Why My Books are Not YA

What happens when young adults read your book that’s not YA?

I love all my readers, so I don’t mind at all! But here’s the thing – young adults weren’t the audience I intended to attract when I wrote the Wynter Wild books, and I don’t believe I’ve written a YA story.

Wattpad tells me that readers of Little Sister Song (Wynter Wild book 1) are one quarter aged 13-18, and one half aged 18-25. Of the rest, about half are over 25 and half don’t give their age. (In addition, four-fifths are female and the rest don’t say.) This age spread is similar to Wattpad’s overall age demographic, which skews young, and my feeling from reading comments over the past two years is that my readers largely read young adult books.

However… I didn’t know this when I started uploading chapters to Wattpad. The series is not YA, although clearly young adults enjoy it. Older women across all age groups are also enjoying it, and that’s the audience I aim to reach when I relaunch the books – even though the series isn’t typical women’s fic either.

Let’s look at what young adult literature is, and why Wynter Wild doesn’t qualify.

What is YA?

While many adults read YA, the primary intended audience is teenagers. The protagonist is a teenager (aged 15-19) and is not yet independent. Her voice – her thoughts, concerns, and motivations – are authentic for her age.

The themes explored are of interest to teenagers, focused on the present rather than the future (friendships and peer pressure, first love, identity formation, coming of age), and any sex and violence is usually not graphic.

While it’s true that Wynter’s point-of-view chapters could fall into the YA genre, there are three adult points of view (her older brothers) that you wouldn’t typically find in a YA novel. (Youngest brother Jesse is 18 when the series starts, but at college. Young adult characters are usually in high school. He’s almost 22 when the series ends.)

My series isn’t graphic, and Wynter’s (rather awkward) experiences with sex would sit happily in a YA book (other than a romance). However, those relationships aren’t a focus. And the rest of the sex in the series isn’t written with young people’s concerns in mind, and again it’s not what you’ll find in a romance book.

What about NA?

New Adult (NA) is a fairly recently defined genre that slots into the gap between teenage concerns and the world of adulting (marriage, jobs, children, divorce, aging parents, etc.). Characters are usually in their early 20s, independent or becoming so, at college or just starting a career (so there is some planning for the future), and there’s often a prominent romance storyline.

Even if I’d omitted Wynter’s point of view, I don’t think my series reads much like NA. Two of the brothers are in college, and all three have various romantic relationships, but their storylines don’t hinge on college, careers, or romance.

Where does Wynter fit?

So, what do my storylines hinge on? Primarily the Wynter Wild series is a story about family relationships – starting with bad parenting decisions that have lasting consequences on how the four siblings interact with the world and each other. To that end I sometimes call it a soap opera but that implies melodrama, which I’ve tried to steer clear of.

I could label it a family saga because secrets from decades ago come to light that influence the present. But sagas usually cover generations, whereas my series only covers five years (of which the first eighteen months are flashbacks in book 10).

Either way, these are adult categories and the overall themes don’t relate to teenage or new adult concerns.

Amazon has a Women’s Fiction sub-category called Family Life. (Authors placed in this genre include Catherine Ryan Hyde, Tracy Buchanan, Emma Robinson, Celeste Ng, Liane Moriarty.) That’s where I’ve placed my books, even though a browse of that genre makes me conclude it’s mostly about older characters, with plots revolving around romance, marriage, divorce, sex scandals, etc. Sometimes there are teenage (even child) points of view along with adult (often the parents). In many cases plots revolve around one big dramatic event (suicide, rape, kidnapping, murder) with crime or even thriller elements. I deliberately avoided these plots being the fulcrum on which each book hinged (for a start, I’d have to come up with ten of them, which would give the series as a whole a very different feel), although similar events do appear in subplots.

Alternatively, the plots of these books are about expansive human issues – migration, minorities, gender identity, etc. I sometimes refer to my series as “fantasy” to suggest it’s “light” or escapist when it comes to such issues. (The reason for this could probably be the subject of another post.) I’m writing about universal human fears and dreams, but not about the big cultural prejudices plaguing humanity.

If we go back to the source, my stories stem from one narcissistic man’s perversions and fever dreams. He’s a minor character yet his actions set everything in motion, leaving our sibling family in the present to deal with the repercussions.

If I described the plot, I might talk about Wynter’s custody woes, her music career, the goats, the cult, the house on Tiger Mountain – but that’s all window dressing. It’s really about her relationship with her family and the small circle of friends she allows in, as she comes of age and navigates an overwhelming world in her unique way. And to an equal extent it’s about her brothers navigating the world now she’s in it, each through his own prism of personality and pain.

Wynter is 18 years old when the series concludes, still a teenager but with different problems than the typical heroine of a YA novel. She’s also a long way from a fully functional adult (no matter what the judge said!). The next stage of her life is about to begin.

For more about the Wynter Wild books, and purchase links, click here.

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