of these novels deal with some heavy subject matter but are still considered YA. Why?
Going back to the previous point, how the characters react to their situations—their mindsets—plays a huge factor. A lovestruck 14-year-old reacts differently to a lovestruck 17-year-old who reacts differently to a lovestruck 21-year-old. Teens often explore the idea of “What is love?” New adults tend to look further with questions like “How does this person fit into my future?” or “Can I see a future with this person?”
Authors shouldn’t feel limited when choosing themes because something seems “too old” or (less often) “too young” for their characters. They simply need to take time to discover how their characters would authentically react to those themes.
The Sex Thing
This is an often-questioned topic among our group members. So, let’s just rip off the Band-Aid, shall we? For starters, this article has a lot of great insight into including sex scenes in your chosen genre.
YA can have sex scenes. Whether we like it or not, some people of that age group have sex. It’s something they can relate to. It’s up to each individual author whether or not they want to include a sex scene in their YA novel. However, if you do, there are restrictions.
Traditional publishing houses tend to be very strict about what is acceptable to describe in a YA sex scene. Typically, the safest option is to keep things behind closed doors. Make the implication rather than describe it outright. And choose your words wisely. Remember, these characters are minors!
With NA sex scenes, you have much more leeway. You can describe what you want in as much or as little detail as you want. They are adults after all.
But really, it comes down to the needs of your story and your individual comfort level. There are plenty of clean YA and NA books that don’t include any sex, and that’s okay! If you want it there, just know what the rules are.
What if I already wrote the book?
Obviously, the easiest way to decide whether your book is YA or NA is to do so before actually writing anything. But some of us are pantsers, and we just don’t work that way. If you’ve written your book and now you have to figure out whether it’s YA or NA, you still can!
Since you have to edit your manuscript anyway, use that time to flesh out the points mentioned above. Are your themes obvious and executed appropriately for your characters’ and readers’ ages? Is your character’s mindset leaning more toward YA or NA? If so, work to make it consistent. If not, work to add layers to your character to round them out until they emerge as one or the other.
Still Unsure Whether YA or NA?
Still unsure? Ask other author friends or people in the publishing business to give their opinions. You can also ask your Beta readers. If they go for a specific genre, they’ll be able to give a reader’s opinion as to which category your book fits. Deciding on genres and audiences can be scary, but you can do this, Mamas!
That’s all she wrote.
About the Writer: Brigid Levi is a freelance writer and editor based in the Philadelphia area. She has three children, a husband-child, and a dog. When she’s not freelancing or working on her own writing, Brigid can be found under all the blankets with coffee, tea, or wine (depending on the time of day) and a sweeping historical fiction novel. She hopes to publish her YA fantasy/adventure novel in the near future! Find out more about Brigid on her website.
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