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Where's the YA/adult line in fantasy?

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Where do you all think the dividing line between YA and adult is in the fantasy genre? I think that after the YA explosion in the last few years (which includes lots and lots of great fantasy) it might be a bit thinner than it is in other genres, so I'm curious to see others' thoughts.

What really got me thinking about this was Graceling (and Fire) by Kristin Cashore. I enjoyed them both a lot, but they were both pretty meaty (Graceling is around 115,000 words) and had quite a few "adult" moments (not just protagonists who have sex, but a lot of Fire is about sexuality, thematically); I could see that being shelved under adult fantasy easily, and I'm honestly not sure what about it makes it YA. On the flip side, my favorite book growing up was Arrows of the Queen by Mercedes Lackey; that's only about 85,000 words, the protagonist is only 13-14 (in the first book; she's more like 17-18 in the second and third), it has very little "adult" content, and is a clear coming of age story. It's something I've recommended to people in their early teens, and feels very YA to me in a lot of ways. But I've never seen it shelved anywhere but adult -- maybe because the author's other books are all adult? But I wonder, if a book like that came out today, if there would be any chance of it being shelved with adult fantasy, especially if it was a debut (which I believe Arrows was)?

I guess I'm just not sure where the line is -- it doesn't seem to be age (most YA characters are teens, but not all teens are YA characters -- Eddings' Belgariad features a 15-year-old protagonist, but I'd never call that YA, for example);  I haven't found a theme that really separates YA from adult (sex and violence can be found in both aisles here); and it seems like length is becoming less and less of an issue for YA fantasy (thanks, Ms. Rowling!). So... what do you all thing?

(Obvious disclaimer: I'm interested because the ms I'm working on is something I think is right on the edge and I'm honestly not sure which way to focus it, or if it's even worth worrying about as I revise!)
#1 - May 02, 2010, 06:17 PM
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I think it's a mix of things, but age is a factor when combined with themes and above all, trends. YA is hot right now, but not when you were growing up.That's a dividing line in itself.
#2 - May 02, 2010, 08:27 PM
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IMO, the biggest dividing line IS the age of the MC.
#3 - May 03, 2010, 04:19 AM

Tessa Gratton

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This is my cynical answer: if it can be shelved in YA it will be. Because YA is the genre actually making money right now. 

The genre isn't fixed, because of how it was created. I think the fluidity is one of its greatest strengths, but it does make it tough to nail down boundaries or rules. What's a rule for one publisher might not be for another (as with all things, heehee).  You should push your book in the direction it feels right to you, the way you can best write it/promote it/query it, and when it's bought marketing will do what they think is best anyway. ;)

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#4 - May 03, 2010, 05:17 AM

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I agree--it's shelved where the money is! I've read a few books lately that def. could have sold in YA as well (and vice-versa). Ditto on it being a fluid line. I would likely call something YA at the moment if it could be both--if you get feedback from the industry that it's otherwise, then by all means market it otherwise.
#5 - May 03, 2010, 05:22 AM

RJ_Anderson

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ARROWS OF THE QUEEN and THE BELGARIAD would be marketed as YA today, I'm certain of it. The only reason they weren't back then was because YA was considered the province of Serious Realistic Problem Books, and fantasy either got published as "juvenile" (what we'd now call MG) or else in adult, with little or nothing in between.
#6 - May 03, 2010, 05:53 AM

ecb

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I think it really has less to do with the actual books' content, and more to do with how the author self-identifies. If you're subbing to children's publishers (the editors are not the same), you'll be pubbed in YA. If you're subbing to traditional fantasy houses (Tor, Spectra, etc), you'll be pubbed as fantasy.

The good news is, in my understanding, there is MUCH better money in YA (I've never heard of any YA author getting a $2000 advance for a novel--altho' now that I've said that, I'll be peppered with examples--and numbers like that are commonplace in mainstream fantasy.)

~ecb, who can't believe she just typed the phrase, "mainstream fantasy."
#7 - May 03, 2010, 01:35 PM

I always thought I just wrote fantasy. It wasn't until the "rise of YA" that I considered what I wrote usually had a "teenage" main character in it. I agree with Tessa, olmue & others that its' really a matter of where the biz chooses to market your story: your job is to write the best tale you can & let the manuscripts fall where they may!

;-)

Dawn
#8 - May 10, 2010, 07:43 AM

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I started a post about this about a year ago: http://forumscommunity.com/verlakay/index.php?topic=33214.0
#9 - May 11, 2010, 11:26 AM

I was pondering this just yesterday, after having written a somewhat steamy scene in my urban fantasy WIP. Talked it out with a fellow writer friend and decided it's staying because the sexual energy is absolutely relevant to my character's character. And if YA is where the money is, I say "show me the money!"

I'll be watching this thread...
#10 - May 11, 2010, 11:48 AM
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There's a big difference in writing ABOUT teens and writing FOR teens. There are a lot of teen protagonists in adult books. There is nothing specific that makes it a YA or an adult, but I would say that for it to be a YA, your protag needs to be dealing with challenges in a way very relevant and accessible to teens.

if your story is about a teen but told through the eyes of an adult-- reminscing on something, with the wisdom that comes with age, thats an adult novel.

Beyond that, A LOT of novels that are adult could have been sold as YA or vice versa.

In the end, its a marketing strategy-- starting with you deciding what kind of author you want to be, going to  your agent and how she wants to pitch it, and your publisher and how they want to position it in the market.


If its a runaway success and has a lot of crossover, it can be double-shelved, in both adult and YA.
#11 - May 11, 2010, 12:16 PM
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Speaking of the YA/Adult line...has anyone heard anything further about St. Martin's "New Adult" line?
#12 - May 12, 2010, 10:36 AM
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Speaking of the YA/Adult line...has anyone heard anything further about St. Martin's "New Adult" line?

Last I heard the editor is stilly hungry for more titles.

At the end of the day, though, its just a marketing stamp on adult books. Unless more publishers jump on board and/or book stores start shelving them in their own section, its kind of irrelevant to the YA world.
#13 - May 12, 2010, 12:50 PM
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I was wondering when people would start realizing that there is another age group that wants books about late high school, college, after college, etc. In general, though, I have a problem with "genre" being used to mean "audience."
#14 - May 12, 2010, 01:06 PM

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