I'm writing a novel about three 15-year-old high school students who are bullied and come up with creative schemes for solving the problem. The target market is middle grade and young adult. Along with some lighter moments, the story becomes quite dark and violent (before progressing into a happy/satisfying ending). There's swearing, bashing, blood, minor knife violence and a shooting. The violence isn't gratuitous, it's integral to the storyline and assists with raising the stakes throughout each stage of the plot.
Am I writing a novel for a target market that's too young to be exposed to the material? Would the older end of the target market, say 18-25-year-olds, still be interested in reading about 15-year-olds? Have I completely ruled out both ends of my target market, and will publishers reject the book because of this?
My immediate concern when reading this question was not so much whether the market is too young but that your target market is “middle grade and young adult.” You really need to pick and choose. Certainly, I’ve represented a lot of books that have crossed genre lines, and I love books that cross genre lines, that appeal to readers of two different genres, but I think when writing a book you have to essentially choose your market so that you’ve chosen where the book will be shelved.
I also feel that crossing genre lines between middle grade and young adult is trickier than, say, fantasy and young adult or fantasy and paranormal romance. While you might have kids willing to read both, they will tend to be middle grade readers. In other words, you will likely have middle grade readers who read up, but unlikely to have young adult readers who read down.
One of the things I love most about today’s young adult market is that the books cross over to an adult market. Harry Potter and Hunger Games would not have been the huge successes they’ve become by appealing only to a young adult market. They’ve been break-out successes because everyone is reading them, everyone from kids to adults.
Without having read your book it’s difficult for me to say what target market it’s best for or if the material is too heavy for a middle grade audience. My gut tells me that you might have more success with a book like this if you raise the age of the character by a year or two. I’m not sure why exactly, but I don’t always understand my gut, I’ve just learned to trust her and, honestly, to me the book sounds better suited to the young adult market.