When I was a kid — yes, I’m going there — there was nothing called YA. There were kids books and there were adult books.
Yes, books were sort of grouped in the kids section by age range, but there was no separate place for books aimed at what we now call young adults.
YA is now a market and so now we have to figure out how to define that market. From my perspective, YA contains books aimed at people aged 12 to 18. (Which does not in any way mean that you have to be that age to read them.)
The rule of thumb when I was a baby-author and getting the hang of this publishing thing was that a book for kids was grouped by the age of its protagonist. For example, books aimed at tweens would have a protagonist who was approximately fifteen/ in high school. Books aimed at high school students generally featured seniors in high school or kids just entering college.
That’s not exactly how it works anymore.
YA features protagonists who are the same age as the readers, or just above them. Right now, they’re chosen ones fighting in dystopias, or quietly desperate high school struggles, or soul-shattering stories written by John Green. Now, as a reader, you don’t have to decide if something is YA, it’s right there in the section of the bookstore labeled YA.
I don’t have that luxury. I’m over here on the publisher side. I have to decide if it belongs in that section of the bookstore.
How do I do that? I fall back on what I know. If the protagonist is between fifteen and twenty-five, check-box one is achieved. If the story is something that follows a general pattern of what’s in the market right now for YA, check-box two is achieved. If the writing is over-blown and annoyingly pedantic… erm… no.
I have nothing against poetry. I have nothing against using multi-syllabic words or facing difficult concepts in a story. Let’s face it, Harry Potter has racism, fascism, class warfare, prisoners of war, torture, and death. Hunger Games is children literally hunting each other. Difficult storylines, difficult words, none of that is a problem. Sex, violence, cursing, none of those things are deal-breakers anymore.
Talking down to the audience is. Pretending to be hip is. (What is it you whipersnappers say? “on fleek”?) Don’t do that, please.
Still, bottom line, when I’m looking for a YA book (and let’s face it, our line does need some), I’m looking for a book that hits the sweet spot in terms of age, reads quickly, and doesn’t make me question whether or not I’ll need to talk to the FBI about the author.
PS: GOLDEN FLEECE PRESS IS ACTIVELY LOOKING FOR YA BOOKS.