Monday, February 13, 2012

Choosing a Genre

I have written a novel where the main POV character is around 18 years old. There’s also a secondary POV character who’s 45 years old. This secondary character takes up almost as much page space as the younger character. It’s maybe a 60-40 split. There’s a mystery involved, and while the younger character gets involved in the mystery, his story is really a coming of age. The secondary protagonist’s job is to solve the mystery.

My beta readers all say I have written a young adult novel.

Based on the younger protagonist’s POV then yes, I can see what they’re saying. Also, my writing style fits YA quite well. However, almost half the book is from an older woman’s point-of-view.

I might add that the book was not written as YA. It’s just that the protagonist was young.

If I take the basic rules of query writing – stick with the character you start the story with and follow their arc – then when I query it’s going to be about the kid. Sample pages will be from the kid’s point-of-view, because the first couple of chapters are his.

Does it matter if I say it’s a young adult novel and then have a major secondary character who is a lot older?

If I say it’s an adult novel – or rather, don’t say it’s YA – how will an agent feel when they read the query and the sample pages? This author has no idea of her own market?

Do I need to explain about the two different protagonists in the query?

Does the very thought of a combination like this make you, as an agent, throw up your hands in horror?

This is one of those situations where I would have to read the book to know which genre it fits into. Honestly, based on your plot description, it doesn't necessarily sound like a young adult though. It sounds like for one character you have a coming of age, but the book overall is a mystery.

Ever since YA became "the thing" there's this assumption that just because you've written a great young adult character in a book the book has to be characterized as young adult. Not true. There are many fabulous works of fiction that have included well-written young adults, but would not be classified as young adult. One that pops into my head at the moment, or an author that pops into my head, is Jodi Picoult. Jodi regularly includes a character arc for a young adult character and often that character arc plays as strong of a role as the adult's arc, but never (to the best of my knowledge) have her books been classified as young adult. Part of that is that she doesn't have a young adult voice.

I think what matters is knowing who your audience truly is. Is this a book that would fit in today's young adult market, that would sell on those shelves to those readers? if so, it's definitely young adult. Or would you say this is a book that would appeal more to mystery readers because the mystery is truly the element that's the strongest? What about fiction, is this maybe a piece that's better classified as women's fiction or literary fiction? Who do your readers otherwise commonly read? Where is that author placed on the shelves? Maybe that will help you have a better understanding of where you should classify it.

I don't think you need to explain the two different protagonists per se, but I do think it's important that you explain the story as a whole. If the older woman plays as strong of a role in the book as the younger character, are you misrepresenting the book by only talking about the story arc of the one character? In other words, is it the story of "two very different people..." instead of focusing on individual characters?

A lot to think about, I know, but without reading your query and knowing your book I'm afraid I don't have any specific answers.



Tena Russ said...

I have a similar situation. You might consider saying something like this in your query: "I am seeking representation for (your title), a coming-of-age novel written with an adult reader in mind."

Many novels told from the perspective of a young person aren't necessarily YA. To name a few:

Anywhere but Here – Mona Simpson
Cat’s Eye – Margaret Atwood
Catcher in the Rye – J. D. Salinger
Disobedience – Jane Hamilton
Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain
Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
Lovely Bones – Mary Alice Seebolt
Secret Life of Bees – Sue Monk Kidd
The Bluest Eye - Toni Morrison

Jane Lebak said...

Thank you, Jessica, for pointing out the YA-on-the-brain phenomenon. *sigh* I had an editor reject a novel as being midgrade rather than adult (fantasy) because the MC was twelve years old. ("We don't publish novels for children." "Thank goodness, because this isn't a novel for children." Never could convince him otherwise. And then the kicker? "The vocabulary and plot are also too complex for children. And it's too long for children.")

I suppose by the age definition, Ender's Game should be a picture book.

I like the "two very different people" aspect. I'll keep that in mind. Thanks.

E.Maree said...

I'd suggest that the writer take a look at some romance and YA romance/paranormal romance queries.

A lot of those are told from two different character narratives, and some of the queries do a nice job of showing how the two sides of the story come together.

Danielle La Paglia said...

You should take a look at THE LAST CHILD by John Hart. It's told primarily from the POV of a 13-year-old boy, but it shares narration with a forty-something detective. I believe it's in the general fiction section of the book store. It's a great read and it blends the two POV's very well. Both characters have major arcs and it's not written in a YA voice. You can also check out the back blurb to see how to bring up the fact that your book has dual POV's.

Like Jessica said, it really depends on who you think your readers will be. My daughter consumes all things YA, but has no interest in THE LAST CHILD, but my book club loved it. Find your audience and you'll find your genre.

Tricia said...

I'm having the same problem. It's 90/10: 90% is about a child and 10% is the child as an adult. The adult is telling the story but has one of her own that is interjected throughout the book as a subplot. I haven't been able to nail the query yet.

Right now, anyone reading the query and sample pages would call it middle grade. Heaven help me.

Laura W. said...

Maybe you have a crossover novel between YA and adult. After all, 18 is almost an adult (legally...if not in other ways).

I find your comment about Jodi Picoult strange, because my high school library stocked most of her books and encouraged us to read them. They were kind of "the thing" for a while. "My Sister's Keeper" and "19 Minutes" were particularly popular.

Kristin Laughtin said...

I think it's going to depend a lot on your voice. If you have a YA voice, then it might be a bit odd that you have a mid-forties protagonist, and it might take some major reworking if you and your someday agent want to sell it as a YA. I'd say the main thing you need to do is examine your voice. If it's not solely YA-ish, then perhaps your book has crossover elements that can be played up, if it's not marketed as a straight mystery. Just because you have a young protagonist doesn't mean the book is only for YAs. Like somebody said, ENDER'S GAME definitely appeals to adults, and there are tons of adult books with young MCs: THE CATCHER IN THE RYE, NEVER LET ME GO, and so on.

Rashad Pharaon said...

I second the above commenter (Kristin Laughtin). The voice is going to determine whether it is YA or adult.

Anonymous said...

This is great information. THANKS!

Kate Douglas said...

I really enjoyed reading your thought processes on this one. But honestly, I think it really does come down to the author's voice.

Adam Gaylord said...

This post got me to thinking and I ended up posting my thoughts one genres on my blog.

Great stuff Jessica!

Karen said...

Thanks Jessica.

I often write with a young protagonist and older protagonist point-of-view, and I never start out thinking of them as young adult. It's good to be reminded that a book doesn't have to be YA just because of that.