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What is Young Adult (YA) fiction?

Updated: Jun 11, 2021

Who are these mythical 'young adults'? And why is everyone talking about them?

Young Adult (YA) books have gained prominence and popularity in recent years. You may be aware of big splashy titles such as Twilight and The Hunger Games, and slightly less known but still profitable titles, including The Maze Runner and Divergent. Shadow and Bone has been acquired by Netflix. This trend was so hot that most big-name traditional publishers have gone all-in on the YA game and created somewhat of a YA bubble. Of course, all good things come to an end, and all bubbles eventually pop, and we have recently seen a lot of YA imprints closing.

All this turbulence in the YA genre has sparked fresh discussions about the category. People are asking, 'What even is YA?'.

YA is supposed to cater to readers between the age of 12 and 18, but it doesn't seem to be as clearly defined as the category of middle grade (MG), which is strictly intended for readers aged 8-12. For MG, readers who are outside that age group (and who aren't parents or teachers of that age group) rarely read those books.

YA, on the other hand, appeals to a broader audience as many readers in their 20s who don't connect with so-called 'adult fiction' and have remained interested in YA titles, especially megahits from authors like Leigh Bardugo, Cassandra Clare, Holly Black, and Sarah J Maas, even though they've technically aged out of the YA demographic. Somehow, YA has transformed from a simple category for teenage readers to something more of a style. There are specific tropes and a writing style that we see in YA books. For example, utilising a deep point of view (POV), which means that the writing style is very personal, immediate, and action-packed. There are also tropes like love triangles and high school settings that are more common in YA.

The fact that twenty-somethings are reading books written for teenagers has created a highly mixed audience, contributing to confusion about YA. This has also created a situation where books are marketed to teenagers, but they are not always appropriate for that age group. At the same time, many twenty-something readers who prefer the immediacy and deep POV writing style of YA tend to become frustrated when the books are simplistic or predictable, even though teenager readers might find them exciting and fresh. This mixed audience means that teenage readers and readers in their twenties are unable to find the books that are best suited to them.

Steven, the Slushpile Monster, firmly believes that New Adult (NA) is a necessary category. Already, NA, which is intended for readers aged 19 to 29, is a burgeoning classification that has not taken hold in the traditional publishing world. NA is a useful category because it breaks up the horde of books intended for teenage and twenty-somethings but doesn't toss Millennial readers into the Adult category, which remains dominated by older generations.

However, even though we have seen support for the NA category from a wide range of readers and authors, we fully understand that this is not a widely accepted classification in the publishing world and the debate rages on. Despite this controversy, for our purposes on this platform, we choose to define YA as books intended strictly for the age group of 12 to 18. That means that the characters should fall into this age category, and the content of these books in terms of graphic violence and sexual content should be appropriate for this age group (meaning relatively little, if any!). YA books should also be written in a way that is accessible to readers from this age group.

These are the criteria that we'll be using to classify a book as YA:

  • Main/POV characters are aged 12-18

  • Minimal or distant graphic content (incl. violence, sexual, dark/upsetting situations or descriptions)

  • Accessible vocabulary and writing style

  • First experiences (incl. crushes, dates, kisses)

  • High school settings (for contemporary)

Whether the wider world agrees or disagrees, here on Slushpile Monster, we will use this classification for our competition. If your book doesn't fall squarely into YA, never fear. Many of our beta readers are also accepting NA, so you will still have plenty of options for finding the right beta reader!

If you're struggling to find a good beta reader who will provide constructive criticism and is sure to help you improve your writing, you're not alone! Why not enter the Slushpile Monster's writing contest to win a free critique from an experienced beta reader?

Also, don’t forget to join our mailing list so you never miss any of the games or competitions! We also share resources for writers. It's much more reliable than getting updated on Twitter, and we also have special mailing list-only content!

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