When author Kathy Clark decided to write a Young Adult Series and she teamed up with her husband Bob Wernly, the determination of their pseudonym of Bob Kat was the last easy decision they had. Teen books. Young adult books. Mid-grade books. Mature young adult books. New young adult books. The options seem to increase every time a new best seller came along. Like the book or don’t like the book, the entire 50 Shades of Grey collection was poorly written about a topic few in the general population had personal knowledge of but none the less sold well.
Bob’s first question, stemming from his background as an engineer and Fortune 500 Executive background, was what’s the difference between a young adult book from a mid-grade book, teen book, children’s book and the emerging category of the new or mature adult book?
But first. Why is it important to have clear definitions?
Two reasons primarily.
• Child protection
• Customer expectation
The child protection is pretty straightforward. Parents have an obligation to set their children off in the right direction in life. So just as there are film ratings and restrictions on what age kid and go in to what movie, a similar, less orchestrated or at least more self-managed system needs to be maintained. The customer satisfaction is simply finding a way to make clear to a potential buyer of a book what the nature of the book is about. It’s clear what’s inside an erotica book or a mystery or police procedural. But the shifting sands in the twelve to twenty one ager group makes it more urgent that the authors and readers and parents land on a common understanding.
So some research has uncovered a number of characteristics and facets to the question. These attributes are to be considered when determining the target market of audience by an author:
• Age [The most singularly objective measurement in the entire discussion. Young adult by some conservative religious organization means 18 to 35 years old]
• Subject matter of the book, series and plot points within the story
• Writing and vocabulary style [Complexity, sentence structure and definitions]
• Type of conflict of the protagonist [Is it something much older than the reader or something that is just a memory of when they were young]
• Moral values and behaviors [Within the family and with their friends day to day. Do the “kids” in the story act older or younger than they think they do]
Age and subject matter are not consistent measures as they vary greatly between people depending on another set of factors such as:
• Morals [Theirs, friends, parents and assumed in society as seen on TV, films, books, magazines and even video games]
• Experiences in their life thus far either personally or through friends
Writing and vocabulary style often times gets into some pretty easy to answer questions that many “Young Adult Blog Sites” use such as:
• Level of violence
• Sexual activity or descriptions [Including exclusions of specific words and phrases by a publisher for example. The details or graphic nature is also a consideration here.]
But another level of this is the softer side of a story. Middle grade novels are characterized by the type of conflict encountered by the main character. The children in the primary grades are still focused inward, and the conflicts in their books reflect that. Young adults are different not unlike the complexity of child’s life as they grow older. Young adult novels often have more complicated plots than those for middle grade and the protagonists not only experience an internal change, but this change is set off by external events and the event fits into a bigger picture because it is confusing. Know your target reader and your story and stay inside these broad variable guidelines.